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ARTS AND HUMANITIES: Aiken Artist Guild hosts annual members show

In the medieval period in Europe, merchants and artisans would often join forces to provide mutual support and maintain group standards. These guilds would even sometimes form the basis of local municipal government. Today the word “guild” is also associated with organizations of individuals with related interests who band together for educational and social purposes.

In 1967, for example, the Aiken Artist Guild was established to provide its members with opportunities to network with other artists and participate in educational experiences that might enhance their means of creative expression. A further guild mission is the development of “well-regulated exhibits that will clearly expose the Aiken community to the wealth of artistic talent” our town possesses.

The most significant exhibit managed by the Aiken Artist Guild is the Annual Member Show now on view at the Aiken Center for the Arts until June 11. Over 100 works by guild members are currently on display. Here is a brief survey of some of the award winners.

Best of Show went to Susanna King, who studied at the Art Institute of Atlanta. Her work titled “Look at You” presents the viewer with a score of abstract digital images flashing on a flat screen. Beneath the rotating “gallery” is a handwritten text exhorting the ACA visitor to “look at the art while it looks back at you.” In essence, King has provided a digital exercise in the art of seeing.

The pieces submitted for this annual competitive exhibition are organized into five basic categories: traditional, figurative, organic, scenic and contemporary. In each category, three prizes are given. Because of space constraints, I will devote most of this column to describing the first-place winners. Lizabeth Thompson, for instance, gained the top prize in the “traditional” category for her abstract piece inspired by two lines in Psalm 139: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Titled “Life’s Zinc Flash,” this luminous water media composition captures the phenomenon of embryogenesis.

Amy Scott’s “Rhythm in Red” – an oil rendering of a horse suspended in full gallop, its mane flared to the right and tail to the left, thus creating a dramatic black diagonal against a red background – took the top prize in the figurative category. First place in the organic division went to a fabric collage by Betsy Hughes, who focused on a stand of trees at the Carolina Bay just off Whiskey Road, achieving a successful depth of image by the deft manipulation of color and shape.

Among the final first-place winners is Celeste Malinowski for her “Solitary Bliss,” a seashore panorama in acrylic; only by close examination does one notice the diminutive female figure digging for organic matter where the water meets the shore. In addition to Malinowski’s win in the scenic category, there is Christine McKeel’s black and white photograph of two local policemen holding a handmade sign emblazoned with the text “End Police Brutality.” This piece titled “George Floyd Protest” captures a moment of interracial solidarity regarding a pressing contemporary issue.

Besides awards in five standard divisions, the AAG presents specialized prizes each year. The 2021 Aiken Scene Award was won by Warren Westcott for his atmospheric color photograph of an “Evening in Hopelands.” As with all the best photos, light tells the story in this piece as it filters through live oaks and dapples the yellow ground cover. The New Member Award went to Cheryl Dillinger for her elaborate watercolor “She”; Luiza Somodi won the Judge’s Choice Award for her oil “Unexpected Beach Storm”; Amy Scott’s “wistful” tiger received acknowledgement as the best pastel; and Linda Purdy’s pastel rendering of a solitary white heron on a marsh-framed outcrop claimed the People’s Choice Award.

Among my personal favorites were two ceramic pieces that won honorable mention in the current show: John Gordon’s “Gathering” and “Alien Artifact.” An engineer by training, Gordon has utilized some of his design and building skills to create stoneware sculptures that mimic the qualities of objects composed of very different materials. “Gathering,” for example, cannily resembles a natural wood slat basket; “Alien Artifact” transforms fired and glazed clay into a ray gun that one might imagine has been fashioned from components gleaned from outer space.

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