By NATALIE SAYEWICH
August 1, 2014
Though August is still undoubtedly summer, especially in eastern North Carolina, it also marks the time for back-to-school.
Appropriately, the City Art Gallery is featuring two artists who are East Carolina University graduates called “Local Color,” with an opening reception on Thursday. The exhibit will continue through Sept. 5.
The exhibition features paintings by Sally Sutton, who received her master of fine arts degree in drawing and painting from ECU in 2012, and Bob Rankin, who received his bachelor’s from ECU in 1970. Both have had their work exhibited around the world and have pieces in many corporate and private collections worldwide.
Though both have since moved away from Greenville — Sutton lives in Pittsboro and Rankin lives in Raleigh — their ties to the community remain strong. As an art teacher, Rankin has encouraged more than 100 of his high school art students to major in art at his alma mater, which he calls “the best art school in the Southeast.” In 2012, he received the East Carolina University Alumni Associations’ Distinguished Service Award. Sutton has served as a teaching assistant for several years at ECU.
The series of Sutton’s work for this exhibition is titled “Food, Farm and Community” and features paintings of flowers and scenes from farmers markets which inspired her.
“I’m really inspired by the farmlands and what they produce, community gardens and things that go on in the community that have been established for many years,” Sutton said. “I’ve done lots of treks to Duke Gardens, the North Carolina Botanical Garden and other community gardens in North Carolina, along with private gardens. That’s what’s really driving me right now.
“What I look for and what really inspires me are the color, the light, the contrasts in shadows. It gives me an emotional response and I just think, ‘I want to paint that.’”
Rankin’s pieces are more abstract, clearly distinguishable from Sutton’s work in the gallery, and inspired by his love of water.
“Some of the pieces are starting new departures for me,” he said. “Oftentimes I’ll try a breakaway piece — whether it be that wave series, where it’s a combination of bringing in abstract geometric forms and combining them with realism and just trying to push the envelope with that. I want to continue to explore those new adventures.”
Though the two artists’ paintings are vastly different, they combine flawlessly in the exhibition through use of similar color palletes.
“I love the color,” said Jaclyn Morgan, an associate at City Art Gallery. “Even though Bob and Sally’s work is so entirely different from each other, I love how their work complements each other. They use a very similar, vibrant color pattern and totally different subject matter, but the colors work really nicely together.”
The gallery represents a number of artists with ECU ties, which Morgan said resonates with clientele.
“I think people gravitate to what they know and what’s familiar,” Morgan said. “People come in here all the time looking specifically for scenes of eastern North Carolina — the fields and the landscapes that people are familiar with, that’s definitely very popular in this area.
I think people connect with art more when they understand the back story and people can relate to the artist a little bit, so I think the fact that artists have ties to Greenville is a big selling point to people collecting art and looking to make a connection with the artists.”
Sutton and Rankin will speak about their art at the opening, furthering that connection with visitors.
“Some of our openings the artists are here, but they don’t usually speak,” Morgan said. “When people know that the artist is going to be speaking, it makes a huge difference. People love to hear directly from the artists. It makes the work that much more interesting to know what their thought process was when creating something.”