Take eight contemporary artists, give them a theme, and what do you get? A whole lot of Contrast — the name of George Gallery's latest exhibit. In it, Tim Hussey, Brian Coleman, Alan Taylor Jeffries, Whitney Kreb, Evan Armstrong, Amanda Norman, Paul Yanko, and Melinda Mead Scharstein display riffs on the title. What's intriguing in this large exhibition is not just the amount of works, or the varying takes on what contrast means, but rather the way the artists feed off each other as Yanko says, "Thanks to the miracle of Facebook."
"We like each others work on Facebook. When someone makes a posting, at least a thumbs up is extended with some comment or acknowledgement for their work," explains Yanko. For the Greenville-based artist and teacher at the Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, the opportunity to virtually communicate with his George Gallery peers allows their efforts to influence his own. As visitors to the show will see, Yanko's been influenced by Hussey and Coleman's gestural techniques where paint is spontaneously applied, dribbled, or smeared onto a canvas. Following their lead, Yanko has recently begun dabbling in the strategy himself.
"I think in an earlier point in time I probably would have made an effort to conceal any and all evidence of those marks. I would embellish and cover it or obscure it entirely," says Yanko. "I've gotten to the point now where I ask 'Where can I take this technique? How can I modify it and develop it?'" Though subtle, Hussey and Coleman's influence can be seen in the tiny details of Yanko's multi-layered prism-like paintings. And he's expanded his repertoire too, departing from the prism motif he's been doing for the past eight years with a set of new monotype prints for the show. "Sometimes you have to be really honest with yourself," Yanko says. "You need to innovate and not become formulaic. Just manufacturing is not discovering not advancing your program."
Discovery is the key word. Turns out being an abstract artist can sometimes be isolating, especially in the land of oil and acrylic ocean sunsets. "The George Gallery has given us the opportunity to expose more contemporary art among all the palm trees," Coleman says. Like Yanko, Coleman — known for his mixed media layering techniques — found ideas in following his peers' work. "It's interesting to see each artists' take on the choice of theme," says Coleman. "We all had maybe two to three months to work on Contrast, but we're all doing paintings for different shows and galleries while we're working on something else." Tapping into the social network allowed Coleman to glimpse how his George Gallery pals were coming along. Doing so made him braver, ultimately leading him to attempt an entirely new style for Contrast.
"I wanted to do something different, that's why I chose wood," Coleman explains. Using a jigsaw, the artist cut out abstract shapes from a square wood canvas, then painted those pieces which will be displayed in a mirror image side-by-side the cut frame. For another piece titled "Contained Chaos," Coleman again used a large piece of maple, then, using a stencil, coated it in a sea green, exposing an inch-thick squiggle of the beautiful maple wood below, like a tunnel in an ant farm. "The contrast there is the simplicity of a negative and a positive in an image. A lot of people don't realize that the negative space is just as important as the positive," he says.
For the lone photographer in the show, Melinda Mead Scharstein, negative space features prominently in both her images and what they represent. For Contrast Scharstein is showing photos of Charleston buildings recently torn down in light of new construction. "I am drawn to the contrast of what a new building represents in this new Charleston," she says. "For me there's very much a personal and a political contrast experienced in watching these buildings disappear. I wonder who is new Charleston for and why?" One painterly photograph depicts a building that recently stood at the corner of King and Spring streets; a single white line, where a stairwell must have been cuts the image in half at a 45-degree angle. Incidentally the abstract linear feel echoes Amanda Norman's architectural paintings, another George artist.
Perhaps that's not a mere coincidence, even though Scharstein's medium is a lens and not a brush. She says, "I definitely feel very inspired by the other George artists' use of color." For this show Scharstein has tried to keep off social media in order to be surprised. But she admits, "I sometimes look at the Gallery's Facebook page." Apparently, even the most strong-willed artist can't help but log on for a little peer-to-peer inspiration.