Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Natural Progression

Gallery celebrates nine years in business with strong new show

By Angela Wibking

APRIL 26, 1999:  Like a painter who reworks a canvas several times to get it right, Ron York has been refining the look of his Local Color Gallery almost from the moment he opened the space in 1990. This week he unveils the gallery's latest look and celebrates its ninth anniversary with a showing of new works by Nashville painter Sharon Charney.

"I used to think that more was better," he recalls of the gallery's look in the early years. "My original concept, in fact, was to show the best of everything Tennessee artists had to offer. Within a year of opening, we had 120 artists' works on display. By 1995 the number had grown to 160 artists. I finally caught on that it was overwhelming people and that we couldn't do justice to that many artists."

Within the past year, York has scaled back the number of regional artists to just 50, but the walls are still covered with art from top to bottom. The gallery continues to operate under York's original concept, in which artists pay a monthly fee for a set amount of display space. Local Color also takes a commission on each work sold, though the percentage is much smaller than at commercial galleries that don't charge rent to artists. York still selects all the artists, and he always has a long waiting list of people hoping to exhibit at Local Color.

Though York is himself an artist (his own works hang in the gallery), he is also a businessman with an eye for what sells, and the new look of the gallery plays up its most popular and profitable artists. Best-selling painters like Lassie McDonald Crowder, Creason Clayton, and Gay Petach, all of whom work in traditional styles, have prime wall space near the front of the gallery, while newer artists or those who sell with less frequency have display space farther back.

"We found that a third of our artists were selling every month, another third sold sporadically, and a third didn't sell," York explains, adding that the goal of exhibiting fewer artists is to have everyone's work sell well. York has also discovered over the years which styles and media his customers favor. "We get very few requests for abstracts and really contemporary art," he says. "And the craft pieces we originally offered never caught on. We found that if it didn't hang on a wall, we didn't sell it."

Exceptions to the rule are artists like Polly Cook, whose ceramic creations sell as well as her paintings; Peggy Hayes, whose leaf-shaped bowls are good sellers; and Charlie Hunt, whose stone birdbaths sell well. The majority of works on display at the gallery, however, are framed oil, acrylic, and watercolor paintings. Every six weeks, the gallery spotlights new works by one of its artists in a special exhibition. The featured artist is also likely to be one of the gallery's proven sellers.

"Printing and postage for the invitations and the food and wine are expensive," says York, who foots the bill for Local Color's openings. "You want sales from an opening, and so you use your strongest artists."

This weekend's opening, which coincides with the gallery's ninth anniversary, features one of the gallery's strongest artists, both commercially and artistically. Sharon Charney has been exhibiting at Local Color for over five years, and she readily admits why she first approached York about representing her work: "The gallery sells a lot of art," she says.

Charney's latest landscapes and beach scenes should find a market with customers who prefer realistic images but also appreciate a more contemporary edge. "I love color, but I'm not really into painting color as it exists in nature," Charney says. "I use color more as an abstract element that expresses my moods."

A large canvas called "Fall Juxtapositions," for example, turns up the volume on the usual oranges and rusts of fall foliage so that Charney's painted forest seems almost on fire. In front of the trees, horizontal bands of vibrant green and blue suggest a meadow and a stream or lake.

These bands are a recurrent motif in Charney's latest paintings. "The horizontals represent both contact with the ground and with the two-dimensional aspect of the canvas itself," she explains. "I like to play with the edges of the paper or canvas. I think it kind of jolts the viewer into a different perspective."

In a work on paper called "Bright Landscape Dream," Charney frames her dreamlike view of orange trees, purple mountains, and a green meadow in bands of color that follow the edge of the paper. And in a triptych called "Seasons," which depicts fall, winter, and spring views of the same wooded landscape, the artist includes a horizontal band at the top of each painting that shows just a bit of the season that follows. "At first, I just felt I needed a horizontal element because there were so many verticals," she says. "But then the horizontal bands grew to represent the interrelationship of the seasons. When you look at one season, there is another waiting behind it."

The artist's deep connection to nature is apparent in each of her 12 new paintings on view, and she says she hopes her art will inspire viewers to honor the environment. "The forests, the wind and air of the sea, and the overwhelming majestic mountains with their lakes and streams are all wonders to be preserved," Charney says.


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