Thursday, August 23, 2007

Essay: Laura Spong: The Early Works

by Wim Roefs
August 2007

Laura Spong has made a great leap forward in popularity and acclaim, beginning with her 80th-birthday exhibition in 2006. Recent successes also have generated interest in her early work. Several early paintings were in Spong’s 2006 retrospective at the University of South Carolina’s McMaster Gallery. The South Carolina State Art Collection acquired her late 1950s painting White Flowers, along with Dancing Under The Street Light of 2003. The Greenville County (S.C.) Museum of Art earlier this year included eight of her 1950s and 1960s paintings in a group show, along with four major recent works. The museum has just acquired Spong’s 2007 painting Is It After Me Again? It hopes for an early work, too.

Among the early paintings in Greenville were City Street and Red Barns, both c. 1957, as well as Ice Floe and several untitled works from 1959-1965. The paintings, which are included in the current show, are of their time, both stylistically and in the use of lacquer on masonite and of sand and sawdust to create texture. But they also show that Spong brought considerable sophistication to her work early on.

Her use of sawdust is more than a gimmicky distraction. Ice Floe is a wonderfully appealing and accomplished abstraction suggesting representation. Red Barns is lively despite its flatness and limited pallet. Bottles, too, shows that Spong could make a flat composition with few colors sing.

Some of these paintings indicate that Spong walked the line between abstraction and representation with relative ease. Not that she walked it a lot; Spong never went through a truly representational phase. She only painted a handful of still lifes, city scenes and such. Most of them were assignments at the Columbia Museum of Art’s Richland Art School, where Spong began taking classes in the mid-1950s, especially from Gil Petroff. Bottles was painted in a class taught by local legend J. Bardin, who was somewhat taken aback by Spong’s rearrangement of the bottles he so carefully placed.

Spong is unsure what influenced her work at the time but knows she was never interested in creating representational, literal scenes. In the 1940s she had taken a few studio art and art history classes at Vanderbilt University. The real eye opener was a mid-fifties show of modern art at the Columbia Museum. Overall, her knowledge of modern art was sketchy.

Success came fast nevertheless. Spong won Columbia Artists’ Guild exhibitions in 1957 and 1961. She won an award in the Guild of South Carolina Artists’ annual show in 1960. Personal circumstances prevented her from painting and exhibiting with any frequency in the next quarter century. But the few remaining works from her early oeuvre show the promise she would fulfill decades later.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Laura Spong: The Early Years: August 21- September 8, 2007


NOW SHOWING at if ART Gallery
through September 8

The Greenville County (S.C.) Museum of Art has acquired Columbia artist Laura Spong’s 2007 painting Is It After Me? The painting is oil on canvas and measures 48 x 58 inches. The painting was included in the recent Greenville Museum exhibition Studio Visits and was featured on the cover of the museum’s June membership newsletter. The purchase went through if ART Gallery in Columbia, which represents Spong (b. 1926).

The Greenville Museum purchase follows last year’s acquisition of two Spong paintings by the South Carolina State Art Collection, which purchased Spong’s late-1950s painting White Flowers and Dancing Under The Street Light of 2003.

Meanwhile, if ART Gallery is showing Laura Spong: The Early Works. The exhibition, which runs through September 8, consists mainly of paintings by Spong from the 1950s and 1960s. Attached is an essay by if ART owner Wim Roefs with more information about Spong and her work from that period.

In September, Spong will be in The Fame Factor, a group show at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios in Columbia organized by if ART Gallery. The exhibition will explore the concept of fame, especially the relativity of fame. The show will include limited edition prints by world famous artists, including lithographs by Joan Mitchell, Karel Appel, Lynn Chadwick, Wilfredo Lam and Bram van Velde.

In addition to Spong, the exhibition – which opens on September 7 and runs through September 18–also will include South Carolinians Leo Twiggs, Edward Rice and Virginia Scotchie. Other American artists in the show are Richard Hunt, Benny Andrews, Ibram Lassaw, Paul Reed, John Hultberg and Sam Middleton, an American artist who has lived in the Netherlands since the early 1960s. Dutch artists in addition to Appel will be Corneille, Ger Lataster, Hannes Postma, Kees Salentijn and Lucebert. Furthermore, the show will present French artist Jacques Doucet and Belgian artist Reinhoud.

Several paintings in the current Spong exhibition of early works at if ART Gallery were included in the Greenville Museum’s Studio Visits exhibition, which ran from April 18 – June 10. The Greenville exhibition also included if ART Gallery artists David Yaghjian of Columbia and Dorothy Netherland of Charleston, S.C., as well as David Boatwright of Charleston and Alexia Timberlake and Jay Owens, both of Greenville.

In addition to her 80th-birthday exhibition in February 2006, Spong had three solo exhibitions last year, including one at Hampton III Gallery in Greenville and a retrospective at the University of South Carolina’s McMaster Gallery. Spong also was in a two-person show at the Vinson Gallery in Atlanta. In February of this year, Spong was with Katie Walker, Paul Reed and Mike Williams in a group show at Columbia’s Gallery 80808/Vista Studios, organized by if ART Gallery. Next month, Spong’s work will be in a group show at Elder Art in Charlotte, N.C., and in October, she will have a solo exhibition at Francis Marion University.

For more information, please contact Wim Roefs at if ART Gallery.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Essay: Laura Spong: Abstract in Nature

by Wim Roefs
February 2007

In 2006, Laura Spong had four solo exhibitions. They included a retrospective at the University of South Carolina and a wildly successful 80th-birthday exhibition that might have set a sales record for a solo show in Columbia, S.C., especially for a local artist. Helped further by her inclusion in several group shows, Spong certainly broke her own sales record for a year by a wide margin.

