Artists reveal their private spaces at M Gallery invitational show 

Peeping Toms

When gallery owner Maggie Kruger receives new paintings for her gallery, she often sheds tears of joy. Kruger opened M Gallery on Broad Street last September and has found great support from the local community. "I love Charleston," she says. "The response to what we do has been overwhelming. Even the mayor has taken time to encourage us. It is truly an amazing place."

Kruger's enthusiasm is palpable and is projected onto visitors of her gallery. The space itself is a made up of meandering rooms set off a main hallway, resulting in an intimate, homey vibe.

M's upcoming exhibition Private Spaces is an invitational show of works by artists that the folks at M Gallery "are obsessing about," Kruger says. The genesis of the show came about when she received a painting by John Ball called "Hotel with Hat." The scene depicts a slightly disheveled hotel bed with a hat sitting in the middle. The painting projects a sense of quiet calm and familiarity. For Kruger, who spent many nights in her "past life" as a consultant staying in hotel rooms during business trips, the painting struck a chord. As a sole female business traveler, the hotel room was a sanctuary where she could wind down and relax at the end of a hard day on the road. "Hotel with Hat" became the first of a group of paintings that would allow an intimate glimpse into the lives of gallery artists.

Some of the paintings in Private Spaces depict likely scenes of domestic comforts: someone reading a book in a grassy yard, the tranquility of a trickling stream, and the familiar faces of loved ones. Others are more surprising. "Pietrelcina" by Gladys Roldan de Moras shows a convent scene from the southern Italian town of the same name. A pensive nun stands on the stoop, gazing at a fountain.

Kruger says, "I was astounded at what people chose," and goes on to show me some of the nudes by David Hettinger and other painters who embraced the theme wholeheartedly. In many cases the private spaces of these artists are relatively mundane — the studio, a living space at the artist's home, a favorite landscape — all giving the viewer a glimpse into the daily lives of the artists and what they consider a uniquely personal expression of their inner workings.

The Petite Salon Azure is on view concurrently with Private Spaces. This exhibition of works by John Traynor, Dominic Avant, Brooke Olivares, and Tom Balderas revolves around the ocean and includes beach scenes and maritime paintings dominated by bright blue skies and deep blue water, as the name suggests.

Avant's paintings stand out thanks to a unique style and palette. The artist formerly worked as an illustrator and animator for Disney and contributed to feature films like The Emperor's New Groove. The paintings depict playful encounters on sandy beaches and sailing adventures in shallow waters. "It has a very animated sense about it. There is a sense of surprise in his work," Kruger says.

The Petite Salon Azure is a less intriguing group of paintings but provides M Gallery with a fresh contrast to the intimate scenes of the artists' Private Spaces.


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