I had the great fortune of visiting Charleston recently with my parents. What a fun city full of character! I enjoyed it and hope to return someday soon.
While visiting, we did a great many things, but of course a museum stands out to me as rather memorable. The Gibbs Museum, located on Market Street, is dedicated to highlighting artists past and present from the American South.
I have to admit I was once rather ignorant and judgmental about the South, I would even joke that I needed a passport to drive down from NY. When my parents moved to Charlotte, they hoped I would follow them after college. I told them it was too hot and I would never live somewhere with that kind of heat (insert irony here: where do I live now?!). After visiting them for quite some time this summer I have fallen in love with the South. There is culture, courtesy, history and so much more. It just goes to show one should never make assumptions about a place, but visit and explore and learn.
There were several exhibits at the Gibbs that drew my interest. The first notable is the exhibit The Creative Spirit: Vernacular Art from the Gadsden Art Center Permanent Collection. Haven’t heard of Vernacular Art? Maybe you have heard of Art Brut, or Outsider Art? This is an art movement that is essentially gallery or museum curated, as the work made by this group of artists are generally untrained in the arts, have little knowledge of the arts, and rarely try to promote and sell their work in the system. They are often individuals who feel compelled to create and do so with whatever materials they can find available to them. Some artist or art appreciator who has knowledge of the museum system discovers them and brings their work under the fold, so to speak. A very notable and famous Outsider artist, who is no longer an outsider, is Jean Dubuffet. Some of this work can be crude in content, crude in its construction, or appear somewhat childlike in nature. It reinforces my belief that even without art training art is integral to our very being. If people outside of the system can be driven to create it speaks a lot about human nature.
The other exhibit that was of interest was In Search of Julien Hudson: Free Artist of Color in Pre-Civil War New Orleans. Julien Hudson is one of the first documented free black artists of the 19th century. It is astounding to look at his work and see his skill while only being able to imagine just how hard his life must have been as a young Creole man and an artist in a time of slavery. I had so many questions looking at his work: how did he obtain supplies? How did he get jobs? How did he survive as a free man in New Orleans during that time period?
My favorite artwork, however, appeared to be part of the general collection. It is entitled Artist by Mary Whyte. Click here to see the image since I don’t have rights to show it on my blog. This work is big and beautiful. I was totally impressed by the scale, considering her medium is watercolor. There is something so wonderful about this young girl holding crayons or pastels in front of that colored, graffiti-covered wall. It suggests some commentary to me as well. Graffiti is generally identified as an illegal act. She is wearing white, an innocent color, and her body language almost seems as if she was caught doing something wrong. Was she drawing on the wall? Does she have anywhere else to create? The suggested story as well as the amazing technical execution has me in LOVE with this painting. Mary Whyte has her own website with Coleman Fine Art for further details about the artist.
I learned so much from these exhibits, I am sooo glad I went. If you are in Charleston, I recommend you check out this museum, it is worth a gander!