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    Mechanics Behind the Art of Tom Stanley | Fri. Jul. 7, 2017

    Tom Stanley is an artist and recently retired Professor of Fine Arts from Winthrop University, but most do not know about his earlier careers. In high school, Stanley thought he would become an engineer like his father and even took a mechanical drawing class. Stanley learned how to use triangles, straight lines, and perfect angles to create detailed blueprints. These skills are carried out through his artwork today. During his Artist Talk on June 17th, Stanley told a story about how he would stay up late into the night working at his drawing table, which he strung with holiday lights so not to wake his family. Another memory that stood out to him was drawing triangles into the lining of a jacket that his brother had given him.

    After receiving his undergraduate degree from Sacred Heart College, an interest in working with fabric resurfaced. In 1972, Stanley received a B.A in art and started making wallets for Bloomingdales. Everything he made at the wallet factory was based on common line, symmetry, and precise measurements; to this day, Stanley draws back on those earlier techniques of line. While Stanley’s forms are meticulous, there is an awareness of improvisation that occurs. Stanley’s use of sgraffito requires him to make spontaneous decisions as the acrylic paint rapidly dries. Although Stanley stated that “life is accidental and so is my art,” he does try to minimize errors by placing limitations for each of his series.

    In his series, Untitled Drawings (2012-2013), Tom Stanley restricted himself by using a confined color palette of black and white, uniforming each piece to an identical 47×47 inch square, and requiring that no marks touch the edge. These limitations free him from nominal decisions later, and allow his mind and hands to wander along the blank canvas. The impromptu nature of Stanley’s paintings draws from Abstract Expressionism ideology of allowing the subconscious to make instinctive motions, however the geometric forms harden and ground his canvases to reality. The 2012 series is highly textured due to the sgraffito technique and gives the series a mysterious and chaotic base as the quick mark making is distinctly apparent. The bright white lines float effortlessly in the middle of each canvas and provide a claim to the disarray of scratches, which appear almost animalistic. The abstract nature of the painting allows the carousel of lines to be drifting anywhere in space, but the identifiable shapes of flags, arrows, ladders, and wheels prompt a sense of familiarity.

    Tom Stanley. Untitled Drawings, 2012.

    In the 2013 series of Untitled Drawings, Tom Stanley strips away the scratches that had previously given depth to his work. The paintings in 2013 involve larger line making that stretches out to the edge of the canvas. These forms are more geometric and appear almost digitally printed due to the precision and crispness of the stark white lines. While the 2012 series evokes a feeling of floating, the 2013 is more grounded due to the increased use of triangles and angles. The shapes form illusions of ladders and mountains that cause the eye to climb the canvas.

    Tom Stanley. Untitled Drawings, 2013.

    Tom Stanley is very aware of his use of space not only on the canvas, but in how his paintings hang on a wall, which goes back to his industrial background. The series Untitled Drawings are molded within a nook towards the back of the Halsey, where each piece works together to tell a story. The exhibition will only be on display for a few more days. It is something you do not want to miss!

    -Written by Kat Eader, Halsey Intern

     

    Tom Stanley: Contemporary Art for the Dialogic Museum | Mon. Jul. 3, 2017

    Tom Stanley’s paintings in Scratching the Surface, his solo exhibition at the Halsey Institute, carefully balance easily recognizable forms such as houses and boats with subtle references to art history by utilizing painting techniques that range from sgraffito of the ancient Greeks to drip painting methods found in abstract expressionism. By doing so, he creates contemporary art that is perfectly suited for the revitalized dialogic museum—a space defined by education through conversation and connections. Answers are neither right or wrong, but instead, visitors are encouraged to engage with the space and the art.

    The dialogic museum is characterized by its mission to connect with visitors and inevitably to connect visitors to the art. In addition to careful curation and research of contemporary art, it focuses on educational programming for children and adults alike, hosting events such as artist talks, gallery walkthroughs, and more tactile events for the younger visitors. For example, during Scratching the Surface, the Halsey Institute hosted an event at the Charleston Farmers Market to teach kids how to utilize sgraffito—a technique Stanley uses frequently in his oeuvre where he scratches the top layer of paint to reveal another layer. Doing so provided a tangible way for participants to connect to Stanley’s painting techniques that harken back to the Italian Renaissance, and before that classic Greek pottery.

    Orpheus among Thracians. Greek, 450-420 B.C.

    In some regards the dialogic museum is the “reinvented museum” and is in opposition to the traditional museum, which perpetuates the disconnect between the art and the museum’s visitors. A certain expectation remains for those who enter a traditional museum. They should be quiet, they should be educated, and for the most part, they view the art on display in an objective manner. It is important to note here that neither form of museum is “incorrect,” there is simply a dichotomy that is worth noting when exploring the function of an exhibition space.

