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.