In a city full of Lowcountry marshscapes, how can a landscape artist stand out? If you're Bill Mead, the answer is humor. In his new show at SCOOP Studios, he transforms vegetables from a healthy side dish into something with a personality — and we're not talking Veggie Tales. Yellow squash and green zucchini lean together like an old married couple. Vibrant red peppers, crisp cucumbers, and juicy tomatoes play hide and seek in the marsh. Mead's titles too, are playful. "Deadheads" shows a group of colorless, pointy artichokes gathered under the bright blue sky, encouraging the viewer to take a second look at the items tucked away in the crisper.
A theme of slightly perverse sexual humor pervades the series. "Sock Monkey" sits astride a phallic cucumber, and a piece of okra is balanced on a pepper in "On Top." "Someone once said that art was meant to disturb, but they didn't take into account those of us who are already disturbed," Mead says about his paintings.
Mead began painting his landscape vegetables to draw attention to a friend's roadside farm stand. The watermelons didn't sell, but the paintings did. That was five years ago, and Mead has been painting anthropomorphized food ever since.
SCOOP Studios took the title of the show to heart with a tray full of red Jell-O shots at the opening reception, while outside, local techie Alex Rosen projected Mead's images on a nearby building. Like viewers at a drive-in movie theater, SCOOP patrons hustled outside to see the Sock Monkey ride across the historic building on his cucumber like a soldier under the dark night sky.
In the small space of the studio, Mead's paintings tend to blend together. Most of them are topped with bright blue sky dotted with cotton-ball clouds and spiky palm trees. The upside is that there was a uniformity and cohesiveness to the series, but the downside is that if you've seen one Bill Mead painting, you feel like you've seen them all. A few pieces, like "Bon Appetit Zach," a painting of a small boy holding a possum on a stick, seem out of place, but also helped to break up the monotony. Mead is the first to admit that there is no hidden meaning to his paintings. "My art is kind of like elevator music," he says. "You can look at it and relax your eyes."
Painting in his studio in Beaufort, S.C. every day, Mead says he doesn't know what the future holds. "I'll get bored doing the same thing every day," he says. Wandering around the room, leaning in close to his paintings, he points at the branches of trees and talks about maybe adding some faces in there. Obviously, the main goal for Bill Mead is to have fun, and viewers can decide for themselves whether that's enough for them.