    In theory, either form of museum could support any variety or medium of art, but I believe that Tom Stanley’s work is a prime example of a body of work that is perfectly suited to be exhibited in a dialogic museum such as the Halsey. For example, his series Houses (2017) appeals to a wide array of museum visitors. When a child views the series, the color palette and the whimsical nature of the houses is visually appealing. The subject is directly referential to something that a child is familiar with, and often may recreate themselves: a two dimensional house, seen from the front. This accessible point of reference easily starts a conversation about the works. What does Stanley do differently in his works than the child does in theirs? How might seeing the exhibition change the way they view their own house, or change how they perceive their own drawings? And, my personal favorite question that I have heard some visitors asking their children: “What do you see?”

    Tom Stanley. Houses, 2017.

    On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are visitors that enter with prior knowledge of art history, and may have preconceived expectations of how a certain exhibition will explore the craft, or even how it might be referential to other aspects of art history. On surface level, they will be met with the same initial reaction as the younger visitors might be—perhaps a whimsical interpretation of a neighborhood. Upon further investigation, they will find a number of references to different time periods in painting across art history, as Stanley includes sgraffito (prevalent in classical Greek pottery and later in frescoes of the Italian Renaissance), Abstract Expressionist drip painting (Jackson Pollock, Janet Sobel), and line work that is reminiscent of the European surrealists (Rene Magritte, Max Ernst). Beyond that, certain shapes in his work are made by tracing around tools that could be found in a painter’s studio, leaving silhouettes that may only be recognizable to fellow visual artists. All the while, he maintains his own visual language, abundantly interesting, and always reflective of his life experiences.

    Joan Miró. The Tilled Field, 1923-24.

    As museums change and update how they function, the visitor’s relationship and experience with the art will be affected as well. The reinvented museum encourages visitors to engage with art visually and dialogically. Tom Stanley’s work is a prototypical example of how visual art can support these changes in the function of museums. His synthesis between accessible forms and vast knowledge of both his craft and art history in general provides a captivating exhibition that makes it easy for Halsey visitors to begin artistic conversations and to make valuable connections that heighten the museum experience.

    -by Phillip Greene, Halsey Intern

    What do you see in Tom Stanley’s 12-Panel Drawing? | Thu. Jun. 29, 2017

    The closer you get to Tom Stanley’s 12-Panel Drawing, the more you see.  From 12 feet away, you may glaze over and miss something.  From two feet away, this piece invites to you play a game of I-SPY as your eyes fluidly bounce from each panel to the next.  From 12 feet away, triangles line the panels.  From two feet away, these triangles become a variety of mountains; some drawn freehand, some using a straightedge, some stamped with a set square, and some scratched with sgraffito- a Tom Stanley signature.  I like to think the mountains are filled with memories of the Appalachians less than two hours away from Stanley’s hometown of Concord, North Carolina.  From 12 feet away, perfect white circles dot the panels.  From two feet away, those white circles become sgraffito moons above sets of mountains.  From 12 feet away, the background is black.  From two feet away, the background becomes expressive scratching that provides a stark contrast to the splashes of pink made with drafting tools- clean and precise. 

    At the Artist Talk and Gallery Walk Through on June 20th, Stanley described limitations in his process as “provid[ing] a lot of freedom, to be honest. I use what I know and my mind goes from there.”  Stanley defies the size limitations the 12 individual canvases provide by working in a series- “responding to previous actions on the next canvas and so on.”  Beyond the size of the canvas, Stanley limits himself by choosing a specific color palette (pink, black and white in 12-Panel Drawing) and explores manipulating color; white can become a light blue/grey on Stanley’s canvases.  Stanley also gives himself a time constraint in using sgraffito.  In this time constraint, Stanley doesn’t overthink.

    In finding freedom within limitations, I am reminded of jazz- of which Stanley seems inspired by. After all, his Sumter Series are individually titled Blue Rondo a la Turk and Three to Get Ready after Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out” album and, at the aforementioned discussion, Stanley said “the first examples of contemporary art [he] was exposed to growing up in Concord, NC were the covers of vinyl jazz albums.” Stanley’s use of abstract lines and circles are reminiscent of S. Neil Fujita’s album art of “Mingus Ah Um” and “Time Out.” But, to me, Stanley’s process mimics jazz itself. In jazz, structure comes from the chords and melody while freedom comes from improvising over those limitations. Similarly, Stanley makes his art by finding freedom within constraint.

    Come play I-SPY with Tom Stanley’s Scratching the Surface at the Halsey Institute until July 8th.

    -by Caroline Tweedy, Halsey Intern

     

     

     

     

    Sgraffito in Tom Stanley’s series Vessels | Tue. Jun. 27, 2017

     

    As seen throughout the Scratching the Surface exhibition, Tom Stanley uses sgraffito to create depth and texture in his work that often features paintings, work that often features flattened straight lines and simple geometric shapes. However, in regards to sgraffito, it is his Vessels series that headlines among the series of paintings on display at the Halsey, Stanley’s Vessels stands out due to his use of sgraffito. Highlighted by a stark black background, the white scratchings of the artist are able to come through and create volume that compliments the sizable vessels depicted in the painting. The chaotic lines of sgraffito double as a way to gain texture against a limited color palette and also represent the movements of waves beneath the boats. Whether it be repeating small circles, mountainous, triangular shapes, or disorganized scratchings, the sgraffito in Vessels is an important example of the multi-purposeful technique of sgraffito. Stanley is able to master this old Renaissance technique and tie it into his entire exhibition.

