Charleston City Paper

In George Gallery's Small Works show, the big stuff is the small stuff

To Be Treasured

Mary Scott Hardaway Dec 6, 2017 4:00 AM

There are spaces too small for people, too small for furniture, too small for comfort. But is there ever a space too small for original art, for lasting beauty, for daily inspiration?

"You need your little pieces," says George Gallery owner and art enthusiast Anne Siegfried. "I live in a cottage in Wagener Terrace — and you know it has that central hallway, with like 15 little walls. That's a space I go through a million times a day. I want something that's inspiring [to hang there], it's really just as important."

This is the George Gallery's second year hosting a holiday season small works group show. Siegfried says for the first few years, she didn't want the Bogard Street gallery to participate in the increasingly popular small works scheme — it can feel gimmicky, of course, thinking about fine art stuffed in stockings. But Siegfried has since come around, and Small Works, Big Impressions is far from a cheap trick to get people in the door. Sure the gallery did "gangbusters" at the small works show last December, but Siegfried says she really appreciates the chance to highlight what she loves most about her artists, all at one time.

Courtesy of the George Gallery
Nashville-based artist Amanda Norman reveals a softer side in her watercolor pieces like 'Deep Dive'

One of these artists is Nashville-based Amanda Norman, one of George Gallery's OG members. Siegfried, who grew up in Nashville and has known Norman for some time, points to a small "color study" of Norman's, "Who would be upset if that was under the Christmas tree? How could you be upset if you opened up one of those?"

One could gaze longingly upon Norman's 11" x 7.5" watercolors "Petal" and "Deep Dive" for hours, despite the fact they're small, and so subtle that — blink — and you might miss their oh so delicate composition. It's a smaller, and softer, approach for the Brown visual arts alum.

"The watercolor really came about when I got pregnant — maybe even a little prior to that," says Norman. Norman took a brief hiatus from gallery work when her now two-year old son Ward was born, but she's back at it, working all day in her studio as Ward, who Norman says is a "Mommy's boy" wraps himself around her legs. "Everything I do is one-handed," she laughs.

Perhaps the result of a deft, one-handed approach, Norman's watercolors are a departure from her first love, oil, and her second love, acrylic. "I grew up painting in oil, in high school and college. In college a professor was using acrylic and I said 'no!' but then I fell in love. I loved the drying time, the mixed mediums, the building up of texture." Since 2007 Norman says she was working exclusively in acrylic, then dabbled in commissioned watercolor home portraits and wedding bouquets. These color studies, though, as Siegfried refers to them, are something else altogether.

"I loved being able to build up more translucent layers," says Norman. "I always thought of layers as being highly textured, but it's fun to build these ... I'm still playing off the idea of color field painting, softness, how can you find interactions between the different layers and sections." Like a number of the other represented artists, these smaller works are not necessarily in Norman's comfort zone. "I still consider them paint minis," she says. "There's a different feeling there ... I so love working big. It's a totally different challenge to get the same looseness, depth, and intricacy in such a small space."

Siegfried says she appreciates that her represented artists create work that is almost always recognizable, but occasionally, sweetly surprising. Take for instance, Birmingham-based mixed media artist Catherine Booker Jones. Known for her rich punches of color, Jones' Small Works' pieces may surprise avid fans. These small pieces feature blocks of color painted on old, 19th century registers. It's intriguing, and the eye immediately attempts to pull out the words on the register, then stops, focuses on the color, returns to the scribbled words, the aged paper.

"That's really what draws me to non-objective, abstract work," says Siegfried. "I walk by a piece that I've had seven years and say 'Where did that orange circle come from?' You move it to another room, a certain light hits it — I think, 'I love that piece, why was it hiding?' It can take on different lives as you live with it."

And choosing art to live with really is the best present you could bestow upon a loved one. With prices ranging between $200 and $2,000, the Small Works pieces are feasible gift options, and posesses, inherently, a value greater than any iPhone, pair of Frye boots, or Echo.

"We all have so much stuff," Siegfried says, letting out a sigh, arms spreading to encompass the pieces soon to be hung that are living, for one short life, on the couch, propped on the floor. "But this doesn't feel like stuff. People are wanting things that are meaningful — original writing, original art, a music experience. Maybe we need more substantial things in our life. Everybody is a little stressed out, no one knows what is going to happen tomorrow. It's nice to know that this one thing has more heft, more weight, because it's real."

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