An invaluable relationship exists between an art dealer or gallery owner and an artist. Up until the 19th century, artists primarily gained commissions through patronage based upon their renowned talent. The 19th century, with all of its modernizations, revolutions and contemporary transitions, brought about a prominent rise in democracies and the middle class. The freedom that came with the dissolution of class barriers afforded the non-royals or disgustingly wealthy the opportunity to commission and purchase art for themselves. These developments, particularly the advent of the camera, created a society that wanted to capture the moment, live in the present and look ahead at the exciting possibilities in the future.
This social independence led to the rise of art dealers, galleries and art, all of which appealed to the public. Paul Durand-Ruel and Ambroise Vollard were French art dealers whose association with the impressionists remains one of the earliest, modern manifestations of an art dealer/artist relationship. They allotted exhibitions, supported the artists and believed in them, despite the controversy often publicly stirred. Although Vincent van Gogh did not sell a painting during his lifetime, his brother Theo was his biggest and most ardent supporter. Jackson Pollock’s relationship with Peggy Guggenheim put him on the map as a pillar of American artistic production.
Today the art dealer-and-artist relationship stays paramount. Galleries are plentiful in Wilmington, NC, but one in particular stands extremely unique: The Art Factory. Marcus Rich, owner and operator of downtown Wilmington’s old Jacobi warehouse, wants his gallery to be “an incubator for all of the arts.”
Modeled after the River Arts District in Asheville and the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, VA, Rich erected a space where artists could create and sell art from the same area. The retail gallery space sits beside various studios where artists work daily.
Imbued with a creative spirit, the warehouse, which sits adjacent to the Cape Fear River, evokes an air reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s iconic Silver Factory in New York City. Here, artists, photographers, models and filmmakers gather to inspire each other’s works.
Currently on display until October 24th is the work of midwest transplant Charles Robertson, an encaustic painter who’s been living in Wilmington for the past eight years. Robertson got his start when asked to paint a portrait of a famous local in Kentucky.
“I was too poor to afford paint so I bought some crayons,” Robertson says. “I started coloring and coloring, but the crayon layers began to peel away. In frustration, I poured lighter fluid all over the portrait and lit it on fire. Once the lighter fluid burned away, the wax adhered together and the picture was still there.”
Encaustic painting, also known as hot-wax painting, results after heated beeswax is enhanced by added colored pigments. Metal tools and special brushes can be used to shape the paint before it cools—or heated metal tools can be used to manipulate the wax once it has cooled onto the surface. A technique notably used in the Fayum mummy portraits in Egypt around 100-300 AD, artists like Jasper Johns, Diego Rivera and Kandinsky continued in its approach.
Robertson’s work remains dynamic, whimsical and textural. His understanding and manipulation of the wax clearly details a gentle and sensitive hand at work. His exhibition focuses on two main artistic series: “glyphs” and “From the Road’s Edge.”
“My glyphs are short for hieroglyphics,” Robertson says. “As a child I started doodling and then started picking that back up very recently.”
Much like the ancient Egyptians, Roberston uses a series of small images in a repetitive manner and creates abstract subject matter with them. Though not developing a new language, per se, he provides a transcendent connection between the founders of hieroglyphics and Egyptians’ use of encaustic painting to bear contemporary relevance.
“From the Road’s Edge” extends from childhood experiences as well. “Traveling the U.S. with my dad, and then on my own, I was always taken with the edge of the road,” Robertson notes. “Often looking for a place to stop and rest, we would see these views from the edge of the road. There was always such a mystery as to what’s behind the trees, and that’s what I wanted to capture.”
The images of a fast-disappearing Americana allow viewers to create a story all their own. The work captivates the mind to ask: What is behind the trees? What mystery exists there for them?
Art Factory owner Rich believes in his artists as much as they believe in him. “He is invested in his artists,” Robertson states. “I let things happen in my work like Rich is doing at Art Factory with the creative process.”
Although called a factory, it certainly doesn’t possess any of the connotations of a typical work tank. Rich has created a supportive and positive space where art can thrive. A loyal, caring and encouraging relationship coddles the best of the best.
Home to some of the kindest, most interesting artists in Wilmington, Art Factory, 721 Surrey Street, at the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, hosts Robertson’s show through October 24th.
Glyphs and “From the Road’s Edge”
Art work by Charles Robertson
The Art Factory, 721 Surry Street
Through October 24th • Free