    Most of the series seen in Scratching the Surface work with an extremely limited color palette, and this is seen in Vessels with his most notable colors being black, white, and rare markings of grayish blue. Stanley’s sgraffito covers the majority of the black background, with only peaks of black showing through the spaces between scratchings. The large boats are made known are distinguished by the sharp white lines that act as form a barrier against the chaotic sgraffito.

    This is not the first time that Stanley has worked with boats. It was during his Floating series, one of the earliest showcasing at the Halsey, that the artist became familiar with painting boats. Although this work features little sgraffito, Stanley remains faithful to his use of a limited color palette, focusing on black, white, and red to depict his work. Years later, Stanley would create Vessels, this time concentrating on his use of sgraffito and its ability to mimic the open waters.

    Each boat in the Vessels series is placed differently on the canvas. Along with this, their sizes range as well. This small variation with a repeated image is one of Stanley’s signature techniques and can be seen throughout Scratching the Surface. Whether it be the different colored homes in Houses, or the water towers in The Neighborhood, Stanley reconfigures the idea of the everyday object and turns it into an opportunity to express his incredible talent and creativity.

    -by Brittany Marino, Halsey Intern

    Tom Stanley: A Road to Nowhere | Fri. Jun. 16, 2017

    Tom Stanley, A Road to Nowhere (triptychs, top: Set A, bottom: Set C; installation view), 2015. Acrylic on canvas, each 24 x 24 inches. Courtesy of the artist and the George Gallery, Charleston. Photo: Rick Rhodes Photography.

    Whether it be on board a train, looking out of a car window, or simply walking around, Tom Stanley’s A Road to Nowhere series makes one feel as if they are observing passing landscapes on voyage to somewhere (or nowhere). The A Road to Nowhere collection includes four triptychs, two currently on display at the Halsey (set A and C).

    Stanley’s application of vibrant lines in the series compliment the neutral background and creates movement that bounces one’s attention from canvas to canvas. Through geometric shapes and distinctive travel icons such as a bridge, a water tower, and street signs, declare themselves in the work, generating an industrialized feel and adding to the adventure. A contrast between light and dark also presents itself in A Road to Nowhere and alludes to passing time as the artwork flows, perhaps between night and day. Furthermore, Stanley’s use of the sgraffito technique of drawing into wet paint magically exposes detail and texture. Solid geometric objects appear in contrast to the sgraffito technique in the paintings. Throughout the Scratching the Surface exhibition at the Halsey, one can view the last decade of Tom Stanley’s artwork beyond A Road to Nowhere, tracing the progression of his staple technique of sgraffito. 

    Tom Stanley’s A Road to Nowhere not only ignites a visual adventure, but it also constructs a bridge between visual arts and music enthusiasts. Stanley’s A Road to Nowhere was inspired by the Talking Head’s song Road to Nowhere. Tom Stanley excelled in capturing song lyrics, twisting and transforming them into his own visual piece. With uncertainty always looming in life, both Tom Stanley and David Byrne of the Talking Heads found ways to shed an optimistic light on doom.

    To witness artists crossing disciplines for inspiration, as Stanley has done in A Road to Nowhere, is fascinating. The connectivity between art and people when a painter can find inspiration in a song, an author finds inspiration in a ballet, a musician finds inspiration in a painting, etc. itself is moving. A famous example of art influencing other artists is Italian composer Ottorino Respighi using Botticelli’s Primavera, Adoration of the Magi, and Birth of Venus as inspiration for his piece Trittico Botticelliano. Art inspiring and encouraging other artists… That’s cool.

    Come check out Tom Stanley’s work on display at the Halsey until July 8th and be inspired!

    -by Sessalie Gore, Halsey Intern

    Celebrating Women in the Arts | Fri. Mar. 31, 2017

    Throughout the month of March, the Halsey Institute celebrated Women’s History Month by participating in the #5womenartists campaign developed by the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.

    Last year, NMWA developed the social media campaign to highlight the gender inequality in the arts by challenging people to name 5 women artists on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. This year, they had 500 organizations from more than 25 countries participate! The Halsey Institute was the only participating institution in Charleston, SC. The Halsey spent the last month highlighting women artists from past exhibitions, including Renee Stout, Jiha Moon, Aldwyth, Leslie Wayne, Alyson Shotz, and Lesley Dill. We also held a discussion, part of our Halsey Talks series titled Halsey Talks: 5 Women Artists, which explored what it means to be a woman working in the arts today. 5 women artists from South Carolina participated in this discussion, including Michaela Pilar Brown, Arianne King Comer, Donna Cooper Hurt, Camela Guevara, and Kristi Ryba. A video of this talk can be found here.

