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CCU art professor wins ArtFields grand prize

May 4, 2016
Charles Clary of CCU's visual art faculty with his winning exhibit, "Be Kind Rewind"Clary's exhibit "Be Kind Rewind" won the ArtFields grand prize.An example of Clary's hand-cut paper artwork

Charles Clary, assistant professor of visual arts at Coastal Carolina University, won the $50,000 grand prize at ArtFields, a major juried art competition and festival held in Lake City, S.C., April 22-30. Clary’s winning entry was chosen from more than 400 works displayed during the event, one of the most prominent art events in the Southeast.

Clary’s entry, titled “Be Kind Rewind,” is a 3-D installation consisting of more than 200 found VHS movie boxes. The boxes are lined with multiple layers of colored paper and illustration board, into which the artist has hand-cut intricate sculptural patterns.

The work grew out of Clary’s response to his parents’ deaths, two weeks apart, to smoking-related diseases in 2013. During his troubled childhood, Clary rented horror and science fiction movies as a form of escapism. Using the video boxes as raw material for his art was a nostalgic way for him to “push past the personal trauma associated with growing up and losing my parents,” said Clary. The finely detailed cuttings into the surface of the boxes through descending interior layers of paper and illustration board represent what Clary calls “beautiful scars” that are part of a healing process. The installation is mounted on shelving that resembles a video store.

“I repurpose retro-pop culture VHS from my childhood to re-envision the movies and fiction that became my surrogate parents and allowed me to find order from my chaos, beauty from destruction, and hope for more joyous times,” he said in his artist’s statement for the exhibit.

Clary cites Joseph Cornell, the pioneer of assemblage art, as an influence on his work. As Cornell did with his boxes and collages, Clary believes with “Be Kind Rewind” he is “saving things from destruction and giving them a new existence, making them even more beautiful in their second lives.” Artists Sara Sze and Takashi Murakami are also major influences on Clary’s work. Clary says he has approximately 1,500 more empty VHS packages in his garage for the ongoing project.

A native of Morristown, Tenn., Clary earned an MFA in painting from the Savannah College of Art and Design. He joined the CCU faculty in 2015, and his work has been exhibited throughout the U.S. and internationally.

This is the second time a CCU faculty member has won the ArtFields grand prize. Jim Arendt, director of CCU’s Rebecca Randall Bryan Art Gallery, was the winner in 2013. Faculty members Logan Woodle and Brad Williams also won merit awards in the 2016 competition.

His work can be viewed at