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Jon O. Holloway's photo 'Sam Williams' of a Chappells, S.C., man, appears in MUSC's five-year-long Palmetto Portraits Project - JON O. HOLLOWAY
  • Jon O. Holloway
  • Jon O. Holloway's photo 'Sam Williams' of a Chappells, S.C., man, appears in MUSC's five-year-long Palmetto Portraits Project

A Vision of France
Opening reception Thurs. March 29 at 7 p.m.
On view through April
Coco's Gallery
863 Houston Northcutt Blvd.

Cintra. Marie Laveau's. Med Bistro. Vickery's. Barnes & Noble. In our local cafés and restaurants, art has become as prevalent as ketchup stains and often just as abstract. Owners seem to have a particular appetite for non-objective paintings, perhaps because the subject matter is only as challenging as the viewer's imagination allows. We're not sure what that says about their opinion of their patrons, but it's fair to say that no restaurateur wants to hang art that will put them off their food.

Lana Restaurant, on the corner of Cannon and Rutledge, is taking a braver route than some with Lisa M. SHimko's abstract work. A habitual Redux Studio renter, SHimko experiments with blobby forms that resemble planets and plant cells. Her strong color counterpoints create a sense of depth but also one of disorientation -- not an effect that helps the tapas go down easy.

Coco's in Mount Pleasant is also adding abstracts to its décor for A Vision of France, the premiere exhibition at the new "Coco's Gallery." Acrylics by Nathalie Naylor and Sabine Avcalade are juxtaposed with multi-textured wooden hanging sculptures by Paul Mardikian, crackle-patterned ceramics by Bette Mueller-Roemer and various two- and three-dimensional pieces by Bea Aaronson.

So why the emphasis on abstracts? According to gallery director Gilberto Hurtarte, the genre appeals to a target middle-aged bracket. "It's art that's not too modern but not too interpretative," he says. "We don't want to just sell it. We want to provide a whole experience with food, wine, art, and talk, like a salon café."

In a month's time each artist from the group show will get their own solo turn, with regular receptions and special menus to help bring those mid-aged patrons in.

Restaurants aren't the only alternate spaces that are being commandeered by artists. Last year the College's Addlestone Library was brightened up with a photographic show for Piccolo Spoleto. A Global Insight: Through the Eyes of Kids featured diverse portraits from Charleston and Calcutta, India, contrasting posed and candid shots of children and adults taken by kids with cameras.

This month MUSC's Education Center/Library starts its own, five-year-long photographic art series called The Palmetto Portraits Project. Like the Addlestone show it mixes black and white and color pieces featuring men and women from different walks of life. But this time around, professional adults are doing the snapping and we're treated to the cream of Chucktown's camera-wielding crop.

Greenwood resident Jon Holloway has produced some memorable work using the poignant motif of age -- sepia and a glass reflection add a ghostlike effect to "A Son's Father," and one elderly lady says goodbye to another on what could be her deathbed in "Last Song." "Grandmother's Hand" holds a tiny baby. Subtle? Nope. Effective? You bet.

Other Holloway pieces place work-related ephemera next to human subjects -- for example, "Everett Summers" stands with farming equipment. This links the photos with many others in the exhibition that show everyday people in their place of work. The most colorful examples of this are by Mark Sloan, director and senior curator of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art.

Portraits of local retailers like Clay Scales (of 52.5), Leigh Magar (Magar Hatworks), and Basim Hassouneh (Super Bad Men's Clothes) show their wares in the background, showing how inseparable their lives are from their work. Magar wears one of her hats, and Hassouneh is placed in the lower half of his picture, with neatly stacked hats and ties filling most of the space around him.

While Sloan pays great attention to light and shadow, Phil Moody doesn't always have that luxury, taking shots of blue-collar workers in their industrial habitats. Michelle Van Parys achieves strong effects with trickier composition and depth of field. Jack Alterman and Nancy Santos create some of the most natural, documentary-style pieces, probably because of their years of experience in portraiture -- Alterman with his own series exhibited at his King Street studio, and Santos in her seven years as staff photographer for the City Paper (she's now employed by the College of Charleston).

If the MUSC and Halsey-driven Portrait Project stays its five-year course, 24 more contributors will help build up a diverse overview of South Carolinian folk. A set of the portraits will also be collected by the S.C. State Museum in Columbia to show our Midlands cousins what they're missing. Hopefully the next batch will be as strong and emotionally charged as this one.

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