    Can you name 5 women artists? Here are the artists we named:

    Mark Sloan, Director & Chief Curator:
    Louise Bourgeois
    Louise Nevelson
    Lee Bontecou
    Hannelore Baron
    Julie Mehretu

    Louise Bourgeois

    Tatjana Beylotte, Director of Development:
    Jiha Moon
    Kara Walker
    Frida Kahlo
    Helen Frankenthaler
    Annie Leibovitz

     

    Kara Walker

    Bryan Granger, Manager of Exhibitions and Public Programs:
    Vera Molnar
    Sarah Sze
    Jenny Holzer
    Lynn Hershman Leeson
    Mickalene Thomas

    Jenny Holzer

     

    Katie McCampbell, Manager of Traveling Exhibitions and Special Projects:
    Maria Martinez
    Kara Walker
    Artemisia Gentileschi
    Jenny Holzer
    Bu Hua

    Maria Martinez

    Kaylee Lass, Assistant to the Director:
    Sonya Clark
    Nancy Witt
    Helen Frankenthaler
    Elizabeth O’Neill Verner
    Vivian Maier

    Vivian Meier

    Maya McGauley, Education & Outreach Coordinator:
    Helen Frankenthaler
    Joan Mitchell
    Cindy Sherman
    Yayoi Kusama
    Agnes Martin

    Helen Frankenthaler

     

    Katie Lesser, Archivist:
    Yayoi Kusama
    Eva Hesse
    Jenny Holzer
    Agnes Martin
    Helen Frankenthaler

    Yayoi Kusama

    Jonathan Rypkema, Preparator:
    Kit King
    Nikki Scioscia
    Deanna Templeton
    Margaret Kilgallen
    Sophie Roach

    Deanna Templeton

    We look forward to featuring more artists by participating in the #5womenartists challenge next year! Until then, check out our exhibition archive or take a look at our publications featuring women artists.

    By Maya McGauley
    Education and Outreach Coordinator
    Halsey Institute

     

    The Guerilla Girls: The Conscience of the Art World | Tue. Mar. 21, 2017

    You cannot observe Women’s History month without talking about women in the arts and you cannot talk about women in the arts without mentioning the Guerrilla Girls. They are the Gloria Steinem and the Betty Friedan of feminist art history. They are the pioneering ladies at the forefront fighting to bring awareness to a cause that is and has been so overlooked throughout much of history. They are radical feminists, artists, and archivists trying to change the art world through their work. The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art and the College of Charleston have been fortunate enough to host this group of incredible activists twice over the last two decades. This month marks twenty years since the Guerrilla Girls were first invited to speak at the College.

    The Guerrilla Girls launched their group in 1985 in response to an exhibition that took place the prior year at the Museum of Modern Art called An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture. While looking at the roster they found something significantly wrong with it. With a list of over 160 artists, only 13 of those listed were women. From this they birthed a whole media campaign targeted towards museums, dealers, curators, critics, and artists they felt were responsible the exclusion of women and people of color within the art world. They responded by spreading their message via posters and public advertising. One of their best known and celebrated posters is Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? (1989), which was a direct response to the exhibit held at MoMA.

    Guerrilla Girls, Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?, color offset lithograph on illustration board,1989

    Drawing from female artists like Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger, the Guerrilla Girls adapted and appropriated the visual language of advertising to convey their message. They pasted their posters throughout New York City and even on the sides of city buses for some time. As they recounted in Whitney Chadwick’s 1995 book Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls, “…we then rented advertising space on NYC buses and ran it ourselves, until the bus company cancelled our lease, saying that the image … was too suggestive and that the figure appeared to have more than a fan in her hand.” Their work presents facts, statistics, and lists that show the vast disparities between male and female artists in the art world. Their goal is to reveal how we experience the arts in institutionalsettings,forcing us to consider who holds power in the art world. By spreading this message via posters and through other means of media, the Guerrila Girles make this knowledge accessible and unavoidable.

    A characteristic feature of the Guerrilla Girls are the masks that they wear to hide their identities. They took their guerrilla movement to the next level by disguising themselves with gorilla masks. As stated on their website, “Our anonymity keeps the focus on the issues and away from who we might be.” They have also chosen to not reveal their real names but instead go by pseudonyms adopted from famous female artists and writers. The group member’s pseudonyms include Frida Kahlo, Alma Thomas, and Hannah Hoch, for example.

    Fast forward twenty years ago this month, the Guerrilla Girls were invited to give a lecture sponsored what then was know as the Halsey Gallery and were also the jurors for the 1997 Young Contemporaries show. The name of their lecture was “Guerrilla Girls: The Conscience of the Art World.” Their lecture took place at the Robinson Theatre which is housed in the Simons Center for the Arts at the College of Charleston. I was interested to see if they stuck to their beliefs while going through the jury process for Young Contemporaries and the Salon des Refusés exhibition. While looking at the list of those accepted into the exhibition for that year, I found that of the 116 student artists selected, 77 of those were women while only 39 of those were men, proving they did in fact selected more females to show their art.  

