Our first exhibition, (it was) A Wet, Hot, Southern Summer is about the many expressions and forms that took shape during the Summer of 2015 in the South. For some, it was a summer of tragedy and introspection while for others it was a summer of joy, growth, and exploration. At The Southern we it is our goal to represent both sides of the story, the good and the bad. Only by representing and acknowledging both truths are we then able to move forward honestly and openly. This group show highlights the variety of experiences that can occur in the same period of time, dependent on circumstance. The exhibition runs through March 5, 2016.
Isabelle Klauder departs from traditional oil painting by abandoning a blank, stretched canvas in favor of creating her work on floral patterned bed sheets and curtains. While this material is a reference to the traditionally domestic role of women, the realistically rendered nude portraits of women challenges our preconceived notions on those who fill these roles. Klauder’s bold floral pattern draws a direct connection to the South with her fond memories of the hot, sticky Southern summers and the ever present smell of orange blossoms.
Jeanne Vockroth’s batik, indigo pieces pay homage to the indigo industry and the role it played economically and culturally in Charleston. It also references the Gullah presence in Charleston. If you are familiar with Charleston you are familiar with the representation of the color blue in the Gullah culture. Taking a stroll through any given neighborhood in the Lowcountry, you will begin to notice a distinct quality: porches and window sills often don the color blue as a talisman to ward off the evil spirits or “haints”. The center-piece of Vockroth’s triptych displays a porch; a familiar and innocent image that brings us back to days spent observing life pass by under some shade – a temporary respite from the heat.
While other artists in this exhibition represent the South in their concepts, Kristy Bishop’s true homage to the South is through her material. Bishop uses natural dyes which she collects, rather than purchasing from an art supplier, from gardens and roadside markets. Her dyes, as well as the forms which her textiles take, transport the viewer to a dusty road lined with cotton plants with the summer heat beating down.
Matt Haffner creates a juxtaposition of his blue collar upbringing and his current urban life with his cut-paper pieces. Haffner uses white paper to create working class environments from his past, including a dollar store and a gas station, and black paper to insert aspects of his adult life, such as bikers and people waiting on street corners. This contrast is something that many of us who have grown up in, and left, the South feel when returning, on phone calls with our parents, and when talking to childhood friends.
Charlestonian Gately Williams, too, takes us on a journey away from the comfort of our Southern home. Williams is a seasoned traveler and photographer who deliberately chooses to spend his life on the road. Traveling by motorbike or in his 1986 Ford Station Wagon, Gately is able to seek out diversity for his editorial and landscape photos. Gately takes a trip abroad every year in order to capture and highlight the many variations of the world. His large-scale photograph, FARAH, provides a slice of joy and liberty.
Louisiana native Michael Pajon created Vanitas style portraits that illustrate the brevity and beauty of life. When you take a closer look at Pajon’s pieces you will notice the repetition of the image of a serpent. The serpent found in much of the work acts as a dichotomy of sorts, representing or rather, highlighting, both a symbol of corruption and immorality as well as renewal and strength.
Sarah Emerson creates fantasy imagery in her compositions. Her pieces dually represent beauty and chaos, a never ending cycle created as a direct result from human intervention and natural phenomenon. The four drawings, Where the Light is As Darkness (I-IV), are inspired by english author, John Milton’s Paradise Lost which describes the paradoxical phenomenon of experiencing a light so bright that it in turn, becomes blinding. This “light” is frequently experienced in the South, obscuring our vision and minds during the hot, bright summers.
Michaela Pilar Brown merges fantasy and reality in her mixed media works. Brown pairs striking female faces with mythological symbolism, signifying a backstory and a history that is rarely achieved in standard portrait. The combination of these elements is confrontational and seductive, begging the question “what thoughts lie in the mind behind the face?”. A question which should be asked more often of women, particularly African-American women in the South.
When you’re walking towards the gallery it’s hard to miss Antoine Williams’ piece glaring back at you through the glass overhead door. The piece appears eerie without explanation. A dark figure emerges from the stark white wall of the gallery representative of Dylann Roof emerging with a bullet proof vest being led in handcuffs after committing the vicious Charleston Nine shooting in June 2015. Each of the nine victims is commemorated with a brown circle, in reference towards the racial motivation of the shooting at the historically black church. These circles seem to effortlessly float above you, drifting away, and suddenly you feel the heavy loss of the nine innocent lives.
This particular exhibition strives to nail down a point in time, the summer of 2015. As you move through the works there is a wide disconnect from one artist to the next – you see here the wide breadth of what affects us – some joyous, some contemplative, they each offer the viewer a slice of the same time. Our goal at The Southern is to create an environment in which a dialogue can occur about issues and events which are relevant to our identity as people living in the South. Time and again the joyous nostalgic memories of the South are highlighted whereas the tougher topics are typically brushed under the rug as we do not want to face or accept the more unpleasant side of our reality. By creating a space where representations of both the good and the bad memories can coexist, we continue to work toward the goal as a society to be honest and open in order to move forward. - Erin + Justin Nathanson, co-curators / gallery owners