This holiday season, Erin and Justin Nathanson of The Southern Gallery want you to gift your friends and family something special. That's why they're debuting a new month-long exhibition, 99 Problems (But A Print Ain't One), featuring print-based works from both local and national artists. The exhibition opens on Black Friday to correspond with the time of year many people scramble to get a discount on, well, just about anything. Justin thinks the typical Black Friday rush is, as he says, "completely ridiculous."
99 Problems focuses on the many social, cultural, and political issues America is facing today, especially in the wake of the presidential election. The Nathansons put out a call to printmakers across the country to submit pieces of any method (except photography) that would create a dialogue about a problem of their choosing. Out of over 350 submissions, The Southern ended up with 99 participating artists.
The term "printmaking" literally means creating an image through printing, usually on paper, but the specific methods vary widely. Screen printing, used by artists Jamall Barber, Mike Klok, Dos Bandidos, and others in the exhibition, is a technique where ink is pushed through a prepared screen to create layers of color that form the image. Other artists use carved wooden blocks to press their images onto a surface or inkjet printers to produce physical versions of digital images crafted in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.
The mission of the gallery is to present high quality work that starts a conversation. "Some things might make you uncomfortable," Erin says — but that's the point. The prints highlight tough topics like black criminality, marijuana reform, gun ownership, reproductive rights, and the history of the working class in Charleston. Jamal Barber's "The System" displays a black infant wrapped in a standard issue orange blanket from the Department of Corrections because, as Barber says, "the system believes he was born inherently predisposed to crime. He is assumed to be dangerous and must be locked away before he hurts anybody."
One of the reasons Erin and Justin wanted to showcase printmaking as a discipline is because of its accessibility. Prints are much less expensive than traditional "fine art," which often requires forking over a hefty sum of money per piece. "One of the most interesting aspects of printmaking to us is the democratization of art," say participating artists Nate Puza and Sara Thomas (known as The Half and Half). "Instead of creating one piece that sells for a thousand dollars, we can create a hundred prints that sell for $10." And, the Southern even offers payment plans for those who can't afford to pay for a piece all at once.
Increasing participation in the local art scene by average consumers can also bring them into the discussion about issues concerning their local communities and the nation at large. "This bridge allows us to support and encourage each other and to be a part of a larger conversation together," says another participating artist, Sophie Treppendahl. Treppendahl's "Scissor Kicks," which depicts a gym class with children kicking their legs in the air, embodies the confusion and disorientation many people are feeling right now, she says, but with a bit of humor. Meredith and James Hill's piece "Jackson Street Cottages" focuses more specifically on the Charleston community and the homes built after the Civil War to house newly freed slaves and immigrants. The homes depicted are still standing on Jackson Street today, and represent a specific segment of Charleston's past. "If the remnants of the past are not preserved, we may no longer have the means to learn from it," the Hills say. "This particular example teaches us ... that people of different ethnicities are able to live together side by side in the same community."
There's everything from the very abstract to the very concrete at the 99 Problems exhibition. Karen Olsen-Dunn's interpretation of South Carolina's endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, "Red Cockaded Woodpecker, Morning Glories and Lace," features vivid but seemingly amorphous patterns meant to represent the bird's striped feathers and blue morning glory flowers. At first glance, it's just a pretty picture, but Dunn says the woodpecker isn't the only thing that's endangered. "It's about all of us and what lies ahead," she says. Dos Bandidos's "Ridin Dirty," which features a white woman standing in front of a green truck and wearing a shirt with the word "PRIVILEGE" on it, offers more obvious and tangible critiques of society.
Justin hopes these prints will help those feeling disconnected from their fellow citizens to consider our nation's many problems and find a way to move forward. "Because of the nature of the election, this show has even greater meaning," he says. "We need art and a creative outlet now more than ever. "
99 Problems (But A Print Ain't One) prints will go on sale on The Southern's website at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day ahead of the show opening the following night at 7 p.m.