    Event flyer for “Guerrilla Girls: The Conscience of the Art World”, March 21, 1997

    The group has grown since its establishment and they have gone on to have their own exhibitions at museums such as the Tate in London, England and Centre Pompidou in Paris, France. While their original focus was on the gender biases and sexism within the art world, they have grown in scope of issues they seek to bring attention to. They have been working for decades to expose sexism and racial inequality in all realms of the arts and one thing is for certain – they cannot be silenced.

    by Kate Lesser
    Halsey Archivist

    Common Threads between EXIT/ALIVE: The Art of Anthony Dominguez and Ronald Ramsey: Ahead of the Wrecking Ball | Sat. Mar. 4, 2017

    When first viewing EXIT/ALIVE: The Art of Anthony Dominguez and Ronald Ramsey: Ahead of the Wrecking Ball, I immediately saw a profound connection between these two exhibitions. The work of both artists is deeply centered around the city in which they reside: for Dominguez, it was New York City, and for Ramsey, it is our beloved Charleston. The works fill their respective galleries with a certain spirit, one that resonates with the essence of being in each one of these places. This amazing ability is the result of the artists’ adoption of their cities as active rather than passive participants in their lives.  

    Anthony Dominguez, Kindness Cruelty Continuum (installation view), n.d. (early 1990s). Acrylic on black fabric. 92 x 57 inches. Private collection.

    For Anthony Dominguez, New York City was like a mother to him. After making the profound decision to give up all his possessions and live on the streets of New York City, intentionally homeless, he found that the city always took care of him. If he needed clothes, she gave him a denim jacket; if he needed food, she gave him cookies. She provided him a place to work, spots to hang his work, and supplies of all kinds including black fabric from the garment district and bleach from the clean needle program. Homelessness brought him closer to the city and transformed this location into a maternal figure, one which he somewhat lacked in his upbringing. Furthermore, she always served as a source of inspiration, with new subject matter around every corner. In Kindness Cruelty Continuum, a block party is depicted with an elevator which guides the figure throughout the scene — a classic New York scene created in a tunnel between 14th Street and Irving Place. The subject matter can often be easily connected to New York City, but the style reveals an even deeper relationship. Dominguez’s work never leaves the eye restless, urging you to bounce from one detail to another. The pieces are full of chaos and intrigue, are somewhat intimidating but undoubtedly lovable, just like the city that nurtured him.

    Ronald Ramsey. Pirate House 143 145 Church Street, 2015. Graphite and colored pencil on paper. Collection of Jason Petitpain. Photo: Rick Rhodes Photography.

    Ronald Ramsey, unlike Dominguez, takes the protectorate role: stating that he is “watching the city like a mother hen.” Rather than relying on her love, he seeks to guard her and her history. As a dedicated preservationist and lifelong Charlestonian, the love he has for her exudes in every conversation. He roams the streets, studying historic buildings and keeping an eye out for any which are bound for destruction, liberating any artifacts he finds fascinating and recording their facades in their full glory. By restoring past images of buildings in his drawings and collecting pieces of their past, he saves their memory and creates a view of Charleston which grows increasingly more precious as future developments alter the city’s landscape. Among his extremely detailed works we can remember Charleston as it once was and remember the amount of culture in every precious cobblestone. We are convinced to protect her character and rich history through an extremely compelling visual argument.

    Dominguez and Ramsey’s work do not share much in terms of medium and style. One is graphic and death-centric while the other is objective and architecturally-focused, on the surface there is nothing to be seen in common. However, their transportive qualities which take you to another time and place unite them as cohesive bodies of works. They both have the ability to transport you to the center of a bustling city where you can recreate the side streets and busy pedestrians in your mind. This ephemeral quality is attained purely through Dominguez’s and Ramsey’s deep love for their homes.

    by Celeste Caldwell, Halsey intern

    Past, Present, and Future: The Preservation of Place | Tue. Feb. 28, 2017

    Past, Present, and Future: The Preservation of Place

    According to the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, “the Charleston region’s population is growing 3X faster than the U.S. average.”[i] More people are relocating each day to this historic city that boasts beautiful waterfront property, superior dining, and rich culture. The United Van Lines 2014 National Movers Study affirmed that Charleston was the second most popular destination for movers in the nation, and the growing city remains high on this list to date.[ii] Established professionals, retired individuals, and young millennials have flocked to Charleston in recent years to take advantage of the variety of business opportunities and the growing job and economic forecast, which includes the tech start-up community, a growing arts scene, and a nationally recognized food and beverage industry. Charleston also offers a range of leisurely pass-times – temperate, warm weather, vast beaches, and light filtered, walkable streets lined by well-preserved architectural wonders and large palm trees. Despite all of these attractions, one inherent element of Charleston has enticed visitors and residents for years: its abundant, vibrant history and culture that spans from its foundation during the Colonial era in 1670, through the Revolutionary War, the Antebellum era, the Civil War, and the Reconstruction, to the contemporary city that we know and love today.