A well-received, 32-page catalogue accompanied her 80th-birthday exhibition. It detailed her remarkable life and career, discussed the context of that career and evaluated her art. “The other day I read the essays in the catalogue again,” Spong says, “and I had a hard time believing it was about me.” With the commercial success came critical acclaim. The South Carolina State Art Collection acquired two of Spong’s paintings, and later this year she’ll be in a group show at the Greenville (S.C.) County Museum of Art.

The acclaim has liberated Spong. For years she has painted with workman-like regularity, routinely keeping daily hours at her studio. For years she also has painted with a sense of urgency, not so much because of age but because those paintings don’t paint themselves and she gets out of sorts if she doesn’t work. To this work ethic and passion, the recent success has added new confidence, and Spong has been hitting it on all cylinders since, producing gem after gem.

“I have been inspired and energized,” says Spong. “I think the work is freer. It has a sense of letting loose, of just painting and not obsessing about every little line and dot.” The work has changed some, without losing any of the Spong imprint. While maintaining the lyrical quality of her work and the fluid lines, Spong’s paintings have become more aggressive and daring.
The breaks in the planes are sharper, the marks at times more forceful, and the scribbles more abundant and perhaps livelier. More often than before, Spong has explored an earthier, even dark pallet. More often also she has limited her pallet, even producing somewhat monochromatic paintings.

Above all, these developments suggest an increased confidence as Spong further expands her range. But, she says, sometimes they indicate her disposition. “I am not depressed, but I do feel pessimistic about the situation in the world. Still, at times I feel great hope, too. My hope comes from my faith, but when I am not in that mode, I go dark. I get into fears of the future, of losing my independence and my health, and fear about the people I love.”

“I think the paintings are more interesting,” Spong says. “I think I am getting more layers and more depth. My biggest fear has been that I would just paint a pretty piece of cloth.”

Friday, January 26, 2007

Abstract in Nature: February 9-20, 2007

if ART, International Fine Art Services
presents at
Gallery 80808/Vista Studios, 808 Lady St., Columbia, S.C.

A b s t r a c t I n N a t u r e:
Washington Color Field Great
South Carolina’s

Feb. 9 – 20, 2007

Artists’ Reception:
Friday, Feb. 9, 5 – 10 p.m.

Contact Wim Roefs at if ART:(803) 238-2351 –

For its February exhibition at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios in Columbia, S.C., if ART, International Fine Art Services, presents Abstract In Nature, a group exhibition with work by South Carolina artists Laura Spong, Mike Williams and Katie Walker as well as renowned first-generation Washington Color Field painter Paul Reed. The show consists of abstract paintings by Reed, Spong and Walker and abstract metal sculpture by Williams. The exhibition opens Friday, Feb. 9, with a reception from 5:00 –10:00 p.m. and runs through Feb. 20. Opening hours are weekdays, 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m., Saturdays, 11 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., and Sundays 1:00 ¬ – 5:00 p.m. Reed, Spong and Walker are represented by Columbia’s if ART Gallery, 1223 Lincoln St., (803) 238-2351, which also shows sculpture by Williams.

Washington, D.C., native Paul Reed, (b. 1919) in 1965-1966 was one of the six painters in The Washington Color Painters, the first nationally traveling exhibition of Washington Color Field paintings. The other five painters were Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis, Gene Davis, Howard Mehring and Tom Downey. Reed’s work is in dozens of museums across the country, including the Phillips Collection, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the National Museum of American Art, all in D.C., the Detroit Institute of Art, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum in Hartford, Conn., the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama. In South Carolina, his work is in the Greenville County Museum of Art and the Columbia Museum of Art, whose acquisition of two Paul Reed paintings was facilitated by if ART owner Wim Roefs. Reed’s work has been in more than 100 solo and group shows, including Modernism & Abstraction: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which traveled nationally from 2000-2002.

Columbia’s Laura Spong (b. 1926) enjoyed her most successful year in 2006, both in terms of sales and critical acclaim. Spong sold more than 30 paintings from her 80th birthday solo exhibition at Gallery 80808 in February 2006, which was accompanied by a 32-page catalogue published by if ART. Spong also had solo exhibitions last year at Carol Saunders Gallery in Columbia and Greenville’s Hampton III Gallery, as well as a retrospective at the University of South Carolina’s McMaster Gallery. She was in a two-person show at Atlanta’s Vinson Gallery and in several group exhibitions in North and South Carolina. In April, she’ll be in a group exhibition at the Greenville County Museum of Art that also will include if ART Gallery artist David Yaghjian.

Greenville’s Katie Walker (b. 1970) was in the 2005 Florence, Italy, Biennale, and recently has been in exhibitions at the Upstairs Gallery in Tryon, N.C., Sandler Hudson Gallery in Atlanta, the Spartanburg (S.C.) Museum of Art, the Carillon Building in Charlotte, N.C., the Artbomb in Greenville and Brookgreen Gardens in Pawley’s Island, S.C. She was included in New American Paintings No. 40, 2002. Walker holds a BFA in Studio Art from Furman University and an MFA from the University of Georgia.

Sumter native and Columbia resident Mike Williams (b. 1963) recently had a major solo exhibition at Columbia College in Columbia, S.C. Williams is among the state’s most-acclaimed painters and sculptors. In recent years he has had solo exhibitions at Pawleys Island Cheryl Newby Gallery, I. Pinckney Simons Gallery in Beaufort, S.C., and at Newberry College in Newberry, S.C, Francis Marion University in Florence, S.C., and the University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg, S.C.