State of Shock
Opening reception May 14, 6 p.m. On view through June 2
Panel Discussion June 2, 6 p.m.
Eye Level Art
103 Spring St.
The idea for State of Shock began with the public outcry over televised message from President Obama to school children across the nation last September. In the days leading up to Obama's message, some parents demanded that the president release his speech before the live broadcast — after all, conservative commentators and politicians were proclaiming that Obama was trying to brainwash children and indoctrinate them with socialist ideology. Other concerned parents simply refused to send their children to school that day, while some schools declined to show the broadcast at all.
"It was hard for me to understand the anger," says British-born artist Fletcher Crossman. Motivated by the powerful emotions and raw anger being expressed by so many, Crossman created a series of controversial paintings depicting the assassination of President Obama.
"It was an instinctive thing when I started working," he explains. "So much of what I was hearing was ugly, and I wanted to put that on the canvas."
The series of paintings in State of Shock are focused on one storyline, one narrative, "like a graphic novel," Crossman explains. Viewers will read the work in order, and as they move from one image to the next, pieces of the puzzle will begin to fit together. "There is an element of decoding," Crossman says. The series of paintings follow a "deranged guy," showing him writing in his diary and later plotting to kill the president. Disturbing images, like Ann Coulter tied to a bed with her tongue cut out and the words, "Oh Miss Coulter, The Sword Is Truly Mightier Than Your Tongue," are already sparking outrage within the community.
Crossman says there were times when he walked into his studio and wondered if he should keep going with the series. The images were "unlikable" and disturbing, but "something kept pulling me into it." He realized he had to paint what was inside and that "sometimes what's inside is not pretty."
Crossman's style began to change eight years ago. Back then, he was making a name for himself as a commercial artist, but he wasn't enjoying the work. He pulled his paintings from several galleries and made a conscious decision to make art for art's sake. During this time, his canvases grew larger, he incorporated text into his paintings, and he began to have fun painting again.
Crossman noted a recent speech by former President Bill Clinton about anger and politics. Speaking on the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombings, Clinton urged political and media leaders to remember that "words matter" and that they fall on the "serious and the delirious and the connected and the unhinged alike."
Eye Level Art owner Mike Elder is keen to emphasize that the exhibit is not politically motivated but is rather a call for temperance in our speech and actions. "Some of the images are fairly graphic," Elder says, "but this is powerful, provocative work dealing with the issue of anger and its consequences. I think when people see the work, they'll see beyond the controversial aspects and come away with a unique artistic experience. This show is quite unlike anything we've seen in Charleston."
Gallery coordinator and City Paper contributor Caroline Millard continues, "On the surface it might be simple to see this show and its subject matter as politically motivated. However, it is our goal as the art gallery and Fletcher as the artist to use this show as a catalyst for open discourse in the community on the role of anger in American politics. The show's subject matter strikes a chord with the public, one that spurs a visceral reaction and ultimately that's exactly what art should do: offer the viewer a forum for critical thought."
Crossman is bracing himself for the show. He knows his work will inspire reactions, but he believes that this is "the most interesting show (he's) ever done." He adds, "It's the most relevant and the most honest." Crossman says he would have created the images regardless of whether they were exhibited or not.
"I hope people will think the work is good technically," he says. "I hope that will redeem the work."
This will be Crossman's last show in Charleston; he is moving to New York in June. "I have loved living here and will be sad to leave, but in an artistic sense, I've done everything I can in Charleston."