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Gallery 135 exhibition 'impressive in size, execution'

A REVIEW BY JANE G. COLLINS Special to The Item
Posted 12/9/12

A great companion for the current Sumter County Gallery of Art shows, Gallery 135's "Jingo," woodblocks by Chris Johnson, explores created myths and their cultural and political overtones. Brought to Sumter through the efforts of Curator Frank …

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Gallery 135 exhibition 'impressive in size, execution'

Posted

A great companion for the current Sumter County Gallery of Art shows, Gallery 135's "Jingo," woodblocks by Chris Johnson, explores created myths and their cultural and political overtones. Brought to Sumter through the efforts of Curator Frank McCauley and the Sumter Cultural Commission, the exhibit is part of the "Emerging Artists Series," a venue dedicated to featuring artists who have never had a solo show or are at the beginning of their artistic careers.

Johnson, who has studied art at both Clemson and South Carolina, describes "Jingoism" as the "mindset of a nation or individual that harbors and fosters extreme and fervent nationalism, usually in the form of aggressive expansionist foreign policy." Through his artwork, he creates a country in which myth and visceral symbolism play a role in "the evolution of a collective national identity to reveal the inherent divisiveness of this belief system. "

Each of the major pieces is presented twice in differing colors. His work is meticulously developed and so large it must be printed on a large press made specifically for Clemson. An informative video discusses the process Johnson uses.

His "GMC National Bird" establishes the framework for his thesis pieces. "Genetically Modified Organisms - or organizations" features three bird heads - peacock with preening tail tucked down, an eagle and a rooster. One "taloned" hand clutches a crane; the other, a baseball bat. Recurring symbols of stars and arrowhead designs attest to the multiple cultures attempting to merge into one and his use of "flags, maps and heraldry " to indicate the "tools used to manipulate and control opinion and expression."

"Too Big to Fail" borrows from the Native American belief that the Great Spirit created the homeland by placing earth on the back of a giant turtle. Also the symbol of slow and plodding behavior, this tortoise holds what looks conspicuously like Wall Street on its back (we've all heard this story more than once). The letters around the outer frame could suggest Native American words, while cogs stress the rut of continuing action coming from the combination of the city and those trying to save it. But this poor creature continues to support the weight and enormity of the village created on its shell.

"Horned Animal Party" also emphasizes Native American art as well as other ethnic-inspired graphics. Arrowhead designs, crosses, stars - I swear I see a Palmetto tree - form the basis of this American Indian-inspired buffalo. The bull, its nostrils flared and eyes both dull and glaring, represents a strong mixture of cross cultures and a somewhat bull-headed mystique.

"Border Patrol" gains particular strength from the inclusion of red and yellow flag like colors in the one rendition. As a sea creature, it lives in "free" territory, yet the colors and tail, which suggests a submarine fin, imply the creature is scoping out surrounding areas, keeping surveillance on territories. The work itself is extremely impressive in size, shape and execution.

"Jingo" may be viewed at Gallery 135, Patriot Hall, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday until Jan. 4, 2013. For more information, call (803) 436-2260.