Jeffrey Day Reviews Local Art Shows by Busby, Chesley, Williams, Yaghjian, Wimberly & Rego

It has been a busy few days on the visual arts scene in Columbia and since I found myself providing mini-reviews of one show while at another, it made sense to write it down.

James Busby rarely shows in Columbia, but he opened the doors to his new studio in Chapin and invited some folks to take a look at his new paintings, drawings, sculptures or whatever the hell they are before he loaded up the truck and drove them to New York for his show opening at Stux Gallery in Chelsea Feb. 9.

I’d been to the studio twice before during the past month, so I had seen many of the works, but he’d completed several large pieces and the studio was nice and tidy with the art hanging like it would for a show (although without the high ceiling and good lighting.)

Some of his art could be seen recently in Columbia. Half a dozen pieces were in the South Carolina Biennial at the 701 Center for Contemporary Art. That was the first time many people in town had ever seen his art.

After doing all white paintings/sculptures for a couple of years, Busby moved on to black and is still doing these pieces that look more like metal than paint and graphite. Most were modestly sized, but not modest in execution. The big surprise in the Biennial was one bigger work, a 7-by-5-footer. He has completed half a dozen more, nearly all of them even larger and more resolved than that one. These newest works start with a base of gesso, which he manipulates while still wet to give it texture. He then sands and cuts into the surface then goes at it with graphite sticks. I’m still coming around to these works – probably because I so admire the smaller white and black pieces – but this is an exciting direction.

I just wish more people in the place he lives knew about him. (Hey I’ve done my part, having written about him several times for several publications.) Busby is one of the most important artists to come out of South Carolina in a long, long time. And he’s a nice guy too.

To see more of his work go to

Right before the long drive to Chapin, I ducked into the jam-packed opening reception for the 12th annual show the artists Stephen Chesley, Mike Williams, David Yaghjian, all of Columbia, and Edward Wimberly, of St. Matthews. These are very talented artists, but artists have good years and not-so-good years. Too many of these annuals have felt perfunctory. This year is different.

During the past few years I’ve found Yaghjian’s work to be consistently inventive and well done. He’s continuing with his figurative pieces focuses on a middle aged man in theatrical settings. In the new work, the man has been replaced at times by an ape. A very well-drawn ape.

On the other end, Wimberly’s Southern gothic surrealism felt like it reached a dead end a long time ago. For this show though he’s come up with a wonderful group of small pastels faces with odd little characters (mice, gnomes and so on) occupying the picture as well. Some are more engaging than others, some better rendered than others, but these are something fresh.

Small still-life paintings of flowers and fruit. Who’d have through such subject matter would be some of the most wonderful work Chesley has ever done?

Williams is one of the most prolific artists around, well-known for his abstracted fish paintings and during the past few years expressionistic paintings of swamps and a smattering of steel sculptures. The big jolts this year are several nearly completely abstract paintings – the best ones covered with lots of gooey paint. A big blue and cream Motherwell-ish painting is a real grabber although there’s a bit more style than substance to it. Can’t wait to see more. His new small sculptures made of scraps of metal are delightful.

Through Feb. 6.

Over at City Art the day before, a show of new paintings by Brian Rego went up. Since I first saw Rego’s paintings – mostly landscapes – several years ago I was bowled over. This exhibition knocked me out as well. There are a lot of exciting paintings – some of the best bordering on total abstraction with big blocks of color, although it’s more complicated than that.

As his subject matter, Rego often picks ugly places like parking garages. He’s good enough to use ugly colors too. He’s working out enticing issues of space in these pieces. The 30-work show is dominated by small (12-by-12) painting, most bold shapes in subdued colors. On the other end are larger brighter pieces, such as a large painting in the center of the gallery of a sun-dabbled back yard with spring-bright foliage and white chairs.

At first I thought it was a show with many good paintings, but wasn’t really a good show. Another visit convinced me I wasn’t quite right about that, but I still don’t think the installation serves the paintings best. I do think these are the best paintings I’ve seen in a while.

Through March 17.

Jumping back a week “Faster Forward” at the 701 Center for Contemporary Art is easy enough to sum up – go see the show now. This is the biggest video art exhibition ever in Columbia – maybe the state. Not only is it big, it is good. The artists are from all over the world, the work varied in content and form, and all of it is engaging and beautiful and sometimes funny. (I’ll have a larger story about the show in next week’s Free Times.) Through March 4.


Jeffrey Day is the former arts editor for The State and a frequent contributor to

Jasper Magazine and

What Jasper Said.