There are some things a critic's never supposed to say to an artist. "Which way up is this supposed to go?" is one example, or, "How long did it take you to paint this? Five minutes?"
I found myself having to bite my tongue recently when Georgia-based artist Michael Lachowski showed me some of the photographs from his new King Street exhibition. They were well composed, with rich colors and a strong contemporary resonance. But they also looked like fashion photography. To point this out to an elitist out-of-town artist would have been asking for trouble, so with visions of Lachowski brandishing a pallet knife at me, I kept silent.
Fortunately, Lachowski's far from snobby. He rides a bicycle, supports the pedal-pushing Charleston Moves organization, and has the kind of laid back, self-effacing attitude that sits well with Charlestonians. "A couple of years ago I entered a fashion competition in Surface magazine," he told me, and I breathed a sigh of relief. "Since then, I've added fashion to my portfolio and combined it with my art. It helps fashion magazine readers and 20-year-oldish people to connect with my work."
Lachowski's model of choice, Atom (a.k.a. Adam Burdett), portrays various well-known local figures in CHAD: Charleston Historical Art, Dude, a solo show opening this week that's sponsored by urban design firm Keane & Co. Dressed in crisp 21st-century duds, Atom poses on historical sites as notables like William Rhett, Francis Marion, Joe Riley, and others. While the artist aims to maintain a "fidelity to the personages and the facts of history," visitors to the show at 310 King St. will see the Swamp Fox sunbathing on Marion Square, the Mayor jogging past the Pineapple Fountain, and the pirate-bashing Colonel Rhett gripping a toy plastic sword.
Lachowski's wry humor is also evident in his series of expressive drawings for CHAD. The edges of the state flag are scribbled ripples; the Hunley is represented by a nutty professor's design sketch. They make a purposefully messy contrast to the precise representation of the photographs.
The artist will soon know whether CHAD is a hit. He'll be holding a panel discussion at the offices of sponsor Keane & Co on Thurs. Oct. 26, inviting comments on a "visitor's guide to the future of Charleston" from the audience.
Unlike some artists from beyond who drop a show in our laps for a few weeks and then disappear, Lachowski seems to have a genuine affection for Chucktown. CHAD has taken him several months to put together, as evidenced by a 50-inch-long montage of photos that show how King Street has changed recently — in the time it took him to record the whole street, old buildings were transformed and sidewalks dug up. For a man who believes in "living in the moment," Lachowski manages to make the most staid aspects of our local history seem (dare I say it?) fashionable.