Gallery show nothing short of 'breathtaking'


The first inclination on walking into the Sumter Gallery of Art’s latest exhibits is simply to say “Wow!” Artist Mary Edna Fraser’s large batik panels are exquisitely breathtaking, and if the measure of a teacher’s skill is evidenced in the work of the students, artist/instructor Virginia Scotchie must be one of the best in the world.
Fraser’s “Lowcountry” combines her eye and enthusiasm for environmental concerns and the forces of nature with the ability to translate her aerial photographs, taken from an old 1946 Ercoupe 415C piloted by her brother, into massive, colorful depictions of the scenery below. Her batik process skillfully turns the complex process of waxing and dyeing into “the inquisitiveness of a fleeting moment” to create visual poetry and reveal “subtle environmental messages.” In tune with geology, topography, maps, charts and satellite images, she adds color as an emotional rather than realistic response” and uses some pieces like the outline of Kiawah to hopefully preserve the land’s integrity.
Curator Gardner “Cole” Miller manages to exhibit the pieces in a smooth arrangement of colors, designs, patterns and complementary (as well as complimentary) relationships, strengthening the overall impression of the unity of Fraser’s artistic voice and vision. For example, three large hanging panels speak clearly of her skill and observation. The center, “Moonrise (105-by-44 inches) dramatically captures the moon on the horizon and the dramatic interplay of water and reflection. The intricate process which tends to break down the fabric after four dye vats manipulates a series of tonal changes — white, blue, turquoise and purple — creating a composition that generates a sense of tranquility.
“Self Portrait” includes a piece of land where she and her husband live. “Captain Sam’s Spit” recreates the flow of design and color, and “Ashepoo” and “Flying North” are wonderful blends with the oil paintings nearby.
Somewhat as an aside, her “Homage to William Morris I,” London wallpaper designer in the 1860s, further displays her ability to use the batik process to communicate color and design. For the most part, her batiks reflect a respect for earth – like tones, often softly muted or integrated to form an overall emotional impression. Just studying the various types of silk fabrics she uses is a revelation.
Her latest challenge, oil paintings, further illustrates her penchant for landscape and color, especially in the Carolinas. “Movement,” a composition extremely compatible with her batik “Flying South” and “Live Oak Path,” continues to display her sense of color. “High Tide” and “Hobcaw Nocturne” introduce strong, vivid colors used to create an intensity of experience.
In her gallery talk, Fraser stressed that currently she primarily focuses on doing large commissioned pieces and wants to focus on oil painting, especially on a bigger “gallery” scale, but she remains committed to using her art to stress the importance of the earth’s preservation.
Ceramic artist Scotchie’s work in itself in interesting and involving, often combining unexpected shapes. In her artistic statement she stresses that “I do not wish for this work to be named or labeled … but to trigger one to look closer and find beauty and intrigue in the humble, ordinary and familiar objects that surround us.” The variety of her pieces substantiates that desire.
Scotchie’s generosity in sharing her art space with her students adds an immeasurable dimension to the show.
Alexandra Stasko’s ceramaic figure “Prunus Serrulata,” Japanese Cherry Blossom, voices her concern for the relationship between man and ecology.
In her words, “my work is somewhat journalistic,” reflecting her long connection between being in tune with nature and her “concern for the natural world.” Her large male figure combines images of life, “flora…and decomposition.”
A description of her process is available in the gallery notes, but the statue itself is dramatically exquisite, especially the sole of the left foot. Another figure, “Minoan Woman,” by Carl Craighead, recreates the atmosphere of the “Santorini frescoes.” Again, the gallery notes explain the historical significance, while Craighead’s female form captures the lifelike dainty woman, the details of her body and missing leg, the pale colors of her garments and the historical pattern in the seat.
Earle Smith’s stoneware, clay vase “Straight Line” encourages the eye to find the line, purposefully created to suggest a shadow. “Shelf of Life,” a collection of shapes and forms by Jamie Berry, uses found objects, wood, clay and paper to focus on relationships of shape, form and interest. Bri Kinard’s “Solicitude,” a massive mobile-like structure of hanging ceramic, copper, hooks and metal, gains even more emphasis from the shapes scrolled almost shadow-like behind it. Each “student” included offers an impressive commentary on the artist as a creator and explorer, a combination of mental and manual dexterity.
See the works of Mary Edna Fraser and Virginia Scotchie and her students at the Sumter County Gallery of Art, 200 Hasel St., from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday through April 21, 2017. Admission is free. Call (803) 775-0543 for more information.