We decided sort of last minute to drive down to Charleston, SC, on Friday to catch the opening reception for my good friend Gary, who is showing alongside printmaker Lou Stovall (read a review here). The drive took much longer than anticipated with the baby, but luckily we made it in time and I got to catch up a little with him and a couple other old schoolmates, Sean and Shane, who each came from out of town as well for the big night. It was so surreal seeing these guys again after almost ten years – we were all noticeably more mature (at least on the outside), yet it felt like we had parted ways only months ago.
As Gary told me, much of the work in the current show was a result of his walks to and from his studio, just outside of Charleston’s elegant and prosperous downtown. With the feel of the pavement beneath his feet day after day came the realization that here were neighborhoods in decline which needed to be preserved or at least documented in paint. I'm always impressed by the sincerity of his paintings, and it was especially awesome to be able to stand in front of a large group of them for the first time. Maybe just experiencing an old friend’s brush marks in person again was inspiring enough, but I got a real kick out of all the rich ochres and neutral browns in his middle shadows, those great Old Master colors that inspired us so much during our days at school. On Saturday the two of us spent a long while in his studio talking about paint and reminiscing about those good old days, and I left on Sunday morning with a sense of renewal.
Overall our experience of downtown Charleston was a brief whirlwind tour, but we had enough time to do some strolling, get all messy at a little crab shack just beyond the fancier establishments on East Bay St., and visit the Gibbes Museum of Art where I surreptitiously photographed a couple of paintings that I found interesting:
- a modern looking Robert Henri; and a portrait by Antonio de la Gandara of the infamous "Madame X," which the unfortunate lady commissioned in the hope of undoing the great scandal caused by Sargent's earlier painting. (See them better on the Web: 1, 2.) The Henri piece was part of a small, eclectic group that included a W.M. Chase portrait remarkable for a sketchy part done in Gary's same browns and ochres; a large and almost garishly loud Childe Hassam; as well as some magnificent Hokusai and Hiroshige prints.
On the drive home through the Carolinas there was an extremely strong wind, and we passed through dust clouds and the smoke of what we later learned were huge brush fires just before the Virginia border, which turned parts of the sky amazing shades of red and purple. It was a fantastic end to a pleasantly surreal weekend.