Queen City Nerve

Charlotte's Cultural Pulse

Sozo Gallery Makes Room to ‘Gather’ with New Exhibit
Let's get together

By Courtney Mihocik

August 1, 2019

Sozo Gallery (Photo by Christina Hussey)

City lights attract humans like moths, as for centuries people have bunched up in urban environments to live lives both connected and separated. Perhaps that’s why cityscapes play such a large role in Sozo Gallery newest exhibit, Gather, featuring work that depicts spaces where people get together, whether it’s around a table, at a beach or in the city.

The exhibit opened on July 12 and will run through Aug. 16, with a reception on Aug. 1 at 5:30 p.m.

“I feel like each piece evokes that sort of nostalgia of places and spaces that you’re with people that you love,” said gallery manager Sarah Frances Koontz. “That was sort of our goal, was to bring in this artwork by these wonderful artists that invokes that feeling of nostalgia, warmth.”

The artist reception also serves as a pregame event of sorts to the Joedance Film Festival, which begins its first night Aug. 1 at Charlotte Ballet.

Visitors can soak up the art before heading half a mile down North Tryon Street for the first night of film screening for the pediatric cancer research nonprofit’s fundraising efforts.

“We’re just trying to bring it all together in terms of Uptown community,” Koontz explained.

Marvin Espy

One of the featured artists, Marvin Espy, is just breaking into the Charlotte art world, with paintings of abstract cityscapes. Although he’s always been interested in art, Espy noted that he took a near 30-year detour after leaving the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and pursuing a corporate career to earn a steady, livable income.

But that would only last so long before he returned to his passion.

“In 2013, I was at the top of my earning and felt like I was in full stride. The company I was with let go of about 900 people in 6 months, I was one of them,” Espy explained. “That really afforded me the opportunity to start reconsidering what I did. Over the last five years or so I’ve been making strides for that and a year ago, I set out full time, so now I’m doing nothing but art.”

“Late Lunch” by Marvin Espy

Espy’s full body of work evokes more than just a sense of gathering and belonging. He has easily mastered the use of colors to convey different meanings.

Pale, yellow brushstrokes in “Late Lunch” denote the urgency, yet calmness that one can experience when they finally take a breather from a busy day to eat a meal.

But for the most part, Espy’s work is saturated in blues and purples, bathing audiences in a cool city twilight. His artwork normally exists in the more calming hues on the color wheel, with very little energizing hues scattered throughout.

“I think there’s something wrong with me,” Espy said with a laugh. “I set out sometimes with the purpose of getting outside of those colors, and when I finish with it, there it is again. I don’t know if those colors are just comforting for me or if I’m not taking enough risk but I really like that space for now, and I’ve kind of surrendered to not trying to break out of it until it changes.”

This being one of Espy’s first exhibits — not counting open-air markets or breweries around town — he’s grateful for Sozo Gallery hanging up his work as part of Gather, he said.

“Coming Home” by Marvin Espy

“I appreciate galleries like Sozo that are untraditional in the idea of bringing in an artist like me, who doesn’t have a track record anywhere else but just believing in the art itself and believe in me as an artist,” Espy noted. “That may be unique because I’ve knocked on a few doors and I’m not shy, but it was refreshing to be welcomed purely on the merit of my work.”

Alongside Espy’s work in Sozo Gallery — nestled in the busy Hearst Tower Plaza as a quiet, creative haven for artists in a corporate environment — hangs the work of Fonda Doerre and Debora Koo, both artists living in the Charlotte area.

Out-of-state artists Bruce Nellsmith from South Carolina and Paul Norwood from California round out the rest of the exhibit.

The Gather exhibit will run through Aug. 16. A reception will be held on Aug. 1 from 5:30-8 p.m. at Sozo Gallery, 214 N. Tryon St.; Admission is free.

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