Wednesday, December 26, 2012

New Art: Portrait of Jack McCray

Jack McCray was a Charleston icon who passed away about a year ago. He was passionate about documenting the legacy of jazz from a Charleston perspective and was a founding member of the Charleston Jazz Initiative which continues to offer residents and visitors a fervent taste of Charleston's jazz tradition. I knew him, but not all that well. For some reason I felt the need to pay homage to him and decided to use a photo of him taken by a co-worker, Post and Courier photographer, Wade Spees (thanks Wade for letting me use the image).  I have no real plans for the piece as of yet but nonetheless, here it is:

"Jack McCray" - 43" x 43" - Oil on Canvas

Leah Suarez, a local musician and executive directyor of the Jazz Artists of Charleston, penned a piece in the Charleston City Paper after his passing:

I write this with many caveats, as a heart in mourning and through blurry contacts. I am not sure that I have fully realized that my friend, colleague, mentor, confidant, advisor, and father figure has left this mortal world. It has felt like one continuous day since being one of the first to find Jack lifeless, not even one week ago.

I write this in the midst of being intimately involved with his immediate family and his jazz family, in making funeral arrangements, oftentimes working from the same office that we shared, a place that was more a home for both of us than our own homes. His picture proudly anchors the wall and reminds us that he is with us, but it's just not the same. It will never be.

Jack has known me since I was six years old. But it was just in the past five years — what will now be remembered as the last five years of his life — that I have had the honor and pleasure of working every day, side by side, with this gentle man in many different capacities. We worked together, as many in our community did with him, on purposeful and passionate projects. Most often, Jack spoke. I listened. What has become strangely clear in this surreal time is that Jack made me find my purpose. In a time that I struggled with my own identity and place in this world, personally and professionally, Jack stood as a constant in my life, encouraging and steadfast. He was, and forever will be, my family. For this, I am eternally grateful and will spend a lifetime working to fulfill that very purpose he instilled in me. We were just getting started.

Jack McCray did not just stand for something. He lived for everything. He was a walking testament, quite literally, for "carpe diem." Jack knew how to have a grand time and make lasting relationships. He was genuinely human. He was a citizen of the world. He valued time, language, music, and the art of humanity.

He worked to preserve history. He equally worked to create history. Jack was on a mission and, in many ways, I feel as though his mission had just begun.

What Jack has left behind is a massive to-do list — one that is never-ending and, as he would have said, "a constant work in progress." He left us a wealth of knowledge, a physical archive, stories, memories, advice, and blessings. He was a visionary who realized his visions — not by "magic," but by hard, tiresome, selfless work. In our most challenging times, he reminded me that the pioneers are the ones who end up with the dust in their faces. Jack was certainly a visionary pioneer for Charleston, the culture of jazz, and all of life.

The next week and a half will be especially difficult to get through without our Jack. As we move forward, we will do the best we can and rely on our community for strength. We will also find comfort in the very music Jack advocated for, promoted, produced, and loved.

Though I cannot tell you that I am personally finding much comfort at the moment, I do find peace in knowing that Jack fully lived his 64 years of life, blessing us all, just by being himself. Because of that fact, Jack McCray's legacy will never die.

Forward ever. Backwards never.

Sooooooo....Am I A Winner?

Winners, losers, and folks we'll miss from the past year

The Artsy Side of 2012

by Erica Jackson Curran

Katie Grandy file photo
Artist Colin Quashie offered an unflinching look at the effects of slavery in the south in the Plantation (Plan-ta-shun) exhibition at Redux

Unlike last year's lineup of scandals and shake-ups, 2012 was a quieter time for Charleston's art scene. It was about slow changes, implementing plans, and working toward a better future

1. Ellen passes the torch ... slowly.
It's been nearly a year since we got the official word that the Office of Cultural Affairs was seeking a new director, but rumors of Ellen Dressler Moryl's retirement had been floating around for a long time prior to that. Moryl has been with the OCA since its founding in 1977, and she also helped create the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, making her an integral part of the city's arts community for decades. This past November, she announced her successor in Scott Watson, a New Yorker boasting experience with arts organizations like the Dublin Fringe Festival and the New York Theater Workshop. Watson will take on his new duties in January, though Moryl will stay on as the artistic director of Piccolo Spoleto. We know we're not the only ones curious to see how this shift will affect the arts in Charleston.

