What’s On Your Wall?

Published 4:01 pm Tuesday, August 18, 2015

By Kim Nelson

I like to spice things up now and again to keep my life interesting! So this month instead of visiting a collector’s home, I decided to visit the Upstairs Artspace for their closing reception of the second annual 100 x 100 exhibit in late December. I thought I’d interview collectors as they picked up the work they had just purchased at this unique fundraiser, but first, I wanted to learn more about this show. Harold Maass is the current president so I asked him to enlighten me.

“The 100 x 100 is a fundraiser in which 100 artists donate work, and every piece is sold for $100,” Harold said.  “The catch is that everybody signs on the back, so, in theory nobody knows whose work they’re buying … you just buy what you love. There is a preview period on opening night so people can make their choices. Then, at a set time, we open a sales table somewhere in the gallery–nobody’s told where to line up in advance–and buyers hurry over, because the first person who asks for a piece gets it.”

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What's on Your Wall 3

How fun! It’s like “Name That Tune” but with artists! I love it! Harold, who dreamed this up?

“The board’s former vice president, Kimberly Ward, suggested this format in 2013 when we were looking to do something a little different for the annual auction of generously donated art that was the gallery’s main fundraising event for many years,” Harold said. “She led a very energetic committee that really ran with the idea. But this year we added another element – the 50 x 50 sale of works by students at high schools in Polk County and elsewhere in the Foothills. Half of the proceeds from the student sales went back to the schools’ art programs.”

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Genius! I love to see kids engaged in local art events, and to have it benefit a nonprofit as well as their own art programs must be incredibly rewarding for them. I saw a lot of talent on those student walls, and art lovers were scooping up that young talent by the fistful! Congrats to Susan Brady who put together the student portion of this fundraiser.

As I witnessed a steady rush of art lovers grabbing canvases off the walls and waiting in line at the front desk to pay, it was no surprise to hear from Harold that this is an extremely successful event for the Upstairs.

“The 100 x 100 events have been very popular with gallery visitors and artists alike,” stated Harold. “The mad dash to buy paintings adds excitement and fun to the evening. The Upstairs is a big winner too, because it adds up to our nonprofit gallery’s most important fundraising event of the year.”

As I began my interviewing of collectors, I first ran into the Tinkler family who was busy having pieces wrapped. Having just interviewed them for my January article, I was tickled to see what else was going up on their amazing art filled walls. They chose Greenville artist, Paul Yanko’s abstract geometric designed piece to discuss with me.

“I loved the bright colors here, and his technique–bright and bold, great composition too. This is a new artist to us and we are delighted to have it,” Linda Tinkler shared.

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Next, I bumped into Fred Haas who had a lovely abstract in his hands, and he happened to be speaking with the artist who created this new piece he’d just purchased. What timing I thought! I had a chance to speak with them both. I first asked the artist, Lynn Tanner, to tell me more about the inspiration for her painting.

“I’m getting more and more abstract,” Lynn said. “I don’t really want to paint realistically anymore. My work may start out realistic, but then it ends up being abstract. It’s just what comes out of me naturally.”

Fred added how difficult it must be for artists to “unlearn what they learned in art school.” Fred, an artist himself, shared with me that while he was in art school he was introduced to an instructor’s work, Richard Diebenkorn, and it was “his series entitled Ocean Park that intrigued, inspired and influenced my interest in abstract color field style painting.” Fred also added that he “enjoys supporting local artists when he can.”

Lynn Ulmer was an interesting art buyer as she and her husband came from Columbia, S.C. for this event. I asked her to share some comments about a few of the pieces she purchased. Lynn says, “Keith Spencer was top on our list to buy this year and we absolutely loved what he did!” “Well who wouldn’t?” I joked!  Keith has been a well-collected artist in this area for years and we are proud to show his work at our gallery, Skyuka Fine Art.

Lynn also was delighted with a student’s work by S.G. Musslewhite, saying, “This blue-eyed lion is not your typical lion!” Lynn was visibly energized as she collected the works she and her husband selected and it made me smile. I thanked her for coming all the way she did, for sharing her purchases with me, and for supporting the arts in our area.

As I spun around near the front desk of the Upstairs gallery I ran into local author, Mary Ann Claud, and her husband, former chancellor of USC Spartanburg (now USC Upstate), Dr. Olin Sansbury. They were busy collecting their purchases from the students’ walls, and they were both very gracious to share with me what drew them to the pieces.

“Sarah Peta Gysmero is the artist of this piece and I was drawn to the strong narrative,” Mary Ann said. “I’m a writer and I see that there is a story there. We’re not sure what is going on just yet, but after a while we will be able to determine what is really going on here. Has she been put out of the boat? What’s in the boat? I like the movement you can feel from the breeze too. And the little girl – there is almost a blankness or confusion in her eyes. I’m usually drawn more to abstract works, but this one pulled me right in.”

Olin selected a self-portrait by Logan Bates with the simple explanation, “The lines are so clean.” Personally I love that both Mary Ann and Olin each selected a student’s work, and I also love that they each had such polar opposite reasons for enjoying them–the strong and unsure as of yet narrative for Mary Ann, and for Olin the simple yet well executed line work.

After thanking Olin and Mary Ann, I then spotted Francis Flynn, another collector I’ve interviewed for this series previously, as she took her photograph by Maureen Robinson off the wall to have it wrapped. Francis answered my question, “What drew you to this work?” by starting off explaining how she and husband, Shields, navigate art shows.

“Shields and I wander around separately and then connect at the end to see what we both liked,” Francis said. “This time it was the same for both of us. We both felt the photograph was so evocative, you could write a story about it. We also felt it was striking, dramatic, and its composition is quite nice. Personally I like the human object with the touch of nature.”

I agreed with Francis and added that I felt the imagery of the dilapidated home with the dead tree in front was made more powerful because of the artist’s choice to have a simple white background.

As the exciting Upstairs event began to draw to a close, I had a chance to speak to one more enthusiastic art buyer and artist, Estell Osten. Estell picked up two pieces and donated a painting of her own as well.

“We were drawn to Vicki Van Vynckt’s piece because of its mystical, magical quality,” Estell said. “The painting’s sparkly stars and deep blues take us into a world of profound peace. And Dale McEntire’s painting takes us to the other side of reality–a vibrant, happy, cheerful place that is alive with kinetic energy, color, and bursting with possibility.” Well put, Estell!

Congrats to all of the collectors and all of the people behind the scenes at the Upstairs who pull this fundraiser off each year. But this event couldn’t happen without the talent and generosity of the artists who donate their work. The few artists mentioned here are just a fraction of those who participated, and to all of them I offer a very big and colorful thank you!

But I’d like to especially thank the students. I am truly impressed by their willingness to donate their work in support of the arts, and I look forward to seeing what their creative futures may bring. Young emerging artists are so exciting; they are open to experimentation and exploration. Let’s continue to support them along their journey, and I’m certain they will keep things fresh, thought provoking, and spicy!