    Recently, in conjunction with this large and ever increasing influx of people including both tourists and residents, more accommodations have been required to sustain the growing population of Charleston, SC. Because of the location of downtown Charleston on a peninsula, the issue of available space has become a more pertinent issue. Retail property values have escalated tremendously, and as a result, more historic, family owned businesses have been forced out of business by increasing competition. The question then arises, what is the fate of these deserted, vacant buildings? This impending and timely issue is exactly what concerns native Charlestonian Ronald Ramsey, a local, self-taught artist and preservationist. The exhibition Ahead of the Wrecking Ball presents a large portion of Ramsey’s work, including drawings, found objects, detailed notebooks, and miscellaneous objects that he has both salvaged and collected over the past thirty years. Ramsey utilizes his artistic skill set, architectural appreciation, and historical knowledge to create artwork that chronicles the lifetime of the demolished and extant buildings that lend Charleston its historical and cultural prestige. Through his artwork, Ramsey illustrates the importance of the preservation movement in cities such as Charleston that must focus on maintaining – and repurposing – the buildings that comprise and represent Charleston’s vibrant past, thriving present, and palpably prosperous future.

    Ramsey does not discriminate in the types of architectural structures that he records in his drawings, depicting historic homes, old family businesses, wrought iron gates, economic and governmental buildings, nuanced architectural details, and southern landmarks found across the Charleston peninsula. While each work of art completed by Ronald Ramsey is intriguing in its own way, it is particularly interesting to note the location of the structure when considering its impending or previous demolition. Many of the large, elaborate, historic homes and buildings in the Old French Quarter and South of Broad have been renovated and restored, now either occupied or open for historical tours. In contrast, the older homes and commercial buildings further up King Street, in Wraggborough, and into the Upper East Side of the peninsula are either in a disarray, sitting idle and empty awaiting the wrecking ball, or have undergone major renovation and reconstruction to serve completely different purposes that cater to the changing demographic of Charleston. Buildings like Copleston’s Laundry Cleaners (Figure 1) and Regis Milk Company (Figure 3) on upper Meeting Street serve as prime examples to the former classification, while The Ordinary (Figure 5) on upper King Street presents an excellent case to support the latter.

    Ronald Ramsey, Copleston’s Laundry Cleaners 537 Meeting Street, 2015. Colored pencil, graphite, and collage on paper. Collection of Robert Hines, photo: Rick Rhodes Photography.

    Copleston’s Laundry Cleaners, located at 537 Meeting Street, opened its doors in 1886 as the first dry cleaning company in Charleston. Although it was a successful business firm and a landmark location as the first dry cleaning company, Copleston’s closed its doors in 2002, and since has fallen into major disrepair. Ramsey’s drawing illustrates Copleston’s Laundry Cleaners in 1948, with bright, new paint, intact windows, and a fresh façade. However, upon gazing at the building in its current condition, the viewer is faced with a much different exterior presentation: rust and dirt dominate the front of the building, and the paint has faded into muted, washed colors. The windows are broken, revealing an overgrown expanse of weeds and brush that has enveloped the building over the years as a result of the dilapidated roof.

     

    Figure 2: Copleston’s Laundry Cleaners. mid-2000s, https://photos.smugmug.com/Charleston/Charleston-2016/i-djs4qtr/0/XL/Charleston%202016%20June-12-XL.jpg

    This same juxtaposition is experienced when one compares Ramsey’s drawing of the Cream Crest Dairy building, later occupied by the Regis Milk Company, to its current condition at 578 Meeting Street. Ramsey’s drawing depicts the old Cream Crest Dairy building, occupied and in use by the company from 1933 until 1960 (Figure 3). Brick walls with large windows spread across the upper Meeting Street side of the building, with a small, green door in the center. When Cream Crest Dairy closed in 1960, the location was acquired by Regis Milk Company. Since 1961, Regis Milk Company had provided milk, tea, and fruit punch to Food Lion supermarkets located in the Southeast.[iii] In April of 2011, Regis Milk Company ceased production and closed the facility after being replaced by another company as the single-source supplier of beverage products to Food Lion. Once a booming, 14,000 square foot operation, the building now sits empty, its windows filled in with brick and the old Regis Milk Company label barely visible through its flat, white, painted over façade.

    Ronald Ramsey, Cream Crest Dairy 578 Meeting Street, 2015. Colored pencil, graphite, and collage on paper. Collection of Jason Petitpain, photo: Rick Rhodes Photography.

