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VISUAL ARTS REVIEW: Between Perfect and Nothing and Movement

A Strange Pair: Two exhibits at N. Charleston City Gallery are rewarding, once you find them

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Between Perfect and Nothing and Movement
Works by Amy Bouse and Scott Debus
On view through Aug. 1
Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
North Charleston Performing Arts Center
5001 Coliseum Drive
(843) 745-1087
www.northcharleston.org

The current display at the North Charleston City Gallery, featuring artists Scott Debus and Amy Bouse, is among the strangest pairings I have seen. Debus' compilation, succinctly entitled Movement, consists of paintings and drawings focusing on the emotive action of dance. Meanwhile, Bouse's section, more cryptically called Between Perfect and Nothing, comprises several traditionally crafted quilts. This jarring incongruity set an awkward tone, but the wall spaces are separate enough that the two artists can eventually be seen on respectively distinct grounds, each collection striking in its own way.

Debus' works fit appropriately into the gallery, which is housed in the Performing Arts Center of the North Charleston Coliseum. It can be easy for the subject of dancers to slip into the saccharine territory of plaintive ballerinas, but Debus avoids this trap. Though they explore little that's new in the subject matter, the works fulfill their simple visual goal without pretention. The artist's figures have an abstract expressionist bent; the anatomy is awkward, distorted, and full of life. Using a background of plain white or a few solid blocks of color, Debus isolates the pure movement of the dancers portrayed, each work capturing a single moment, in their performance.

Debus most successful works are in blue. By sticking to one color, the artist exploits what the physicality of his medium can do in expressing the purity of a single captured movement. His strokes mimic the lines of muscle and bone, enunciating the structures driving the movement, which would be barely visible otherwise beneath their skin.

The five dancers twist around each other so weightlessly that they could be swimming. A female dancer bends at a right angle with her arms outstretched, the deltoids flexed tightly and articulated by the V-shaped strokes that form the upper extremities from the shoulders down. She is the center of the dance, with four male figures moving about her. There is a sense of intimacy in spite of the minimal contact, the delicate balance among dancers who create art in the moment. In "Amalgamation," Debus uses solid black strokes against filmy blue and more of a loose, sketchy sensibility to create an almost stained-glass effect within which his dancers simultaneously reside and attempt to escape.

Amy Bouse's quilts, while beautifully colored and extremely well-crafted, fail to express her intent. It's commendable that an artist explores substantive ideas, but through her quilts, the ideas may get lost in translation. There is a balance between using a title to evoke meaning and relying too much on that title. These pieces veer into the latter. For example, "Scar" is a quilt in shades of red, while "Bruise" is in shades of blue; but the words' gravity do not transcend beyond coloration.

Only in "Plot I" and "Plot II" does the purported theme of the exhibit reveal itself. In these two smaller works, one gets the sense of surveying a landscape, nature broken up into segments, augmented, and groomed to make way for agriculture, urbanity, and the transportation networks in between. The quilt is broken into an imperfect but carefully planned grid, with smaller pieces cut out and angled within the larger squares.

Unfortunately, no one I encountered at PAC knew a gallery existed at the complex. Making my way down the long corridors of the arts center, I finally found the "gallery" — essentially, an unsupervised length of wall space. Hopefully, in the future, organizers will figure out a better way of arranging and advertising artwork so that interested viewers have a chance to visit.

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