London transplants transform their home into a contemporary art gallery 

Living Room Art

Tim Parsons (left), Jessica Charlesworth

Jonathan Boncek

Tim Parsons (left), Jessica Charlesworth

When artists Stacie McCormick and Igor Jocic moved from London to Charleston several years ago, they were drawn to the beautiful downtown and sprawling seascapes. They wanted an escape from the cramped quarters of city living and space for their two growing girls.

But after decades in London, there were adjustments to be made, even in an open, welcoming place like Charleston. McCormick was surprised to find that in a city with a thriving traditional art scene and an annual international festival dedicated to the arts, a noticeable lack of contemporary art. She missed the type of art that pushes the limits, that challenges viewers — art that is on display at most major cities around the world.

No matter, though. McCormick and Jocic loved Charleston, and were happy to be here. Then, when they found their dream home, a ramshackle old place from the 1880s seated on a lot on Warren Street, a plan began to form. They decided to renovate the house from the ground up, with one exciting aim: for bits of time throughout the year, their home would be open to the public, transformed into a contemporary gallery where visitors are encouraged to engage with works of art in a whole new way. They wanted a warm space, a homey space, without the cold, imposing feel of many commercial galleries.

So they did it. They included in their home a larger-than-normal living room, with blank walls and minimal furniture, designed to double as gallery space for small shows. In part, says McCormick, it was a "selfish effort to bring in challenging artists to engage in challenging artistic conversations." It was also a way to share their love of contemporary art with an all-new audience

They call the gallery Home Is Where the Art Is.

Their efforts are paying off in a big way. From May 30 through June 9, their gallery will be open to the public from 3-6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and from 2-6 p.m. on weekends. This is their third show, and the first to feature international talent. Londoners Jessica Charlesworth and Tim Parsons are another husband and wife artistic team who will bring their work here to Charleston for the first time.

McCormick first met Charlesworth and Parsons on a trip to London, to which she travels frequently for her work as an international representative for the Urban Electric Company. She saw one of their pieces, "A Form of Happiness," and discussed it in a lecture she gave to local students. This particular piece, a wooden model of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, which controls the brain's pleasure centers, caught her attention. Combining art (it's beautiful) with craft (the wood carving is delicate and smooth), she thought it a perfect piece to share with this, our Prozac Nation. It asks a simple question: What makes us happy? And McCormick thinks the answers to that one question will be compelling

Charlesworth and Parsons accepted McCormick's invitation to show their work at the Home Is Where The Art Is gallery. As part of their stay, they'll complete a several-week-long residency, working in the gallery's recently overhauled studio to create and display another piece with their collection. They'll also hold an Artists' Conversation on June 8, in which the public is encouraged to speak with the artists themselves about their work. Because, as McCormick is eager to note, "contemporary art is really a conversation, a dialogue. It's an opportunity to think about how we live and what we do."

Make no mistake, Charlesworth and Parsons' collections will certainly spur thought. The works they'll bring include Parson's re-appropriated pieces of Americana, like Weber grills and Radio Flyer wagons. Charlesworth's collection, MeMo, is an artistic discussion around our rituals of death and dying. McCormick is quick to point out, though, that it's not dark or scary.

Home Is Where the Art Is will also show off works from local artists David Boatwright, Jane Winefield, and Joshua Lynn. Boatwright is perhaps best known for his murals at GrowFood, Hominy Grill, and the City Market. Winefield and Lynn are both graduates of the Savannah College of Art and Design, and are now adjunct professors at the College of Charleston. Each local artist works in the home's studio. Giving these artists a place to display their own work, and thus growing and nurturing local talent, has always been another piece of the gallery's vision.

McCormick and Jocic have been thrilled with the reception they've received since opening their doors to Charleston's art scene. McCormick says that Charleston, for all its traditions and deeply rooted history, isn't a city "that resists change. In fact, it embraces the new remarkably well."

Of course, it's important to remember that their vision, their gallery, is also their home. Their public hours are by necessity limited. When they're not in the act of curating a show, the gallery space is their actual living room. They move their furniture (mostly Scandinavian, certainly minimalist) back in, some of the art back out. Their two daughters, four and nine, run through the hallways and play in the yard. Even the yard, though, is potential gallery space. Though no works have yet been shown outside, McCormick hopes to do so in the future. It's the merger of life and art that they love and embrace. As McCormick says, "Art comes alive when it is lived with."


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