Arts » Visual Arts

Spit & Polish

Scruffy folks invade Charlotte's high end



I saw two art shows this weekend. One was Memoirs of a Single Mother by Cordelia Williams, showing through July 6 at the Light Factory in Spirit Square. The other was Diverse Works, showing through July 15 in the former Cargo Kids store behind Harpers at SouthPark. SouthPark offers everything a bunch of money can buy. SouthPark is old money, the Light Factory is new money. Both are Charlotte High Enders sporting new summer blood.

Who left the back door open? Scruffy folks from the other side of the tracks have wandered across the borderline into our economic highlands, invading two of our Holy Places -- one cultural, one commercial. Both downtown and SouthPark now boast infidel squatters. Both places now offer fruits from unlikely places, and both will be left the better for it.

The Light Factory is now an uptown girl, ensconced in the world of Charlotte's cultural ground zero. It is homegrown and has ascended to the cultural throne honestly, through hard work and uppity, excellent shows.

Cordelia Williams is a bookmaker and artist. Viewing book art is closer to reading a diary than viewing a picture. Looking at a painting, sculpture or print, there is the intrinsic assumption the maker intended to share the work with others, with us -- the windows are opened, the world is invited inside. Bookmaking feels more personal to me; the act of viewing is intimate and voyeuristic. I'm not here to learn something, I'm here to learn something about you.

Williams' work on display at the Light Factory underscores my keyhole theory. Her photographs depicting her children's lives are a peek into her life. We peer over her shoulder as she records a piece of her quirky personal journey -- my kids, my family, my good, my bad and beautiful.

Williams has chronicled her eccentric and experimental foray into parenting through the lives of her children. Her photographs from the mid-1980s document Roscoe and Caitlin, her punk-era kids, and their friends as they live moments of their teen lives in front of her tolerant eye behind the telltale camera. Here's the record of ritual rebelliousness, an inside view on teen life cutting loose at Momma's house. She has laid out a portrait of her children's radical normalcy, as she reveals herself as the genuine radical -- the mother whose unconditional acceptance allows her to witness teen moments typically shared only with peers. Her position rouses both envy and scorn in me -- I don't know whether to applaud or chastise.

Memoirs of a Single Mother includes hand-retouched photographs of parties and gatherings of fringe kids, an intimate look into young lives lived large. They gather outside the mainstream and within the safe confines of familiar walls, surrounded by graffiti, libations and laughter, chaperoned by a tolerant and mute lens. Cordelia spared the rod and kept advancing the film and the roof never caved in. One assumes everyone was fine Sunday morning.

"Being an artist, my mother was ever recording life's meaningful moments, and her work has the ability to transport someone to a time and place where the essence of a moment can be seen and preserved," stated Roscoe Fox, Cordelia's son.

The photos are both cutting edge and dated. Here is spiked red hair, boys in chains and mascara, leather jackets decorated with skull and crossbones and passive-aggressive deadpan stares. Four yammering mouths vie for position in one conversation. Bodies pose and parade. Young faces waft from glum to darkly glamorous and alluring before dissolving in laughter. It's all so radically ... cute. This isn't a teenage wasteland on the highway to hell; it's an oasis for like-minded misfits.

The punk culture, particularly that of Charlotte, was marginalized, ignored by the media and never co-opted by any mainstream marketing machine. The movement was a spike on our cultural timeline, too weird to warrant more than a glance then and, thank God, too punky to merit a prime time nostalgic review now.

What survives this flash in time are the snapshots of a nosy and empathetic shutterbug mom, her kids, her kids' friends and the captured memory of elusive communal joy.

Diverse Works is a show featuring five artists at the Creative Collaborations Artspace in the SouthPark area. Through happenstance, good luck and participating artist Robert Langford's efforts, Langford and his companions are exposed to eyes and pocketbooks outside their studio zip codes. Crosland Properties' Judy Horn made this possible with her enthusiastic response after seeing the artists' work: "Pay the power bills; you've got the place till we lease it."

Langford is a natural painter, or so it appears. He makes it look easy, though gauging from the scraping, over painting and indications of paintings over paintings on each canvas, getting here was something greater than easy.

Langford explores different territory, and different looks, but his best paintings here are a series he calls "You're Among Friends." Five vertical panels stand together across one wall. Figurative organic shapes wend upward through each painting. Each shape is painted on top of, and broken apart by, rectangular white planes stacked and fractured over a black ground, like sheets of paper arranged on asphalt. The effect is simultaneously disruptive and soothing, calligraphic and figurative. It's decorative painting with emotional teeth. The grit, grime and struggle of his smaller paintings lose much of their juice behind a tonic veneer of prettiness.

Langford gave up his 25-year corporate job to follow his calling, to take the painting plunge. Scary. He hasn't looked back (often). As with Cordelia Williams, I don't know whether to envy or scold him. Perhaps both.

Theron Ross is a blacksmith who uses his craft to forge lightness from iron. His hand makes the art of forging iron sensuous, sometimes lyrical. "Quiet Motion" is two sets of spindly iron tentacles rising from rough shiny pods atop the maple gallery floor. They resemble giant black jellyfish viewed upside down, with arrowhead tentacle tips wafting overhead.

Patrick Glover paints landscapes through wet windshields and politically stoked cartoon collages. The windshields are blurred by water and light and are pleasantly hypnotic, but the collages are better.

Dolly Parton is dressed like Uncle Sam's concubine: Red, white, blue and blond, she gives us a sexy thumb's up. Big boys in business suits stand between flag-draped coffins and dollar signs. Little boys dressed in fatigues smile and salute, TV's dance and boom, the Braque-inspired cubist configuration is upbeat and jaunty, and someone is pulling my leg.

Lasha Khidashell works in stone, granite and marble; like fellow artist Theron Ross, he makes intrinsically dense material light, delicate and upwardly mobile. His stones are rounded and porous and reach toward the ceiling. He was a tombstone cutter in the Republic of Georgia. He honors the living with a deft hand and sympathetic eye.

Nathan Rose works in crepe myrtle, cherry, walnut and persimmon. He makes tables, stools and frames that all allude to the fine, imperfect body of the material. Knots, worm holes, growth rings, checks and sap swirls are accentuated; legs sprout animal feet, decorative appendages grow from beneath table tops. Their warmth makes touching involuntary.

There's opportunity here for those trolling SouthPark. These five artists are too little seen, and the show here has sold well -- there are blank spaces from missing paintings. And one small miracle: The work is affordable.

The Light Factory is located in Spirit Square at 345 N. College St. Call 704-333-9755 or go to for details. Creative Collaborations Artspace is located at 4722-G Sharon Road, behind Harpers. It's open most of the time during shopping hours. Call 704-650-2978 if it's locked up.

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