Coming Home: Selections from the Johnson Collection

TJC Gallery, Spartanburg, South Carolina
June 2, 2015 – September 10, 2015

“Home, the spot of earth supremely blest, A dearer, sweeter spot than all the rest.”

-Robert Montgomery (1807-1855), English poet

When returning to a familiar place, the final curve in a winding road or last crest of a rolling hill can evoke a sense of peace that is palpable and profound. In 2002, Susu and George Johnson began collecting paintings that reminded them of their shared Southern roots. As Susu explains, “Looking back, it was always a sense of place that drew George and me to beautiful pictures.”

This exhibition features paintings that conjure memories of one’s own travels leading to a place of comforting familiarity. The artist Walter Harrison Cady, fondly remembered for his serial renderings of Peter Rabbit, explored this theme in literal fashion. In Comin’ Home, a single rider crosses a rocky stream towards a homestead dwarfed by a smoky-blue Appalachian peak. Both the traverse and the title let the viewer know that a passage has come full circle. The concept of home is more subtly conveyed in William Halsey’s abstracted Third Floor Light. Rendered in a spare, geometric style, two upper-story windows are illuminated by a welcoming glow. Someone at home has indeed left the light on, possibly as a beacon to an absent loved one.

Journeys take many forms, as do artists’ interpretations of both the going and the coming, the traveler and those left behind. Sarah Blakeslee’s expressive watercolor, Railroad Crossing, N.C., highlights the method of transportation so historically important throughout the region. By contrast, Alfred Hutty’s nostalgic Southern Oaks/Going Home harks back to a pre-industrial Old South, where horse-drawn wagons moved more slowly along rutted paths.

Perhaps the ideal of homecoming finds its fullest expression among these works in Will Henry Stevens’ beautifully rendered, post-impressionistic view of Sevierville, Tennessee. In Smoky Mountain Landscape, the viewer’s eye is urged along a sweeping highway that finds its end in a country village. There, at the town’s—and the painting’s—center, a church steeple rises above the modest skyline and is silhouetted against counterpaned hills.