Through the Looking Glass

Ceramicist and Photographer Exhibit Jointly at West Main Artists Co-op

Ceramicist Melissa McEllhiney and photographer Eugene Johnson will jointly showcase their latest works of art in the exhibition “Through The Looking Glass” at West Main Artists Co-op June 21-July 14.

The exhibit can been seen 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at no charge at the nonprofit art gallery and studio located at 578 West Main Street, Spartanburg, SC. A free and public reception will be held on Thursday, June 21, 5-9 p.m., during the city’s monthly ArtWalk.

“There seems to be some disagreement as to whether or not photography is a form of art or simply a snapshot in time,” Johnson explained. “This exhibit tries to address that very question through both works taken directly from the camera, as well as photography used as the base for images crafted through digital means. I want people to come away from from this exhibit with an appreciation of the finished work.”

McEllhiney said the exhibit was inspired by “A play off of various words, thoughts and ideas. We desired to break from our norms in order to push and expand our skills and our own thoughts regarding our art. People can expect to see a few of my favorite things in life as seen through my eyes, my own personal looking glass: a reflection on sights and memories of things past and present, with a bit of whimsy thrown in the mix -- as seen through the artsy heart.”

The pottery and ceramics in this exhibit are a departure from what McEllhiney has done in the past. “Complete departure,” she said. “I've been a functional potter with a little creativity thrown in, now I am stretching my limits and even working in a clay material I have never used before. Some of these are the biggest pieces I have ever attempted!”

Much of her work is based on a vessel or vase design that is cut apart to form flower-like sculptures. Others are sculpted with added organic features, giving the work a floral and pod resemblance. Until now, McEllhiney’s work has been known to be “functional pottery.”

“I’m not just a function potter!” she exclaimed.

Johnson, too, is departing from what he has been known for and comfortable with in the past. “This exhibit is very much a departure from what I'm comfortable with,” he said. “There's a family history of photographers that run back to my grandfathers. The majority of my work prior to joining WMAC has been event, sports, and photojournalism. The Co-op has allowed me to venture into and experiment with other forms of photography, such as figurative, expressionism, and most recently impressionism. The exhibit is a collection of various styles of photography: landscapes, portraiture, figurative works, and macro in various styles both straight out of the camera, as well as molded works using various digital techniques.”

Right out of high school, McEllhiney left her native Florida to travel and work in Renaissance Fairs across the continental United States. Performing and learning many trades, she always felt most at peace when she was creating something with her hands. In 2004, she left the fair circuit and settled back in South Florida for just shy of 11 years. During her time there she began to dabble in acrylic painting and mixed media, learning technique and form. After moving to South Carolina in 2015, she took her first pottery class in Spartanburg, under the tutelage of Jim Cullen of Roundhouse Pottery. Within the first five minutes of her hands in the clay, she knew she had found her heart’s desire. In the winter of 2015, she established a business for her art, The Blue Bee, which she currently sets up shop in and around the Greenville and Spartanburg area craft fairs and art shows. Today, she lives and works in Simpsonville. She has been a member of West Main Artists Co-Op for two years and is a single mother of a 16-year-old son.

“I took my first clay class just a couple of months after I moved here,” she said. “It was love at first touch. I did not know what I was getting into, had no interest in doing wheel or anything. I had seen some Clemson students doing this cool thing at Artisphere — later learned the technique was called Sgraffito — and I wanted to carve designs into a bowl too. In order to do so, I needed to learn how to make a bowl, so I signed up for a class. I remember telling the teacher that I was going to learn how to make a bowl only so I could carve into it, that I wasn't interested in anything else. Then, I actually threw a bowl -- successfully the first time -- and literally cried. I didn't know why I wept, it just moved me. I felt like I went home. Anyhoo, it's been a whirlwind since!”

Johnson, 50, has been a member of WMAC since 2016, and this is his first exhibit. The Columbus, OH, native now lives in Spartanburg and said, “The co-op is a fantastic place to immerse yourself as an artist into a collective of various styles, abilities, and mediums. This exhibit has come together over the past two years. There are influences throughout the exhibit from WMAC member artists who definitely played a role in expanding both the quality and content of the pieces on exhibit. I’ve been studying the works of Baroque and Impressionist painters and applying those techniques such as tenebrism, chiaroscuro, minimalism, and color, to photography. Also, I want an appreciation of the role of technology in art.  There are times when technology can be a crutch and other times when it can be used as tool just like any other tool an artist may use.”

All the work in “Through the Looking Glass” will be for sale. For more information about this exhibit or West Main Artists Co-op, please visit online or call (864) 804-6501.

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