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Beverly Buchanan: 'Southern Vernacular' on display

Review of Averitt exhibit

Beverly Buchanan: 'Southern Vernacular' on display

Beverly Buchanan: 'Southern Vernacular' on display

This sculpture of a house by Beverly ...


If you have had the good fortune to visit Averitt Center Gallery Director Sheila Stewart Leach’s home, you know that her art collection is truly overwhelming.
It was on one such visit sometime ago that I noticed a crudely made sculpture of a house on a shelf near the kitchen. A foot-and-a-half tall, and perhaps 10 inches wide, the red “shack” is crusted in soda and beer bottle caps for decoration. It even has its own tin roof, a familiar element to anyone from our region.
It’s charming, but also perplexing, and I asked Sheila who had done it, assuming it would be a folk artist. The chunky wood, clumsy joints and off-kilter construction certainly suggested this.
“It’s a Beverly Buchanan,” she replied.
In spite of my love of outsider art I had never heard of her work. Sheila was quick to point out that Ms. Buchanan was not a folk or outsider artist at all, but a contemporary painter and sculptor who specialized in the vernacular architectural forms of the rural South, where she was born.
I recalled this as I walked through the Gallery at the Averitt Center, where the same shack is now on display among 18 other works on paper and canvas. Raised in South Carolina, Buchanan left the landscape, dotted with these rickety shanty homes, to obtain her bachelor’s degree in the early ’60s, and then to New York and Columbia University to receive two master’s degrees. Her study of art in the early ’70s with abstract expressionist Norman Lewis informed her own use of energetic line work and rich color.
Since then she has been awarded a Guggenheim and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship – hardly a naive painter, indeed.
She still thinks of herself as a late abstract expressionist – artists noted for their free use of color and line. Her works are not so much [BEGIN ITAL]of[END ITAL] the subject, but [BEGIN ITAL]about[END ITAL] them. This is especially true of the shacks that speak to poor, rural folk who nevertheless carved a life of joy and richness out of the land.
Joy abounds in other works as well, of flowers and still lifes overflowing with an inner energy. One favorite features exuberant pink grounding the arrangement of vertical stalks, ending in explosive red petals. Quick gestures of blue and purple surround the forms suggesting other flowers (marigolds, or lavender perhaps?).
It doesn’t really matter, as Buchanan has woven all together harmoniously. But it is her shacks that she is most known for – a continuing series that is, as she states, “responding” to memory, history and the remnants of life. Her objects relate to, but are not portraits of, these structures – much like her flowers. 
Wander through the show soon, and I am certain you will share with her a moment of recollection, of an old house and the people inside, from your own history, of the joy of a color, and the pleasures found in a simple life. 

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