When I bumped into artist Sherry Browne at this year's Piccolo Outdoor Juried Art show, she had some bad news for me. After six years of exhibiting contemporary art on the Edge of America, she'd decided to close her Studio Open gallery for good. With her lease running out and an urge to spend more time on painting, sculpture and the "snipshot" collages she's best known for, Browne had found a studio closer to her James Island home. "I've had enough of being a shop girl," she quipped. "I feel kind of caged in."
Studio Open was almost a secret pleasure. Salted away on W. Hudson Avenue on Folly Beach, it showed erudite work in an area best known for surf and sandals. Browne hosted three international shows; a David Carson "happening"; vivid wildlife art by Vernon Washington; a bizarre but beautiful boulder installation by Sonoko Mitsui; and warzone-battered work by Iraq's Jaafar Khadar and Asaad Al Saghir. The Naked in the South group show ran in 2004 and '05, featuring all-nude art by Rick Dean, Peggy Howe, Mike Sheppard, Charles Parnell, and others; 2006's Faces You Cannot Ignore was a portrait show that included bold work by Erin Eckman and RT Shepherd.
At its best, Studio Open acted as a gateway drug for Follyites to inspiring contemporary work by the likes of Mitsui, Eckman, and the Iraqi artists. At worst it was a place to have a cup of tea and soak up the amiable surroundings.
When most businesses announce they're going to close, they close. But art galleries are more precarious enterprises than most, and they're run by creative types. Two days before this issue went to press, Browne called to tell me she'd changed her mind, or her mind had been changed for her — by a mixture of family support, a commitment to show an artist's work next year, and a post-Piccolo rush of visitors who described her as everything from an "icon" to "a bit of the fiber of Folly Beach."
So Browne doesn't get to retire just yet. She hopes to emphasize her own work in the future, pushing it on the web as well as in her gallery. Apparently she didn't realize how important she is to Folly, bringing artists who "don't normally show" there and running the only commercial gallery in the area.
There's a psychiatric institute in Britain called St. Bernard's, the largest one in Europe. There's a wall in the hospital where patients have dabbed their paintbrushes to remove excess paint. Over 50 years, layer upon layer of those dabs have created something unique — until now.
Local artist DAB (his initials) is honing a technique he calls "Dabism." He paints a tiny layer of oil paint with a fine brush, leaves it to dry, then traverses his stroke with another, lighter layer. This labor-intensive, months-long process leads to landscapes that stand out from the canvas, but it's really the colors that draw the viewer in. A painting of the Junior Regatta is the best example, where the sea shimmers, the wind puffs up the sails of the simply fashioned yachts, and you feel as if you're part of the action.
DAB spends up to 15 months on one painting, and some of the art on display at his Courtenay Gallery retrospective this month still is in progress; a few pieces are only 25 percent complete. That's a brave, risky move on the artist's part, but it allows visitors to MUSC's Harper Student Center a chance to see how he adds his tiny details to each decorative landscape.
Unlike the patients at St. Bernard's, DAB is cognizant enough to want to patent his Dabistic technique and recognize his stubborn streak. "No one else would go through that much effort in a single painting," he says. "I'm trying to get the patent office to recognize this new process for the textbooks, not for money or to prevent others from doing it."
DAB is a skilled artist, as his pen-and-ink tributes to Escher and Giuseppe Arcimboldo attest. Whether Dabism makes the history books or not, he's an artist to watch. He shares his Vision & Process show with realist Joanna Jackson, who breezily captures the quirky lines and rich colors of Charleston architecture. Both artists will display their work through July 6.