Young Contemporaries allows CofC’s brightest students to shine 

New kids on the block

Sometimes College of Charleston students seem like pseudo-residents of our city, a constantly rotating collection of young folks that will stay here for four years before moving on to their next big adventure. That makes it hard to get excited about the talent coming out of the school, to take pride in their work, because most of them will be gone before they've even reached their full potential. But there are always a few who get hooked on the pluff mud and decide to stay, to change the face of the city ever-so-slightly, and usually for the better.

SCOOP Studios owner Colleen Deihl was one of those students, and now she's a frontrunner in the local contemporary arts scene. On Thursday night, she handed out awards to students at the opening reception for the college's Young Contemporaries student showcase, presenting a new crop of artists that we're lucky to call locals — at least for now.

The annual exhibit shows off the brightest talents coming out of the college's School of the Arts, including painters, sculptors, printmakers, and photographers. The winners are selected by a guest juror chosen by the Visual Arts Club. This year it was Amy Mackie, director of visual arts at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans. Mackie spent a recent Saturday in Charleston sifting through more than 400 entries, ultimately choosing 60 works.

"My eyes were kind of spinning by the end of the day. There was a lot going on," Mackie says. "It's interesting how a few days later certain imagery just sticks in my head, which is a testament to its strength and success."

Sculpture is the strongest category, with dramatic, memorable pieces spread throughout the gallery. Lauren Moore's "Flesh In, Flesh Out," which won the prize for best sculpture, stretches from floor to ceiling in front of a corner window. Made from polyurethan-coated landscaping fabric, the solid sculpture has a billowing effect and invites viewers to explore all sides. Another of Moore's pieces, "Objectified," is a tightly wound, brain-like block of pink insulation.

One of the most interesting showings, however, is Jesse St. Jon Wallace's "Cornucopia: Seeing Gold Everyday into the Sea," which he calls his "soon to be forgotten masterpiece." He combined fabric and various metals to create a massive, bug-like creature that's only mildly impressive from afar. But get a little closer and you'll realize you can peer inside to see an illuminated belly full of balled-up papers. "It holds within it a visual narrative of the process of creation from humans to destruction from apathy or rivalry," he writes in his artist statement. St. Jon Wallace won Best in Show for the piece.

Photography students also presented some solid work — Mindy Edwards and Andi Droze are standouts — as did the painters. Taryn Sandler's three vibrant, textured abstracts take up one wall, while Lizzie Budd's celestial "The Deep Within" mesmerizes with dripping shades of blue, purple, gold, and black. The nudes are relegated to a back corner, and Blake Godsey's "The Effect of the Viewer on Nudity," a casual study in muted pink and green, is the most eye-catching piece.

"What I was really after were people who perhaps had started a project for a class and taken it somewhere else," Mackie says of her selection process. "They took risks, and they were invested in a way that it was clear it wasn't an assignment, they weren't just doing it for a grade. They actually really wanted to go the extra mile."

Young Contemporaries traditionally runs concurrently with the Salon des Refusés. Hung in the long hallway of the Halsey, the Salon includes pieces that were rejected by Mackie but chosen by CofC faculty members.

"We tend to think of both of them as being significant shows. It's simply different jurors," says John Hull, chair of the studio art department. "One of the things that you would find is if you had a different kind of juror come in you would see an entirely different show ... It's sometimes hard for the students because they don't necessarily have the perspective to see that this is one person's opinion on a particular day of what they were interested in."

The Salon includes plenty of exhibit-worthy pieces — in fact, several of my favorite works are from these second-chance students. At the end of the hall, Lauren Rackley's "Nightlife" is like a peek at a college student's Facebook photo feed. The 16 small paintings depict typical goof-off activities like playing beer pong, preparing for Halloween, and relaxing on the porch. Sage Graham's "Stained Routine" is a collection of approximately 200 stained tea papers with messages that she's collected over the year and pinned to the wall beneath a gold filigree. They're arranged with an eye for gradient and pattern that begs a closer look. Courtney Peterson's "Waiting Room to Heaven" uses highly detailed clay figures to humorously depict an all-too-familiar waiting room scene, complete with magazines, outdated furniture, and a cheesy poster.

"Across the board there were people that I think were really invested, and I hope they'll continue as working artists whether they go to graduate school or a residency school or just get a studio and start maintaining a studio practice," Mackie says. "There are definitely some strong visual thinkers."


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