All of us have small mementos of our past that we can't bear to part with. We keep our precious objects stowed in sacred boxes of keepsakes or displayed proudly on a bookshelf. The deftly skilled Charlotte artist Christopher Clamp chooses to honor these items in oil.
Clamp, whose latest collection of paintings is now on view in a one-room show at Jerald Melberg Gallery, was raised in Leesville, S.C., where he spent a great deal of time with his grandparents. The objects throughout their home hold significance as emblems of a simpler past, and some appear in this latest collection. The value put on "things" by their owners is the force that drives his creative process.
Clamp creates a fill-in-your-meaning narrative with his work, painting small, recognizable objects atop a white table positioned in front of a faded pastel wall. This abundant negative space is made to look old, stained, faded and damp. The artist also carves barely perceptible, cursive phrases into the space, and through their illegibility, they draw a parallel to the fading of memories attached to the objects they float above. The relics are precisely painted with perfect rendering of age, rust and use. For a brief moment, each is made holy, on display for an audience eager to draw their own associations. In honoring such everyday objects, the artist allows a playfulness to dance through each work.
As is true in every show, some paintings are stronger than others, though each will entice a different viewer in its own way. The showpiece of the exhibition, "Sirens," shows three Morton Salt cylinders sitting in a ring of their own salt; their varied degrees of browning imply each is from a different time. Their open spouts, coupled with connotations of "sirens," imply an alluring call out to the viewer. A moth appears atop the far left container, a form repeated from Clamp's earlier works. The perched brown body could represent a freedom foreign to the painted girls; it could flit amongst the canisters, mockingly even fly out of the circle if it wanted.
Another evocative piece is an expertly rendered typewriter, the focus of a painting called "Love Letters." The object sits stoutly against an eye-catching teal background; its curves and weight ground the painting. It implies more romantic ideas of correspondence, along with the quill-like feather softly hanging in the space above. Curves and lines contrast and meet in lovely swoops of circular keys and rigid edges.
One painting of a set of keys is an anomaly among the group, pervaded by a sense of loneliness and isolation. In "Backup," of the two nails perched atop streams of rust on a dingy wall, only one has a set of keys, the presumable backup set. A big dark spot under the lonely nail hints at a frequent swipe of a dirty hand. A quiet hangs heavily on the remaining set, consisting of the type of archaic keys that would open a musty trunk or centuries-old door.
Clamp has mastered the art of involving his audience by creating perfectly nonspecific representations. In a recent interview with me, he admitted that sometimes these objects don't have a hugely personal significance to him, though he knows they'll be important to an awaiting audience member. He illustrated his secret with this visual: Painting a sandwich with a bite out of it is more inviting than painting a person eating a sandwich, because then the sandwich could belong to anyone.
This is a collection of some of the most pleasant paintings I've seen in a while. Unlike many art shows in Charlotte, a viewer will leave this exhibit feeling anything but intimidated. While artistically impressive in their own right, the technical aspects fall to the wayside as the artist enchants audiences with portraits of objects to which they will attach unique and personal significance. This show is accessible, evocative and well-tailored to our community.
(The Christopher Clamp exhibit will be on display through Jan. 5, 2013, at Jerald Melberg Gallery, 625 S. Sharon Amity Rd. Details: 704-365-3000 or www.jeraldmelberg.com.)