Like so many artists around town, Leslie Lovell of Roots Up Gallery was forced to cancel the opening reception of her latest group exhibition, "Still Standing."
The exhibition would feature work by three Savannah artists who created work specifically for the show.
But due to the global pandemic, Lovell had to figure out a different plan. A traditional reception couldn’t go on.
“It was going to have to be canceled, no ifs, ands or buts about it,” says Lovell. “It was just breaking my heart because we have three people in it, they put in a lot of time and thought and effort, and your heart’s in it. We all made pieces for the show, and it was just going to be lost.”
While mulling over her options, Lovell realized that there was one more idea: a video reception.
On Wednesday, the originally scheduled date for the opening reception, Lovell will launch a series of videos that feature each artist, as well as an introductory video about the exhibition.
It’s a new way to think about hosting receptions, especially as more and more events get canceled or postponed.
“I think it’s going to give people even more dynamics about it, because when you have a traditional opening, there’s so much going on, so many people in there, and you don’t really get to talk about the work as much as you’d like,” says Lovell. “I think this may become a norm, or at least having the work up like that in a video so people can look at it in a different way.”
Of course, the serendipity in this story is not lost on Lovell. The full title of the exhibition is “Still Standing: The Resiliency of Humans and Nature,” which Lovell came up with after the last hurricane.
“It came to me when Dorian was going through, and they were going to evacuate,” remembers Lovell. “I got up at like 3:30 just to see what had happened, because it wasn’t what they thought it was. It was like you were looking at the sky and you see it above, just hovering over you. I stood there for 45 minutes just mesmerized by it. Still Standing came to me through that.”
Lovell was so inspired by the resilience—of people, of nature, of the architecture—that she ran back inside and wrote twelve titles to paintings. “Now, if I can paint them all, that’s a different story,” she laughs.
When developing the idea for the show, Lovell thought of her friend, artist Carmen Aguirre, who had recently showed her a recent piece.
“The piece I showed her was to go to a gallery up in Montreal, but I missed the deadline to send it,” recalls Aguirre. “It worked out really great, and I told Leslie, ‘Maybe in the end it’s a blessing in disguise.’ I was out on my deck commiserating having a glass of wine, and I sent it to her, and she was like, ‘Oh, this is different.’ It all really begins with being outside, nature, sky, the elements, the whole thing.”
Lovell also called on her friend Kim Corcoran, a relative newcomer to the Savannah art world.
“I’m a designer with California Closets, and Leslie came to my house and said something about the paintings and I said, ‘Oh, yeah, those are mine!’” recalls Corcoran. “She said, ‘Oh, you paint?’ And that’s how it started.”
All three artists have a very distinct style of painting that will certainly make for a great show. Aguirre’s best known in Savannah for her bright paintings of mangroves, but she notes that you’ll see something totally different in this body of work.
“The color will be different because I’m a Savannahian now and painting here now, so the color is going to be different,” says Aguirre, who moved here from Miami five years ago. “There’s a lot of dark colors, but to me, darkness is not sad or oppressive.”
Aguirre is also typically a brush painter, but for this body of work she moved into using a palette knife, a big step for her.
“I started to work on panel, but brush doesn’t always relate the same way,” shares Aguirre, “and I was getting really frustrated because the part I like the least about painting is your first coat of paint. So I was like, to heck with this and took the palette knife and started filling it up right away. That’s where it started.”
Corcoran began painting again just for the show.
“I haven’t been painting since I’ve been here, because I’m busy, so Leslie lit the match under me and got me going,” she shares. “I work in layers, I love color. Mine are figurative. People and music are what inspire me.”
These artists are inspirational for their own resilience, even more so now.
“I think generally, one thing we all have in common is our resilience to continue with our work,” says Corcoran. “No matter what’s going on in your life or what’s happening, that’s how I feel. I am resilient, I can get back up and work and paint. I can do it, and same with both of you—we’re all working women.”
“And the hours we’re doing it at,” adds Aguirre. “I know you get up to work before you go to work. Isn’t that funny?”
In addition to the virtual opening on Wednesday, Lovell notes that Roots Up will open by appointment to just a few visitors.
“We’ll be in there for the show, and people can set up an appointment that they’re going to be in there with us and them in the gallery,” says Lovell. “It’s not going to be but six people in there. They’ll get to spend time with the artists; it’ll be a spacious opening.”
When it’s safe to do so again, regular openings will resume at Roots Up, but for now, Lovell’s resilient solution is a nice way for the art community to connect with each other again and see some good art.
“This is going to bring the camaraderie and everything. It’s going to be interesting to see what the response is,” says Lovell. “Hopefully everybody tunes in.”