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Observer Observed

Pickens Artist Exhibits Personal Prints at Spartanburg Co-op

Pickens County printmaker and artist Steven A. Chapp will exhibit a large collection of his work -- “Observer Observed” -- at Spartanburg’s West Main Artists Co-op April 19-May 12, giving the public extensive insight to his American ancestors, especially during the Civil War. Within the more-than 26 unique hand-pulled prints are historic family photos, written documents, and original drawings that Chapp used to create print collages, monoprints, and etchings using various printmaking techniques. The print collages are new constructions using older or current prints to create new compositions that he would not otherwise have made.

The exhibit’s reception will be Thursday, April 19, 5-9 p.m. during the city’s monthly ArtWalk. The public is invited to attend this free event. The exhibit will be open for free and public viewing Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at 578 West Main Street Spartanburg.

“Visitors will see original hand-pulled prints and print collages with some mixed media that represent several printmaking methods that include intaglio, relief, monoprints, and monotypes,” Chapp said. “These are works that in some cases show crows as observers peeking at others, and, in other instances, they represent me as the observer. We all might look at our surrounding, but are we observers?”

Many of the prints have a somber attitude, using dark images and colors. Often, the subject has a ghost-like figure in the composition; very often there is a black crow in the image. The black crow is a symbol that Chapp has used throughout this artistic career. It represents an ever-present non-judgmental observer of humankind. The finished images are often layered and invite to the viewer to hypothesize what the story is behind the print. “I think of them as mysterious and at times dark,” he said. “But at the same time compelling to look at.” He recommends that patrons “look close at the works.”

“I am always inspired by my observations of people and my surroundings,” the 65-year-old Chapp said. “This particular body of work shows a move in my subject matter to explore my ancestors and what I have discovered about them. In particular is a great-great-grandfather who fought with the Union during the Civil War and left letters that describe his travels. The letters are but a glimpse of a man I never met. But having read them and the stories discovered within these letters, I know much more about his life during those troubling times.

“I hope that the audience will see an artist’s energy in making marks that tell a story and that they can add to this story in their own interpretations of the imagery,” he continued. “I want then to understand that printmaking is not a simple process and that each image comes from working in various printmaking techniques and methods to arrive a finished plate to either make a limited edition or a singular unique image.”

The bulk of this exhibit was created during the past six months with some of the images coming from a 2017 exhibit at “if ART Gallery” in Columbia, SC. All of the works will be for sale. Chapp is not a member of West Main Artists Co-op, but he is no stranger to the Spartanburg-based arts agency. “I was excited to be asked by a former colleague to exhibit with WMAC,” he said. “I have shown there before in the past in juried shows, but not a solo. WMAC has been an influential and positive art institution for Spartanburg bringing art exhibits and studio opportunities to the area.”

Chapp is a native of Kansas City, MO but spent his teen years in the Bay Area of California and his college years in the Carolinas. He has a bachelor’s degree in art education from Appalachian State University with a major in printmaking and drawing. Also, he has a master’s degree in printmaking and drawing from Clemson University. Retired from public education after 29 years, Chapp has taught classes and workshops in various media, including printmaking at the Greenville County Museum of Art; as an adjunct instructor for Clemson in Genoa, Italy; Fine Arts Center in Greenville SC; South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities in Greenville; Coastal Carolina University, Presbyterian College; and at his print studio Black Dog Press in Easley. Currently, he lives Dacusville, an Upstate community.

He has received various awards and recognition for his art, and his works are in private and public collections regionally and nationally. “if ART Gallery” represents Chapp, and he has had several solo and group exhibits during the past 15 years. Among his contributions to the arts, Chapp coordinates invitational art exhibits in the Narthex art gallery at the Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Greenville. He is a founding member and current vice chair of the Contemporary Print Collective, a group of Upstate South Carolina printmakers who work in the various print media and are dedicated to elevating the public awareness to the fine art of printmaking. Chapp has directed two print exchanges — Shifting Plates I and Shifting Plates II — organizing them to travel throughout the Carolinas. Most recently, he helped organize two print fairs at the Greenville Center for Creative Arts.

“My maternal grandfather introduced me to the printed images on postage stamps, which is still an interest of mine,” Chapp said. “I have always enjoyed the process of making a singular or repeatable image creating marks on a surface be it wood, metal or on an acrylic plate. Printmaking, regardless of the process, is a medium in which I feel compelled to do this. It is my objective to create images that not only speak of marks but to have marks that speak for the image. It is how many artists arrange their marks that an image is resolved be it from the initial sketches or the final image.

“As an artist,” he continued, “I am foremost an observer of things around me, whether they be the landscape, people or animal. In many of my images I use the crow as metaphor for humankind. To me the crow is an observer, a watcher of events, the ever present watchful eye. As an artist I am interested in narrative images, which goes back to my childhood when I was attracted to the illustrations in books. I was far more interested in the story I found in the illustrations than the words on the page. I could use my imagination to create my own story. I want my images to tell a story and for the viewers to read what they will into the images. The recent works have included images of actual ancestors that at times include the presence of a crow, the observer. As I investigated my ancestors’ letters and stories I became the observer wondering about their lives and daily interactions. In the works absent of the crow we viewers become the observer of a past life.

“I look at this exhibit as an opportunity to educate the public about original printmaking,” Chapp said. “There is a misconception that prints are a second-class art medium. Often I have been asked when people look at my art, ‘where is the original?’ The works are not reproductions: They are original works constructed by hand and pulled from the plate by hand by the artist.”

West Main Artists Co-op is a nonprofit and all-volunteer arts agency on Main Street Spartanburg. It is housed in the old West Main Baptist Church and is continuously renovated by its members who are 50-plus strong. It provides affordable work spaces for more than 30 artists in the 20,000-square-foot building. In addition, the Co-op has the largest collection of locally made art for sale with extremely diverse buying options, including pottery, jewelry, paintings, sculptures, quilts. Each month, the Co-op hosts three new exhibits by its members and nonmembers, some of whom enjoy regional and even national recognition.

To see samples of Chapp’s work, please visit his website at StevenChapp.com. For more information about Chapp’s exhibit, “Observer Observed,” please visit online WestMainArtists.org.