"I feel like Charleston is the perfect incubator for that creative spirit. It's an all-are-welcome kinda vibe," says Robert Lange, who, along with his wife Megan, owns Robert Lange Studios. An artist himself, Lange walks around his studio on the day of President Trump's inauguration. He talks quickly, excited about the studio's current exhibition, Attention to Detail. We agree that right now, more than ever, this city (and this country), need art.
And the art at this show is perhaps of the most accessible variety — realism. There's something both familiar and disturbing about images that require a second look, requiring the viewer to step back and then to look more closely.
"We didn't want artists that just render really well," says Lange. So he scoured the earth — the artists are from Spain, England, Canada, and right here in Charleston — for artists who devote many, many hours to creating works that look so real, they beg to be touched.
"To dissect these, they all get to this level that's exquisite," says Lange. "It's time above all else." While Lange admires all of the works in this show, he is drawn, time and time again (three times, by our count, while we follow him around the studio), to Tom Martin's "A Moment in Time." The image is indeed stunning. What's fun, though, is that the only way the viewer begins to understand that this is not a photo, is from its whimsical subject matter — a naked woman propped up by a cluster of grapes.
"I have always been making art of some kind, even without knowing it," says Tom Martin, who lives in South Yorkshire, England. A graduate of the University of Huddersfield, Martin first realized that he could make a career out of art when he visited London's Plus One gallery, where he noticed that artists were making work similar to his, namely, those in the realm of photo and hyperrealism. Plus One eventually started selling Martin's work, and the rest is history.
"I work in the way I do because it's what comes most naturally to me," says Martin. "I am someone who has a very keen eye for detail and am meticulous in my approach to anything I do." Martin is not alone in his proclivity toward highly detailed work — in fact Attention to Detail is chock-full of artists who create just as the exhibition's title suggests they might.
There's Kerry Brooks, who often inserts herself into her paintings. You can see her in two forms in this show, as a "Girl In the Pearl Earring"-type portrait, in "Red Ribbon," and in an '80s rocker influenced painting in "Mummer." "I'm closest to me, it's the easiest to tackle," says Brooks of her paintings' recurring subject matter. Like Martin, Brooks didn't consciously set out to create hyperreal paintings. "That's just how it happens," she explains. "I have a tendency to get into detail and texture, it's a natural inclination to see how far I can go. It's fun to see what you can produce."
And yes, Brooks is quick to admit, the works may be an organic result of an artist's proclivities, but they still take a very long time. "When you use glazes, it's extremely time consuming. Certain effects can only be achieved that way," she says.
"Their processes are so different, but at the end, it's a lot of time," says Lange. We stand before George Ayers' "Candy Corn," a hyperreal image that depicts candy corn overflowing from a jar, co-mingling with lumpy peanut M&Ms. Ayers, who is self-taught, didn't start painting until he was in his late 30s. "I was a draftsman in engineering for 15 years," he says. But, calling himself "artistically inclined," Ayers watched a lot of Youtube videos and through "lots of trial and error," he's crafting incredibly intricate pieces like "Candy Corn" and "Fruit Tart." The inspiration behind some of these brightly colored still life paintings? "I just really like candy corn," says Ayers.
While Ayers takes the mundane and turns it into something extraordinary, artist Harriet White explores more glamorous subjects in her work. She creates large-scale paintings, like "Glow," which shimmer and shine. "The artificial lighting and use of heavy makeup and wigs detach the image from reality and leave it open to interpretaion. Many of my paintings follow the aspect ratio of a cinema screen (1:1.85 or 1:2.35) to reflect and embrace the artifice of the imagery and maybe suggest a narrative which is never made clear," says White.
Like all of Attention to Detail's artists, White spends a great deal of time with her works, in part because of her chosen medium. "I've always worked in oils. I love their vibrancy and versatility and the long drying time suits my way of working. I love to get lost in the process of it all, even the smell is part of it for me," she says.
"There are certain things that are undeniable," says Lange of pieces created over many hours. "A painting can look identical from eight feet away and as you get closer it falls apart. Or it gets tighter and tighter."
As devoted to skilled artists as he is, Lange is also interested in the people behind the works. "We believe in character first, artwork second," says Lange of the artists he and Megan choose for their shows. Skills are a must, of course, but the couple doesn't care about your resume or where you've shown before. Looking around the studio, Lange says that he can always vouch for the people behind the paintings. "It's a nice team on the walls," he says. "We just resigned the lease for another 10 years, and we hope to be here forever."