    Figure 4: Regis Milk Company, c. 2013, http://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/postandcourier.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/c/75/c7562b0d-347c-5f55-bf1b-1aa1ac0ff1b5/580511440b259.image.jpg?resize=1200%2C731

    The Ordinary, an upscale restaurant and raw oyster bar at 544 King Street, serves as a beautiful example of how historic buildings in Charleston can be preserved, renovated, and restored to their former glory in a way that simultaneously appeals to the contemporary needs of the city. The building that now serves fresh oysters and seafood to eagerly expectant patrons underwent major design work and renovation to achieve the modern, fashionable interior that is now associated with the trendy restaurant. Over the years, the location had been home to various different business, including a bakery, a car dealership, and most notably a range of banks that have branches across the nation (Figure 5). While the façade of the 1927 building has not changed significantly other than two sconces and two banners to accentuate its prime location on bustling, budding upper King Street, the interior renovation was much more extensive. Architect David Thompson and contractor Mark Regalbuto faced the challenge of creating a modern atmosphere while maintaining the historical elements of the interior.[iv] The original 23 foot ceilings and 3 tall, vertical windows are complemented by a large bar cabinets and a long, reclaimed wood-topped steel bar incorporating the steel salvaged from the old bank vault. The door of the vault serves as a backdrop to the raw bar in the rear of the restaurant, demonstrating how various historic elements found in buildings on the Charleston peninsula that might seem nonfunctional or not valuable can be repurposed to serve as elegant and chic interior design elements while still preserving their importance in the historical narrative of the building and of Charleston, SC.

    Ronald Ramsey, 544 King Street Building, 2015. Graphite on paper. Collection of Robert Hines, photo: Rick Rhodes Photography.

    Figure 6: The Ordinary, 2012, http://eattheordinary.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Building.jpg

    Ronald Ramsey’s drawings of Copleston’s Laundry Cleaner, Cream Crest Dairy, and The Ordinary demonstrate only three of many artistic efforts to present the viewer with images of both demolished and extant buildings in order to provoke thoughts and opinions regarding the fate of historic structures around Charleston. By portraying an array of buildings from all over the downtown Charleston in Ahead of the Wrecking Ball, Ramsey suggests that these places – despite their location on the peninsula – should all be viewed as important and crucial to preserve. Preservation cannot be limited to well-known, acclaimed structures in more prosperous areas, but must extend to neighborhoods that may not flourish and require help with preservation and conservation all the same. Through equal extension of concern and appreciation for historic structures across the peninsula, preservationists can assist in the perpetuation of the history and culture of the city as it exists throughout historic homes, businesses, government and economic buildings, and other important architectural structures and objects found in Charleston, SC.

     

    By Mati Gibbs, Halsey intern

     

    [i] “Population and Demographics,” accessed February 16, 2017, http://www.crda.org/local-data/population-demographics/.

    [ii] “2014 National Movers Study,” last modified February 15, 2017, https://www.unitedvanlines.com/contact-united/news/movers-study-2014.

    [iii] Warren L. Wise, “Regis Milk Co. to Close Doors after 53 Years,” The Post and Courier, March 3, 2011, accessed February 16, 2017, http://www.postandcourier.com/business/regis-milk-co-to-close-doors-after-years/article_460c0402-2541-5ca6-b283-5c3feebbb93f.html.

    [iv] “Former Bank Now Restaurant,” The Post and Courier, February 16, 2013, accessed February 16, 2017, http://www.postandcourier.com/columnists/former-bank-now-restaurant/article_dc7ee3e3-e2a6-5016-8199-7ac658839cc2.html.

     

    Ronald Ramsey: objective documentation or subjective memory? | Fri. Feb. 24, 2017

     

    Ronald Ramsey, 18 Bull St Blacklock House, 2015-16. Colored pencil and graphite on paper. Collection of Robert Hines, photo: Rick Rhodes Photography.

    Ronald Ramsey’s artwork serves as both a medium for historical documentation as well as artistic expression. Each of these attributes serve to form a style which is both detailed and captivating. This is no better represented than in his visual interpretation of the Blacklock House on 18 Bull Street. Taking note of seemingly every detail, Ronald Ramsey creates an image that is accurate enough to serve as historical documentation. However, his use of lines and minimal use of shadow give the piece an almost illustrative quality. Ramsey’s decision to use similar subjects and techniques to depicting them assist in creating a cohesive show with just enough diversity to remain captivating.

    One of the attributes that makes Ronald Ramsey’s artwork so inspiring is his consistency in his work. This is most evident in his use of faded colors. Ramsey’s illustration of the Blacklock House is an example of his muted palette. By using faded colors and negative space, the details of the building are allowed to stick out while the setting is only implied through the address listed in the text.  In this sense, Ramsey’s work functions in a similar manner to a memory where one might recall one aspect in complete detail while only having a hazy recollection of another. Because of this, Ronald Ramsey’s work feels like an amalgam of the human mind as well as historical documentation.

    Overall, Ronald Ramsey creates work that is versatile in its depiction of historical architecture. Using highly detailed lines, Ramsey’s work is successful in creating images accurate enough to function as historical documentation. However, the consistency in his use of faded coloring and negative space allow him to implement his own style. This style is one that not only mimics human the human mind in relation to memory, but one that is truly captivating.

    by EJ Hazzard, Halsey intern

    Opportunity for all | Wed. Feb. 22, 2017

    Anthony Dominguez, Go Library, ca. 2013. Acrylic on canvas, 7 x 14 inches. Courtesy of American Primitive Gallery, New York.