2. The Charleston Ballet Theatre stumbles ... and tries to bounce back.
Last year was tough for the CBT, and 2012 didn't start out much better. In February, a handful of board members stepped down, and the company subsequently struggled to secure funding from wary donors. But by the time October rolled around, the CBT was attempting to sing a new tune. The board welcomed 19 new members and Joe Kelly took over as director of artistic operations, while Jill Eathorne Bahr lost her post as CEO (she now serves as the resident choreographer). According to Bahr, dancers are now more involved in planning, policy decisions, and community involvement, and the staff, board members, dancers, and the community are all considered shareholders in the company. The CBT kicked off a small, quiet 26th season in 2012.

3. Goodbye Manning.
Charleston's contemporary art community mourned when artist Manning Williams passed away in June after a long illness. He was 73. The Charleston native, a College of Charleston grad and professor, was exceptionally versatile but best known for the boldly colored, cartoon-inspired abstract work he created in his later years. He exhibited at the Corrigan Gallery, the Gibbes, and the Gaillard, and you can still find his paintings at the Charleston Airport

4. The Village Repertory Company finds a home downtown.
At the end of 2011, the Mt. Pleasant-based Village Repertory Company announced they'd be making a big move downtown, and in June, they started renovating the old Meddin Bros. warehouse on Woolfe Street. They had ambitious plans to open in October, but the opening kept getting pushed back due to construction delays and a lack of funding. The theater finally opened to the public last week for The Man Who Came to Dinner, though they've still got a ways to go to complete the project

5. City breaks ground on the Gaillard.
While the Village people struggled for funding, the Gaillard Auditorium got a good chunk of theirs. We've been hearing plans about the auditorium's extensive renovations for years, and this summer, construction crews finally got to work on the project. Major demolition started happening in October, when crews removed the roof and eventually pretty much demolished the entire building. The finished product will be a new arts center with city offices, a 15,000-square-foot ballroom and exhibition hall, and a theater with 1,800 seats. They're shooting for an October 2014 completion date

6. Mike Daisey puts the national spotlight on Spoleto.
Spoleto Festival 2012 had its share of memorable shows, from Montreal's gravity-defying Traces to 1927's creepy-cool The Animals and Children Took to the Streets to the sold-out return of Jake Shimabukuro. But nothing was more buzzed about than Mike Daisey's show. The monologist was slated to discuss technology and international business in two shows: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs and Teching in India. Then in March, Daisey landed in the hot seat when it was revealed that he had falsified some of the information in Agony and Ecstasy, which he'd performed on This American Life. When he finally took the stage in Charleston in June, he gave us a bold updated version of the show and something new as well: a guilt-laced confessional. Our reviewer gave it a C+.

7. The storytellers descend.
Daisey wasn't the only storyteller who spun a yarn in Charleston this year. Charleston native Jack Hitt joined Daisey on the Spoleto lineup, ironically presenting a show called Making Up the Truth. The music- and monologue-driven Unchained Tour, featuring Neil Gaiman and Edgar Oliver, rolled into town on a big blue schoolbus. And NPR's StoryCorps trailer parked in Ansonborough Field for a few weeks, gathering locals' sure-to-be-juicy tales. In more traditional literary news, Blue Bicycle Books' YALLFest returned for its second year with hundreds of YA authors and tween fans descending on downtown.

8. Colin Quashie mounts a powerful show at Redux.
The city's visual arts scene was on its game in 2012, with admirable exhibitions at City Gallery (Mermaids and Merwomen in Black Folklore) and the Halsey (Don ZanFagna, Aggie Zed, and Motoi Yamamoto), just to name a few. But the one that's really stuck with us was Colin Quashie's The Plantation (Plan-ta-shun) at Redux last spring. The artist took a deceptively playful look at issues like slavery and racism in the South by using coloring books, a customized Monopoly board (painted as a mural on the side of the building), and an ad campaign for "J. Crow" featuring a photograph of a slave with brutal scars all over his back. The gallery has never been as quiet as it was during that eye-opening reception. Here's to more work from the talented artist.

9. Contemporary artist exodus.
Last year, we lost some of our best contemporary art galleries. This year, we bid adieu to several of our artists. Painter Tim Hussey moved to Los Angeles. Scott Debus, a founder of Kulture Klash, moved to Austin. Street artist Patch Whisky moved to Savannah, leaving behind a number of local murals including one in City Paper's office. Photographer Cyle Suesz moved to NYC, and Rebecca West Fraser (Contemporary Charleston 2011) moved to San Francisco. There are still some major contemporary players residing in Charleston — we just hope they'll stay here.