Charleston Artist Guild Gallery
6 N. Atlantic Wharf
On view through Aug. 31
There were times when Jan Genosi thought it would never happen. As president of the Charleston Artist Guild, she'd spent months helping search for a new, larger gallery location.
Although its present space is in a desirable area not far from Waterfront Park, the Guild outgrew its home long ago. There are 824 painters and photographers on its roster and only room to display work by 5 percent at a time.
"Over the last few years there had been grumblings about the location and its lack of foot traffic," says Genosi. To paraphrase Roy Scheider in Jaws, they were gonna need a bigger gallery.
Moving was easier said than done, though. Think how tough it is for one family to transplant itself from one place to another. Now imagine what it would be like if over 800 people had to agree on a time, location, and moving arrangements.
"There are a lot of opinions and personalities in the Guild," Genosi says. "It was a difficult process with many delays. But with a lot of luck and determination, we ended up on the same page at the same time."
Executive Director Bob Ingram, a driving force behind the Guild, spearheaded the quest with what Genosi describes as "incredible energy, insight, and patience." There were criteria to be met: the new gallery space had to be significantly larger than the current 1,100-1200 feet, and it had to be affordable and situated in the French Quarter (the Guild is a staunch member of the French Quarter Gallery Association).
During the months-long search Genosi sometimes thought, "I don't think this is going to happen." Every eligible piece of rental property with ground floor space was visited, examined, and measured over the long haul. Finally, more than a year after the hunt began, the Guild has a potential space. All it needed now was the approval of its members.
To facilitate matters, a public meeting was held on Aug. 6 in the potential new space at 160 East Bay St. (where Mountains by the Sea used to be located). Members were able to check out the space and approve the lease at the same time. "It's well designed, and the lighting is perfect," Genosi chirps. "We have people with contracts ready to go." She estimates that 10 percent of members will have room to show their art there, raising the number of exhibited members from 39 to 82.
The location won't be the only change for the gallery. Artists will occupy a strictly assigned space and manage their artwork; up till now, according to Genosi, they've been "hung where they've been hung." In return for display time, all the artists are required to come in and take turns minding the store. Some are better at it than others. So all members will attend a mandatory training class. A marketing expert will give neophytes tips on how to approach people and sell art. Instead of waiting on the Wharf for people to come to them, Guild organizers seem determined to reach out to customers instead.
Not ones to rest on their laurels, Genosi and her colleagues are featuring a strong artist in their Wharf space through the month of August — Russell Buskirk, a skilled painter of landscapes, still-lifes, architecture, and portraits, with a distinct penchant for pastel.
Buskirk has a background in building houses, restoring furniture, and taking photographs; a job at Alterman Studios brought him from West Virginia to Charleston 25 years ago. His photographer's eye is evident in his pastels, which show a distinct grasp of depth, shadow, and perspective. Strong reds and yellows make familiar locations like Marion Square (in "Maple") look fresh and exotic, giving us a hyper-real look at a corner we would commonly ignore.
Buskirk also likes to mirror his colors on either side of the frame. In the still life "Brass Bucket," he uses the brass to reflect red wine in a glass. In "Blue Candle," red apples and flowers complement a green vase and table cloth. In other work, he pushes his use of one color to conceal and reveal different objects. "Frog in Plant" is a study in green shades, with a frog camouflaged in the middle of bright fronds. "Ellis Creek Marsh" is a landscape that shows more green layers, with a dead tree in the foreground. And "Jeff's Kitchen" is an unabashed nod to Van Gogh's "Bedroom in Arles" paintings.
Last week, Guild members voted unanimously to move into the new space, to the delight of Genosi and Ingram. They hope to open their bigger, more visible gallery by Sept. 15, with a grand opening on Oct. 2 when the French Quarter Gallery Association holds its next art walk. With art from the likes of Buskirk, the Guild will have plenty of lively work to fill its new walls.