When Stacy Pearsall took on ownership of the Charleston Center for Photography this year, she knew it was more than just another job. The two-time National Press Photographers Association Military Photographer of the Year Award-winner saw a need in the community for youth programs, outreach classes, and art therapy for disabled veterans.
"My reason for taking it over wasn't to make hoards of money," says Pearsall. "Any profit is turned back into the community. We have free exhibits for young photographers. Whatever the Center doesn't cover is paid from my own pocket."
Pearsall's concern for the community meant that local photographers and businesses rallied around her in September when she announced that the CCforP was struggling financially. Without additional contributions from its customers, the seven-year-old Center would be forced to close.
The day he heard the news, Sean Ferneau started speaking to Pearsall about what could be done. "She's trying to do something new," Ferneau, the gallery director of Aster Hall on King Street, says. "She's trying to appeal to a broad base of artists without many resources, making her time and equipment readily available to them."
Recognizing a kindred spirit, Ferneau began to plan a benefit show at his gallery.
Aster Hall opened six months ago, shortly after Pearsall took over the CCforP. It's owned by jewelry designer Angela Hall. Ferneau has 10 years' experience in the fine arts world, and he's gathered an impressive roster of contemporary artists, including photographer Timothy Pakron, abstract painter Benjamin Hollingsworth, and multimedia artist Alex Leopold. For the benefit show dubbed The Project, these regulars will be joined by a pair of artists with a graffiti background, Ishmael and Desism.
"Several of my artists use non-traditional media like iron, fire, and spray paint," says Ferneau. "I've been purposeful in choosing artists who are young, working in contemporary media with a contemporary historical construct in mind."
That history can't be escaped without mentioning the street or graffiti art movements. The gallery director says, "Street art is always a protest, and I'm interested in artists who protest in general. So what are they protesting about here? A young owner having trouble with her business due to economic forces beyond her control."
Ferneau says that graffiti artists are "the artists most apt to fight for what is ethical. They are most inclined to fight against prevailing conditions brought on by the state."
Ishmael and Desism will collaborate on a site-specific, semi-permanent mural in the gallery courtyard. They will also bring work to sell at Aster Hall. Ishmael's art will be all-new, and this will be Desism's first time exhibiting in Charleston.
Over the years, Ishmael has been formalizing his work and experimenting with new art techniques. His work is familiar to those who've caught it at Eye Level Art or the City Gallery at Waterfront Park's group show Contemporary Charleston 2009: Revelation of Process. His work combines street art, movie references, and illustrative painting. He's at his best when he has lots of room to express himself, which bodes well for the courtyard mural at Aster Hall.
Charlotte-based Desism grew up in the Bronx and was part of the golden age of graffiti art in the 1980s. He was also an early proponent of the branding, merchandising, and art sales that are now common in his medium. His work sometimes has a soft, hazy quality that's perfect for landscapes and natural subjects (cobwebs, tree branches). Juxtaposed with tags and modern cultural images, this aerosol art reads like the dreams of a Pop Tart-fueled child.
A portion of the proceeds from this event will go to the Charleston Center for Photography to help it in these difficult economic times.