Primordial Voices

Two Spartanburg Artists Exhibit Expressive Paintings and Sculptural Forms

Spartanburg artists Nancy Williamson and Nancy O’Dell-Keim will exhibit their latest works in ceramics and painting -- Primordial Voices: Expressive Paintings and Sculptural Forms -- at West Main Artists Co-op, Aug. 16 through Sept. 15. The exhibition contains new works created on the premise that art (and the process of creating) is essential, fundamental, and primal.

The three-dimensional and two-dimensional works of art will be available for free public viewing Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. The public reception will be Thursday, Aug. 16, 5-9 p.m., during the city’s monthly ArtWalk.

Williamson will have on view three-dimensional totems of various sizes, from tabletop versions to nearly five feet tall. In refining the irregularly stacked ceramic “stones,” Williamson is using a super-refined finish that imparts a smooth, ivory satin sheen. O’Dell-Keim’s works will include abstract oil paintings of trees and landscapes, often from a ground-skyward perspective using bold colors and creating network patterns from the limbs and branches.

“I think that people in general, and especially artists, have a need -- an inborn drive -- to use our talents in a creative way and to connect with others through our creations,” Williamson states. “It can take many forms: painting, pottery, music, acting, gardening, even culinary arts. And the work can be used in different ways: to process the world around us, to process emotions, to share our knowledge, to worship, to meditate, or just to beautify our world in some way. For this exhibition, we are calling those inborn drives ‘primordial voices’ -- voices that are hard to ignore and that lead us to create and connect with others.”

“When viewing the work, it is my hope that the people feel an emotional connection,” O’Dell-Keim states. “I want to engage the viewer, creating an experience where visual language speaks in a ‘thousand voices’ and where the viewer feels, on a primal level, the elements of line, color, and light in the pit of the stomach. I want the experience to transcend beyond the moment, connecting on many levels.”

Both artists have lived and worked in Spartanburg for most of their adult lives and are founding members of West Main Artists Co-op. A native of Manchester, GA, Williamson received her bachelor’s degree in fine art from the University of Georgia with concentrations in ceramics and textile design. After a successful career as a professional textile designer at Milliken & Company, she taught ceramics to beginning and intermediate students at Spartanburg Art Museum for 17 years. A leader in Spartanburg’s arts community, she is a founding member of Carolina Clay Artists, Hub City Empty Bowls, as well as West Main Artists Co-op, and has held leadership positions in each of these organizations. O’Dell-Keim, a Union, SC native, received a bachelor’s degree in fine art from Converse College and a master’s degree in fine art from Clemson University and has participated in numerous exhibitions throughout the Southeast. Her professional work includes adjunct professorships at numerous colleges and universities, including Wofford College, Converse College, and USC Upstate.

Williamson is a well-established potter in Upstate South Carolina, with a reputation for producing quality functional pottery. This exhibit represents a departure from her usual work. “People most often describe my functional stoneware pottery as extremely well-made, serviceable, well-proportioned and having a beautiful surface,” she says. “I take pride in making well-balanced pieces, with lids and handles that fit, and I employ a wide variety of surface design treatments such as carving and slip trailing. My functional stoneware is designed to stand up to ease of everyday use, and to withstand the microwave and dishwasher.

“For this exhibition, I’ve gone in a totally different direction, deciding to have a bit of fun with the sculptural form of the totem,” she explains. “I’ve given myself a little time to play with my chosen medium of stoneware clay, employing a lot of the same techniques and surface treatments that I use in my everyday work along with some new forming methods learned from two mentors, Richard Lafean and Gary Huntoon. Without the constraints of usefulness and food-safe glazes, I was able to use one of my favorite surface treatments, terra sigillata. It’s an ancient super-refined slip used to seal the surface of the pottery. Versions of this slip date back to at least 1000 BC in the Middle East with the finest examples dating to the Greek and Roman empires. It gives just the kind of soft sheen that I wanted for this work.”

Williamson continues, “I think it is essential when you learn new skills to put them into practice as quickly as possible and then to spend time exploring the possibilities in order to find a way for your own voice to come through. This show was the perfect opportunity to do just that. Most of the quirky, irregularly shaped totem pieces actually started off on the potter’s wheel, thrown ‘off the hump,’ as perfectly round, symmetrical closed forms that were then paddled into irregularity. For the totem pieces, I was inspired by the look of stacked rock cairns and the art of rock stacking as well as memories from my childhood of time spent playing on the river rocks in the streams and rivers in west central Georgia.”

O’Dell-Keim’s expressive oil paintings and mixed media works range from representational landscapes and tree imagery to abstracted organic shapes and forms. With emphasis on mark-making and immediacy of application, the works are composed of bold colors, dynamic lines, and energetic brush strokes resulting in rich layered textural surfaces. Implied light, created through layers of thin paint or wiped out areas of paint, is used both descriptively and symbolically. O’Dell-Keim states, “Variations of light, reinforce mood, symbolizing a spiritual connection to place. This connection can be to specific spaces, referring to its distinctive or cherished aspects, or can reference the intangible energy and/or Spirit of a place (or soul). The landscape imagery, referencing spirit, memory, and passage of time is meant to be both haunting and celebratory.”

O’Dell-Keim continues, “Although these new works are part of two ongoing series I have been working on for five or more years, Spirit of Place and Four Directions, in which the landscape as subject matter is explored, there are differences in theme and technique. The paintings created for Primordial Voices spiraled from the belief that art and the process of creating art are essential, fundamental, and primal and has the power to transcend leading to the concept of transcendence as a theme in the new work.”

As professional artists associated with West Main Artists Co-op, both Williamson and O’Dell-Keim feel the organization plays an important role in the community. “WMAC provides a culturally significant role to further establish the character and image of Spartanburg as a city with a vibrant arts scene,” Williamson says. “I think the arts bring people together, and WMAC provides a safe place for folks of different ages, from different backgrounds and from different socioeconomic levels to come together to share art and ideas. And selfishly, it’s great for me to have a local place where my friends and clients can stop by anytime to pick up a piece of my work.”

“I am proud of my role as one of the founding members of the WMAC,” O’Dell-Keim says.“I believe in the important role nonprofits play in supporting the arts, and I particularly appreciate the fact that WMAC was formed by a small group of fellow artists, with the goal of not only supporting local artists but with the hope of creating a unique space to serve as a hub for a variety of artists to work, exhibit, collaborate, and thrive. Having a studio at the WMAC has provided me the unique opportunity of having a space that serves as both a place to work and to exhibit while surrounded and inspired by fellow artists.”

All of the work in this exhibit will be for sale within a wide range of pricing.

West Main Artists Co-op is one of the leading nonprofit arts agencies in Spartanburg. As a membership-based agency, it provides affordable studio and gallery space in what used to be a Baptist church. It has four galleries and hosts three new exhibits each month. In addition, it has the city’s largest collection of locally made art available for purchase. For more information about Williamson, O’Dell-Keim, their exhibit, and West Main Artists Co-op, please visit online:

SCBIZtv is part of the SC Biz News family, serving 100,000 high-level business execs throughout South Carolina. Click for more from SCBIZtv.