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VISUAL ARTS REVIEW ‌ Creatures of Habit/Non-age

Hidden Wonders: The City Gallery hosts new shows at the Gaillard


Micheline Callicott's 'Red Blue'
  • Micheline Callicott's 'Red Blue'

Creatures of Habit/Non-age
On view through Aug. 17
City Gallery at the Gaillard Auditorium
77 Calhoun St., 724-7305

With the Dock Street Theatre closed for renovations until at least 2009, it's not just thespians who've had to turn to alternate venues. The City Gallery at the Dock Street has temporarily transplanted its scheduled shows to the second floor of the Gaillard Auditorium, which has served as an art space during festivals in the past. Exhibition organizers at the Office of Cultural Affairs see this as an opportunity to make absorbing use of their new environment.

One thing they do have at the Gaillard is plenty of space. Rather than spread one show thin, two are running concurrently. They're both by bold female artists who obviously love experimenting with color and challenging our assumptions of what art can be. But their work is very different.

The extra breathing room means scope for larger pieces; Julie Jacobson's mixed media work is 64 x 80 inches. In the old Dock Street gallery, that would have been a bit of a squeeze. Here, there's room to step back, admire the art in plenty of light, and leave some space between one piece and the next. That's a good idea with Jacobson's work, because there are a lot of images to soak up. Her Creatures of Habit show is a carnival ride of outsider-style figures and insect motifs in a storybook world of mothers, sisters, and half-dissected animals. It's as if Tim Burton and David Lynch met, gave each other a hug, and found their feminine side.

The best of the batch is "Surgery Circus" (pastel on paper), in which a girl with a surgical mask and stinging insects in her chest operates on her cocooned patient (giving a whole new meaning to a beehive 'do). In "The Point on My Scissors is You," background sunflowers morph into matchstick men with expressive eyes. The distraught face of the performer of "The Dance of Disentanglement" suggests a Red Shoes-like story without trying to give the viewer too much information on one canvas.

The mixed-media images burst from the frame like excited larvae, sewn figures contrasting with simple pastel or charcoal companions in the background. While the 2-D work is the most accomplished, the different layers that Jacobson adds to her mixed pieces make them worth a look, too.

Julie Jacobson's 'The Smooth One'
  • Julie Jacobson's 'The Smooth One'

Micheline Callicott experiments with her chosen medium in Non-age. The Charlestonian photographer purposefully obscures the faces of her subjects, either by keeping part of their heads out of frame or blocking them with a person or object. She leaves clutter in her pictures, keeps figures in the dark, or uses off-balance composition.

While Callicott can be commended for breaking the rules and not shooting tired-looking, over-familiar photos, the results of her experiment don't always make for great art. There's no doubt that she enjoys playing with the form, but there's a reason why there are time-honored principles of composition, lighting, and focus. That stuff works.

Callicott knows those principles; she teaches them at North Charleston's Academic Magnet High School. She succeeds in her effort to avoid cutesy, aesthetically perfect pictures — many of the young subjects are playing, but only one is smiling. She misses opportunities to make profound comments about transitory childhood or create empathy with the viewer; all that is lost in the clutter.

Coincidentally, throughout July there was some great photography just across the road at the Saul Alexander Gallery in the main library. This space isn't even as big as the Dock Street room, but Mary "Ginger" Jones' series of locally-shot nature-based images had plenty to say. Jones' confidence with color and radiance resulted from many years spent exploring Lowcountry creeks and plantations. She was able to capture singular movement in a wildlife still ("Horse in the Morning"), contrast a rugged face with a pale, manicured hand with clever use of light ("Bill"), and place objects at sharp angles but retain perfect composition ("Situation Normal").

Jones did not live to see her show. In May, she succumbed to Wegener's Granulomatosis disease. But her masterful work will be celebrated at Magnolia Gardens this Fall, and Boone Hall next year.

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