REVIEW: Sumter gallery exhibitions 'wonderful, explorative'

BY JANE G. COLLINS Special to The Item | Posted: Sunday, May 19, 2013 6:00 am


Special to The Item

"Selvage," by Jim Arendt and "Sewing with Steel" by Elizabeth Brim are just another reminder of the wonderful current and explorative exhibits offered by the Sumter County Gallery of Art. Both exhibits, currently at the gallery, stress creativity, strong technical skill and the importance of the artist's vision.

Arendt's pieces celebrate his concern for the working man, using denim as a symbol of the "shifting paradigm of labor and place" and how "individual lives are affected by changing economic structures." As he searched for his artistic voice, Arendt realized that oils did not lend themselves to his interest in the common, hard-working laborer. Denim reminds people of reality and the everyday foundation of the working man. Each piece is finished on the back with denim to complete the statement. It becomes the metaphor for labor. Arendt remembers his father, a lineman and a farmer, mending his clothes on the sewing machine.

At first Arendt limited his subject matter to his "blood family" but gradually expanded his concept to include others with whom he felt a bond. In many ways he has used his art to help him understand their nature. The two boat silhouettes are metaphors for his family - listing, but still afloat. They speak for everyday workers who continue to survive even with all the difficulties within their world. His "Mom" is somewhat unflattering; even she is not happy with her more natural appearance - robe, early morning hair. Yet the artist manages to capture a certain strength of attitude.

His technique of using layers of various denim tones carefully captures structure, shading and expression. In "Ericas" he achieves motion in the legs and faces. In "Jamie," the Lake City Artfields grand prize winner for 2013, Arendt explores the mental stress facing his sister. The large piece contrasts the reclining figure of lighter denim against the darker blue couch and furniture. He uses hems, zippers and seams to outline the table and ottoman and the suggestion of design and depth.

Arendt is a big fan of using glue since it allows flexibility. Even the blue jean rivets on "Meaghann" and the intricate shirt on "Ian" are glued. The boy in "Ian" is delicately portrayed, his expression serious, exposing his fixation with the moment, his pose striking a dancer's attitude. The facial features are just as striking as if they had been painted in oil, not layered denim.

Arendt's work goes beyond the mere creation of the figure and explores personality and philosophical observations about life. "Mike," the artist's brother, has a gaping hole in his torso the shape of a small child. The baby next to him is not the same shape but about the right size. It is of MacKenzie, Mike's granddaughter. The two works explore Mike's "loss" of his daughter as she has grown into an adult but his filling the void to love and guide children. Thirteen-year-old "Ellie" receives angel wings because, according to Arendt, "Don't all 13-year-olds need an angel to help them?"

"Jim," a self portrait, aptly combines the artist's use of materials as commentary. His person and personality begin to split apart. The outer faces are more obscure and undefined. The second shapes have eyes and a deeper sense of identity. Suddenly, the glittering jewel form emerges like a butterfly and chrysalis, just like the artist's own search for his artistic voice and personal life. There are no clear features visible; they are yet to be formed as Arendt develops as a person and artist.

Elizabeth Brim's work is equally fascinating, establishing a remarkable level of technical competency and aesthetic commentary. In her artistic statement she succinctly explains her desire to "break the preconceived idea that blacksmithing is an occupation for a brawny man." Hats, shoes, flowers, pillows, and drapery are recurring forms that speak to femininity, but like the snake, another recurring figure, and her use of forged fabricated steel, she has an underlying message of the strength and fortitude of women hidden behind those stereotyped forms.

She attributes the strong domestic reference to the influence of her mother and grandmother, Southern women who sewed frilly dresses. Instead of needle and thread, Brim uses "hammer, anvil, torch and welders to make sculptures that reference cloth ... and celebrates Southern women."

Pieces like her black shoes "For the life she should have had" appear delicate, but even the curly trim is steel - tough and strong underneath the feminine outer surface. Her flowers and plants, like "Talons" and "Fronds" and the delicately curved "Lafayette," contrast the fragile form with the hardness of steel, often placing the floral shapes on tough wood-like forms to underscore the inner strength.

"Catch!" places the flowers on a strong diagonal, attached to the deceptively soft-appearing purse-like form. She continues the contrast of soft and hard in "Tuffet," its arced sides creating a plush surface surrounded at the bottom by steel fringe.

"The Wedding Pillow" underscores the soft looking exterior against the reality of the basic material, just as Southern women continue to resonate femininity while managing hard work. "Miss Wilmot's Ghost" eerily explores the contrast of soft draping and form with the snake slithering at the bottom.

Brim's "Hearts a Bustin'"seems a fitting example of her work. The swelling, pulsing heart, tinged with red hue, is fabricated and inflated steel. She places it on a square, sturdy frame. It, like the artist and women, reflects that inner desire, drive and fortitude, that strength of character and resolve often hidden behind a feminine exterior and trappings.

Both exhibits reward the viewer with interesting perspectives, offering a look at new approaches to creating and defining art. They will remain at the Sumter County Gallery of Art, 200 Hasel St. in the Sumter County Cultural Center from May 16-July 5. Gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday from 1:30 to 5 p.m. For more information call (803) 775-0543.