Graphic design firm hosts art display

by Amy Kingsley

It isn’t unusual for graphic designers to seek inspiration in art galleries. In fact, the difference between fine and commercial artists often comes down to regular paychecks and health benefits.

In that spirit the Design Group opened its doors, and walls, two years ago to Gallery 115, the only art gallery in town housed inside a 9-to-5 business.

“We love the notion of being surrounded by art,” says Lynn Gibbs. “We’re inspired by it.”

For the December show, curator Sara Cogswell hung several pieces from the Couch Collection, including works by Carolyn Nelson, Charlie Tefft, Maud Gatewood, Janet Oliver and Setsuya Kotani.

Nelson, who specializes in fibers, has a number of works in the show. The artist approaches each with stunning attention to detail, hand-dyeing silks and threads, and then hand-stitching the pieces, one of which incorporates bits of mica and ostrich shell.

The results are lovely and diverse, and range from the organic “Earth Work” to the lavish “Ovambo Lifescape II” and the shimmering “Mesa Whispering.” Some of Nelson’s pieces tackle politics with iconography cribbed from quiltmaking, like “New Orleans; Invisible 10,000” a simple, vivid work in which hundreds of tally marks make the artist’s point.

Setsuya Kotani earned a formidable reputation as a ceramicist – a medium he taught at UNCG for several years. When he retired, Kotani started experimenting with painting. Four of those works hang inside the Design Group’s conference room.

Kotani paints with acrylic on linen, and his work has been mentioned in The Spiritual in Twentieth Century Art, by Riger Lipsey. In two of his paintings Kotani superimposes an Excel-like grid over moonscape textures. Across the room, another pair of Kotani canvases feature white orbs on fields of bright color. Although the pieces look simple, close examination reveals a surprising amount of textural variation and detail.

Another artist heavily represented in the exhibition is Charlie Tefft, a ceramicist with pottery scattered on surfaces throughout the gallery. Tefft has several vases in the show, including the “Triangular Vase” with hirsute texturing and orange glazing. Teapots, cups and plates round out the collection of almost a dozen pieces for sale inside the space.

Janet Oliver has several figurative horse drawings in the show. Some of them incorporate equine saliva alongside charcoal and pastels. In “Horse, 2” Oliver roughly sketches a horse’s body and only details its head. She uses pastels to capture color variations in the animal’s coat.

In a couple smaller pieces, Oliver steers her fine hand for detail to the area around the horse’s eyes. In “Optic Nerve” she fills the paper with colorful lines that lead the viewer to the drawing’s focal point: the horse’s languid right eye.

Another figurative artist in the show is Will South, whose collection of nudes is hung tastefully on a side hallway. South takes as his perspective the view from the top of a reclining woman’s head and delicately shades the bodies with charcoal. Each woman is titled with a name. In addition to life drawings, South has two drawings, “Flower, From Memory” and “American Still Life,” that demonstrate his versatility.

Several of the December artists have only one work in the show. Maud Gatewood’s “Vienna Train” is notable among them. It’s a simple felt pen drawing on paper, probably inspired by a scene she recorded during her Fulbright Fellowship to Austria. The bold strokes are characteristic of the woman who is among the most famous artists in North Carolina.

The piece is placed directly above the binder where visitors can leave their names and addresses, and not far from the desks of the employees it is intended to inspire.

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