Follow your Art: Sculpt Mettle Redux Show at The City Gallery

The City Gallery in downtown Charleston. Photo by Susan W. Pidgeon.
The City Gallery in downtown Charleston. Photo by Susan W. Pidgeon.

by Susan W. Pidgeon

There aren’t too many times you hear someone from James Island say they have to leave the island for something. In fact we are proud to proclaim loudly “Everything you need is right here.”

Well, contemporary art is one of the few areas that is lacking on James Island. Jim Booth aside, there are very few art galleries on our beloved island.

Sadly, that void leaves an art lover to go elsewhere to see the latest contemporary art shows. Maybe that won’t always be the case, but it is currently.

Sculpt Mettle: Redux! A Henry G. Michaux Retrospective
A sculpture by Henry G. Michaux. Photo by Susan W. Pidgeon.
A sculpture by Henry G. Michaux. Photo by Susan W. Pidgeon.

Sunday afternoons are made for relaxing in front of the TV or reading or another quiet activity. With that in mind, I chose to head downtown Sunday afternoon to see the latest art show at The City Gallery.

There is a parking garage right across the street so that part was effortless as well. Anyone who has ever driven around the block waiting for a space to open up or walked a long way back to their car in the dark knows how much value a close parking spot can have.

I really didn’t know what to expect from the show. Usually you have some idea from the title, but this one had me stumped. Well right when I walked in the gallery I was blown away by the ceramic sculpture that greeted me.

It was about the right height to be considered a human figure yet had strong connotations of an old timey gas pump. Then as an odd unexpected element, breasts paraded around the perimeter near the top. “Hmmm. Just what exactly is going on here?” I wondered. But it held my attention.

Do Not Touch…
A clay piece by Henry G. Michaux. Photo by Susan W. Pidgeon.
A clay piece by Henry G. Michaux. Photo by Susan W. Pidgeon.

As I continued around the gallery I was struck by the artist’s mastery of form. I also found it ironic that there were “Do Not Touch” signs on each pedestal yet they seemed to be begging to be touched. In fact, one was called “Touch me” yet had a big bold “DO NOT TOUCH” right there in plain view as well.

The sculptures had obvious beginnings in slab clay forms yet they were some of the most imaginative deviations from the typical vessel form I had ever seen.

Through the use of color, found objects and various appendages and tactile enticements such as repeated patterns in the clay, the artist had entered a higher level indicative of what ceramic sculpture can be if pushed further.

The pedestal as part of the piece

Another thing I noted was the fusion of the pieces with the pedestals. So often the artist seems to merely plop the art upon a base and call it complete.

These were so much more effective in that the base seemed to be a part of the form. Whether it was the use of bowling pins or a metal base that was sculptural in form, they read as one cohesive unit to the viewer.

I also studied the pen and ink drawings which I found to be very interesting. Lots of minute detail and repeated patterns such as breasts, hearts, flowers and female forms were hidden throughout. Swirling forms brought to mind a dreamlike state such as found in Alice in Wonderland. I expected cherubs to be in there somewhere.

A sculpture by Henry G. Michaux. Photo by Susan W. Pidgeon.
A sculpture by Henry G. Michaux. Photo by Susan W. Pidgeon.
Tactile collages and repeated exhibit posters

Having always been a fan of collage and found object art, I enjoyed the collage wall pieces as well. They were simplistic in color yet complex in meaning. The simplicity spoke volumes.

Lots of tactile enticements were there calling the viewer in, yet these works all stood solid and complete without viewer involvement. The push and pull was apparent in other areas of the show as well.

I felt as if there was an underlying theme from the male artist saying that women entice yet push him away. The works all had a sensual feel to them and of course the repeated breast forms were the most obvious in that regard.

A last interesting element to note were the repeated exhibition posters upstairs. Side by side they all simply stated “Exhibition Poster”, so I assumed after studying a few they were all the same.

I don’t think I have ever seen anything like that in a show before. It was effective and interesting. I expected there to be slight differences, but I’m not sure if that would have been more effective or not.

Visit the City Gallery to see a master of the sculptural form

Go here to see photo gallery.

Pen and ink by Henry G. Michaux. Photo by Susan W. Pidgeon.
Pen and ink by Henry G. Michaux. Photo by Susan W. Pidgeon.

Judging from the dates on some of the pieces which were all the way back to the 70s I think it is safe to say that Henry G. Michaux is indeed a master of the sculptural form.

His show will remain at the City Gallery until February 26. If you can find the time, swing in there and experience them in person…..but don’t touch!

Until we meet again……Follow your Art!

Susan W. Pidgeon, MFA is the owner of The Studio Art Center on Fort Johnson Rd where she teaches private lessons and art classes to adults and children. She received her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2001 and has been teaching ever since. She has taught for the City of Charleston and Charleston County as well as The Artists Loft in Mt. Pleasant. She lives on and loves James Island. You can reach her at (854)202-5394 or thestudioartcenter@gmail.com. You can find her at www.thestudioartcenter.com or her Yelp/FB/Twitter or Instagram pages as well.

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