Exhibitions intriguing, creative, challenging

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An article by Jane G. Collins for The Sumter (South Carolina) Item.

The Sumter Item article “Gallery opens 2 exhibits with similar themes” (Feb. 17) delivers important information about the artistic concepts of Sumter native Mike Williams and Puerto Rico native Mario Marzan, the two artists currently featured at the Sumter Gallery of Art.

Williams considers “Vistas Real and Imagined” a good reflection of his current work. Those familiar with Williams’ earlier paintings and sculpture recall his great love of the outdoors, his massive paintings of fishing holes with their tangled foliage, sometimes murky water and sense of intimate contact with nature. While his newer pieces still seem to celebrate the great connection between man and nature, the scenery and color choices appear brighter and more elaborate. Earlier choices of moss and dark green and brown now celebrate vistas filled with a range of bright palettes.

In “The Landing 2,” the view looks out beyond the lake while vibrant blue and orange intensify the setting. In the large “Point 48,” Williams achieves a sense of luminosity, of perspective moving through the trees and of the energy of the sky. He observes, “Emotion plays a role in each piece, building the last work with constantly shifting perspectives . Flooded timber and swampy areas … are beautiful places that can also be confusing and difficult to navigate.” His attitude concerning the impact of ambiguous and negative space along with rich textures underscore the composition “Flashing Orange.”

A new concept “Letters to Myself” provides a fascinating look at impetus and technique, how a germinating idea can lead to composition. “Letters to Myself” began as a form of doodling in February 2012. Pieces like No. 8 and No. 18 emerge from thoughts in calligraphy and translate into art where “the barrier of language is not shared and thoughts are better left unsaid.” The large reflections of his small letters take form and emotion from the tone of the smaller works, almost painted “free writings.” Even the contrast of the smaller “letters,” especially the darker “Letters to Myself CP 1,” help clarify the evolving range of emotions.

Although Williams no longer works with sculpture because of space, many may remember his two large fish sculptures purchased by the Sumter County Cultural Commission. They decorated the Patriot Hall complex years ago but have since vanished from sight, hopefully to resurface again so all can enjoy this additional aspect of his creativity.

Marzan’s “Environmental Identities” emotionally invites the viewer into the subtly complex journey through symbolism (rain, rainbows that reflect the ancient Taivo culture and the idea of the underworld), architecture, geometric form (especially the direction of rainbows and impact of rectangles) and his Puerto Rican heritage. Marzan became fascinated with the history of his great-grandfather, an outsider artist who was the first in his family to immigrate to America. His site-specific “All the landscapes of my childhood have disappeared” (2016) reflects his own contemplation of his relationship with his native country and family heritage. Each “structure” recalls his obsession with his grandfather’s job with miniature doll pieces and pays homage to the dedication he had to diminutive objects, often combining them with small Statues of Liberty.

“There is a curiosity,” Marzan admits, “in miniature things. It (the installation) is nostalgic, and the small items often reduce the familiar to unfamiliarity … . What would you save in a burning house? Many houses in Puerto Rico are half done.” The work suggests “moments of history, identity and transition,” and the videos place the artist in his home surroundings. Although he at first wanted to increase the size of the installation and the geometric lines, he decided the size of the room would make the effect too confusing, focusing instead on the intimate appeal of the structures.

He began to see landscape as a metaphor for communicating. The large canvases establish barriers and theme – the dichotomy between things that change and challenge the environment. For example, “Land Gate” uses acrylics, ink and graphite on panel to explore the chaos that visitors have sometimes brought to San Juan in particular. The arch invites, yet separates the intruder who destroys palm trees and water. His rainbow symbol alludes to the dual power of beauty as a destructive element. Strong angles in many of his paintings establish the intrusive nature of things against the natural and beautiful of what is inside or behind the geometric forms.

There are clouds – both white and gray, rainbows that celebrate the dynamic Caribbean colors and energy and the ever present intrusive geometric forms that divide and contrast the Caribbean as a playground with its economic and political issues. Works like “Circuit 3,” “Bathymetry” and “Afternoon Divide” reflect Marzan’s observations.

The smaller works along one wall highlight his careful use of space, his control of small and delicate techniques and his reliance on symbols, color and geometry to capture interest and suggest theme.

Both exhibits continue to underscore how fortunate Sumter is to have people dedicated to sharing artistic styles and visions, to providing cultural opportunities for the community and to continuing to offer creative and challenging work to enrich its residents.

Mike Williams – “Vistas, Real and Imagined” and Mario Marzan – “Environmental Identities” will remain on exhibit at the Sumter Gallery of Art, 200 Hasel St., through April 13. The gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday. For more information call (803) 775-0543.

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