    Go Library, ca. 2013 is a piece from Anthony Dominguez’s Picture Song series, created in the later years of his life. This piece is just one example from the series that embodies his interest in music that he had recently developed during the last few years of his life. He taught himself how to read, write, and play music, and he created penny whistles that he would then use to play his pieces for himself and others. With this coupling of music and visual art, he creates a bridge between two disciplines that would otherwise be two very distinct and separate entities. He uses lyrics within this series to better articulate the themes and motifs shown within the image. 

    Dominguez’s work Go Library captivates its viewers with contrasting black and white spirals that aid in creating a loose storyline, and it alludes to his fascination of synergy and cycles, which is demonstrated in many of his works. The painting displays a procession of distinct individuals walking into the black and white spirals, and the leader is one who embodies the artist’s own lifestyle choice to be homeless. The individuals who trail this leader represent various occupations—especially those that children often aspire to be.  The diversity of this cortege of individuals demonstrates the openness and kindness offered by the New York Public Library, where he would work when he could not outdoors due to weather. This work not only professes his adoration for the library as a haven for every individual in the world, but it also creates a self-proclaimed narrative of inner peace and self-actualization. 

    However, this journey for clarity is not being depicted as a simple task, and with this, he evokes the viewer to ponder and ask themselves questions. Go Library does not give the viewer the answers but acts as a medium that you may use to navigate your life and find clarity amidst the chaos. One must not seek the answers within this piece but the questions, and with this, clarity is depicted by the “Yin and Yang” symbol placed within this work.  This iconic symbol was not only meant to symbolize clarity and the equilibrium of life but demonstrates the necessity of all things right and wrong needed within the world. He found his sanctuary, his clarity, within the open space of the library, physically and metaphorically. The library is a haven for all those who are willing to enter it. This piece acts as a gateway to another world, where anything can happen if one is willing to experience what it has to offer; so, let go of what ties you to the materialistic world and allow yourself to experience the many worlds Go Library bridges within its imagery and metaphors. Anthony Dominguez’s Go Library offers a glimpse into a world of knowledge, excitement, drama and resources that allow equal access, and opportunity for clarity, to all those that choose to enter.

    by Kyler Carter, Halsey intern

    Anthony Dominguez: Exit from Society | Fri. Jan. 27, 2017

    Anthony Dominguez, Master & Slave, 1996. Acrylic on black fabric, 38 x 56 inches. Courtesy American Primitive Gallery; photo by John Bentham.

    At first glance, Anthony Dominguez’s work in Exit/Alive appears to be dark and steeped with foreboding images of death and misery. Infused with Native American, Mexican, and tribal styles, Dominguez’s work at a closer glance tells much more of story than death. Many of the living figures in his work are accompanied by death, as represented by the skull figures, and they begin to tell a romantic tale of the interaction of both life and death. A push and pull, the yin and yang; there can be no life without death, and no death without life. This understanding of the work is a direct reflection of Dominguez’s view of life itself. He understood that living in fear of death would never allow one to never fully realize oneself to actuality. This is specifically reflected in the piece Master & Slave; the living figure appears to be giving part of himself to his heart and also allowing death to embrace him simultaneously.

    It is a very common battle many have; do you follow your heart and dreams, or do you follow the drone of society? Dominguez shows in this piece that to follow one’s heart, one must embrace the potential of death. Death here could mean many things like financial disparity and stability, suffering the disappointment of those around you, living a life that goes against the grain, or death itself. Dominguez understood these drawbacks, and yet he embraced them. He knew that by doing this he would be forever transformed for the better, as seen in the butterfly flying from death’s hand.

    This is the beauty of Dominguez’s work, there is a very deep level of interpretation that makes looking at his work so intimate. Viewers are forced to see in each piece the concept death itself,  and they must reflect upon their own views of the subject. Suddenly, the idea of dying and what comes after it is staring at one in the face (often with a grin). The deep philosophical nature of Dominguez’s work is mainly brought about by his days spent in solitude in the streets of New York.

    Anthony Dominguez, Losing Ground, 2001. Acrylic on black fabric, 14 x 30 inches. Courtesy American Primitive Gallery; photo by John Bentham.

    In his later works we begin to see his opinion of the outside world, rather than his internal mindset. Images of police, broken chains, a crying Statue of Liberty, apples, and hands are scattered throughout. Some of these pieces include a new color addition: red. The introduction to this color is interesting. Why red? Red is associated with many emotions; such as love, anger, or strength. Red, as a color, is very assertive and confident in these pieces. It does make one wonder if the choice of red stemmed from an increasingly confident Dominguez, ready to speak out about the problems he saw in society.

    Anthony Dominguez, Invented News, c. 2013. Acrylic on canvas, 8.5 x 19 inches. Courtesy American Primitive Gallery; photo by John Bentham.

     

    Dominguez’s work is a shining example of how the voices of the marginalized in society should not be ignored or hushed. Their message is often profound and raw. It does make one wonder what other voices are just as beautiful as Dominguez are out there, ignored and passed by on the street. Dominguez represents more than an artist with an opinion, he represents the ignored voices finally being able to scream to the world what they think.

    by Jon David Rochelle, Halsey Intern

    Community Partners 2017