AnTobar-TheWell, CANDLFineArt,2023

Review: An Tobar, The Well

(By Fran Gardner, professor emerita of art and art history at the University of South Carolina Lancaster. Photos courtesy Drake White)

(Disclaimer: Any opinion contained in this column is that of its author.)

Leslie Hamrick, mo tobar, 2023, mixed media collage.

They all understood the assignment. Go to Ireland, live there for a month, make art about the experience, then talk about it with each other, see what happens.

The artists Leslie Hamrick, Laura McRae Hitchcock, Susan Irish and Staci Swider took this self-directed assignment to heart and the results of this deeply personal experience are on view now through the end of June at CANDL Gallery. The show’s title, An Tobar, translates from Gaelic to The Well in English. Their trip to Ireland was, for each, the filling of their wells with Irish culture, landscape and experiences. They each will recount remarkably unique experiences and their art reflects this. But each slipped through the veil into something enchanted and this magic is what binds this exhibit and these friends.

Laura McRae Hitchcock, Wild Knowing. Courtesy photo

Leslie Hamrick communes with the goddesses finding symbols that invoke ritual, wombs, objects born from the earth. While she has a loose and indelicate handling of materials – obvious wrinkles in the paper, torn bits, uneven edges, loose line work – her result has a raw tenderness that would seem hard to achieve given her process and materials. Her pieces feel like freshly exposed artifacts from an ancient archeological site, ready to be studied, decoded, and held as precious objects.

Laura McRae Hitchcock is the way-finder. Her work, while abstract, maintains object recognition. We know when she’s talking about landscape and when she’s talking about rocks within that landscape. Her stacked rock cairns speak to balance and direction, the cairn historically used for route making. The rocks are solid, yet they also have a turbulent interior evident through their surfaces, giving them an internal life that we don’t usually associate with the inanimate. In the landscape views, the rocks have an intense red heat emphasizing a sublime beauty of the wild Irish coast.

Susan Irish, The Parting Glass, 2023, mixed media on panel.

Susan Irish is the alchemist, transforming one thing into another — in this case no longer useful objects like junk mail envelopes, contact lens cases and packaging of all kinds. This detritus becomes the foundation, surface and texture of her art. Embedding her trash of no value, then applying some artistic ceremony unique to her that includes paint and wax, from which emerges something of great value. Her messages speak of places as related to ancestors, deep roots and wind, weaving and clouds, pulling natural order and grace from the wastefulness of our culture.

Staci Swider is the wizard. She takes impossible bulky textures – lace, fabric, thread, even knit sweaters and rugs — and asserts magic to make them wholly unified with her painted surface. Her magic is wonderfully thick paint and crude, bulky stitches, and somehow these pieces feel elegantly pulled from the earth. Her raven and vessel symbols clearly hold personal meaning, as she repeats them throughout the exhibit, but to the viewer might translate as freedom, travel, but also nesting and home.

Staci Swider, Another Year’s Caution, 2023, collage.

The preparator of this exhibit, Baillie Conway, and the gallerist, Drake White contributed their own enchantments to put together four differing bodies of work that leap across the gallery walls and floor to have conversation with the others. And you, the viewer are in the middle of this conversation when you are in the gallery, contributing your own voice and interpretation to the messages surrounding you.

Do not be put off by the magical references used throughout this review. Go see this work and perhaps you will experience moving through the veil yourself, leaving the difficulties of daily life and cultural unrest behind to slip into the charms of four artists who reached deeply within themselves to experience another place. And perhaps they even found another time.

CANDL Gallery is open from 5 to 7 p.m. Fridays, 11 a. m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and other times by appointment. The work is for sale and will be on display through June 30.

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