A Trip to a Birthday Party in Columbia, SC, for Laura Spong

Like I’ve said in the past, every once in a while the planets alien and a window opens where both Linda, my better half, and I can attend an art event together. The Birthday Party celebration that if ART Gallery and Vista Studios/Gallery 80808 in Columbia, SC, were having for Laura Spong, on Feb. 18, 2016, was one of these occasions. Both galleries are presenting the exhibit, “LAURA SPONG AT 90: Six Decades In Painting,” on view from Feb. 4 – 29, 2016.

These exhibitions celebrate the career of one of South Carolina’s most prominent painters, Columbia artist Laura Spong. Spong turned 90 in February. The exhibitions present some 120 paintings from six decades of Spong’s production, from the mid-1950s until 2016. You can read about the exhibits and a few essays about Laura Spong on Pages 15 & 16 of our Feb. 2016 issue of “Carolina Arts”, which can be downloaded at (www.carolinaarts.com).

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The Birthday Gal

It also happens to be 3rd Thursday in the Vista where galleries will be open and showing lots of fine art. But our main reason for going was to pay our respects to Laura Spong.

Back in the day when I was delivering copies of a printed version of “South Carolina Arts”, our publication before our current version, “Carolina Arts”, when I usually got to Vista Studios in Columbia – if the studios were open, most likely the only person there early in the morning would be Laura Spong working in her studio. So, once a month we would have a little conversation about what was going on in Columbia and other aspects of the visual arts. Now that I’m not traveling every month I really miss those talks.

Both shows are full of amazing work. The Birthday gal doesn’t look a day over 60, but the work is the proof of those 60 years of painting. She’s the best looking 90 year old I know. And, at that age, Spong is not slowing down – just check out all the work she did just last year at ifART Gallery. It’s all there until the end of the month. If you’re a 30 year old budding artists, go take a look and see what your career “could” look like – if you keep at it that long.

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I’m working against the clock here, so I’m making this short and you need to get on the stick and go see these shows. Both galleries will always have works of her’s to see, but not like this collection of so many showing her work over 60 years.

I took some photos of some works I would have liked to take home, but after all I own an arts publication. But that doesn’t mean I can’t dream. I also took some photos of the way the gallery looked and the crowd there that evening.

There was also a nice exhibition catalog produced by Wim Roefs of ifART Gallery, with essays by Mark Flowers and Wim Roefs, including lots of color images of Larua Spong’s works.

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“Never, Never”, by Laura Spong, 2012-15, oil on canvas, 12 x 12 in. on view at Vista Studios

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“SR III”, by Laura Spong, 2015, oil on canvas, 12 x 12 in. on view at Vista Studios

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“If You Don’t Know What You’re Looking For, You Can’t Find It”, by Laura Spong, 2015, oil on canvas, 60 x 48 in. on view at ifART Gallery

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“Explosive Reds”, by Laura Spong, 2015, oil on canvas, 36 x 48 in. on view at ifART Gallery

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As I mentioned, Feb. 18, was the 3rd Thursday of the month, which means it’s also Third Thursday in the Vista, where galleries and art spaces stay open later to show off art for people who can’t come by during regular hours.

We started at Vista Studios and then went over to ifART Gallery to see the other half of Laura Spong’s show, but we had the gallery to ourselves while we were there. There were lots of folks walking around the Vista, but it seemed not many knew about the art walk or they weren’t interested. We went over to City Art Gallery and as we got to the door Randy Hannah was just closing up. They had already had a big reception for their current show. Hannah let me in for a quick look – a private viewing. While he was locking the door another couple came to see the exhibit. As we were walking off it looked as if he was going to let them in too. For all I know that routine might have gone on all night.

We returned to Vista Studios to say our good-byes and asked a few folks there how Third Thursday in the Vista was going and it seemed not well. We were there for Laura Spong, so I didn’t notice at first that not many of Vista Studio’s artists were there with open studios. It’s going to be hard to sustain a monthly event if people are not following through. But, then I don’t blame folks who have worked all day for going home when the public doesn’t show up. But, all those who show up to a closed door, don’t have much reason to come back. I also have to add that the Vista Guild, an organization whose mission is to promote the Vista does a poor job on promotion. Galleries are paying dues and public funding is going to the group, but not much results can be claimed except that all the development in the Vista is bringing in folks naturally.

On the way out of town we stopped by One Eared Cow Glass. If we’re in Columbia, unless they are closed – we stop by One Eared Cow Glass. There were a good number of cars there and cars at Lewis + Clark, but when we walked into the gallery, no one was there – it was no surprise that everyone was back in the studio watching the Cowboys work – that’s Tom Lockart and Mark Woodham. But to our surprise something different was going on this evening. The Cowboys figured it was better to teach a glassblowing class during 3rd Thursday in the Vista – instead of waiting for folks to stroll in. And, sure enough, all while we were there watching this class – no one else came in for 3rd Thursday in the Vista.

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I was very jealous of these folks getting a shot at doing the glassblowing dance. They were making their own glass balls – from start to finish. If like me you’re thinking – I wanna do that – get in line. There is a waiting list to get in one of these classes.

But, if you’re going to participate in 3rd Thursday in the Vista and don’t want to sit around waiting for folks to show up – why not teach a class and people if they show up can still have access to the gallery and watch glass objects made right before their eyes. Smart – very smart.

Frankly, I think the visual art community has gone a little too far when it comes to art walks, art strolls, or art whatever. The Vista used to have just two art walks during the year, which saw huge crowds attend, but now that several are going on every month – they’re not so special anymore. And, I’m not sure gallery owners need more reasons to provide the public with food, drink, and entertainment in the hopes that someone will buy some art.

Folks – art walks are for looking at art – not for free wine and food. Go see Laura Spong’s exhibits – she’s been waiting 60 years for you to come see her work and take one home to enjoy for another 60 years.

P.S. I want to mention that on the drive up and back to Bonneau on the Lake, we listened to Don Henley’s CD “Cass County” – which I recommend to anyone. At some point Linda said it was kind of country sounding and I explained that Henley was a good old boy from Texas and the Eagles were known for county rock. So what you get with “Cass County” is a country sound (a little slower than the Eagles’ sound) but still the cutting words you’ve come to know from Don Henley. And with the help of a lot of other country stars like Mick Jagger and Stevie Nicks. Of course there’s your Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton and more.

It was two hours to Columbia, three hours there, and two hours back home. What better way to spend seven hours – while a lot of folks just watched TV.

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