Curating Life

Principle Gallery showcases top contemporary art


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Carri Schwab has a way of making you feel like the artists whose works line the walls of Principle Gallery are old friends.

If you notice the worms on the plate and the pout on the face of the pretty girl in Katie O’Hagan’s delightful narrative oil, Pity Party, Schwab is likely to laugh and say, “Katie’s such a smarty- pants! I love her! She always cracks me up!”

Taking a walk with Schwab, the gallery’s director, is a bit like having a backstage, all-access pass. Her energy is infectious, her passion for people undeniable and her knowledge of the art world top caliber. Plus, she has one of the best smiles in town.

Principle Gallery has been a prestigious name in the world of contemporary art, operating for 20 years in Alexandria, Va., just outside of Washington, D.C. Last year, Principle acquired Charleston’s M Gallery of Fine Art and took a proud step into the area.

“Charleston’s really a place where the arts are celebrated and deeply appreciated,” says gallery owner Michele Ward. “Even more than that, Charleston has a richly diverse population of warm, friendly and accepting people, and that holds great appeal.”

The gallery is spacious and has a welcoming, “please walk in” feel to it. The incredible diversity of artistic styles represented at Principle all flow together seamlessly.

The luminous oils of Larry Preston are staggering in quality and light, and whimsical in subject matter—an absolute delight to gaze upon. Ask Schwab about Larry Preston and she will gush about his charm, his sense of humor, the flow of ideas that never stops pouring out of him and his ironclad commitment to mastering the technical aspects of his art.

Elements of a provocative work by Terry Strickland are sure to grab the eye: a mild-mannered man pulling aside his everyday clothing to reveal the superhero beneath; an unread volume of stories; and a lady, lounging in wait and simmering in the way her eyes meet the viewer’s gaze. This is an exploration of the alter ego, writ through iconography, pop culture and art history.

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Tom Poyner in the Studio, 68-by-50-inch oil on Belgian linen by Lynn Sanguedolce, takes up much of the back wall. Schwab tells the story of how Sanguedolce first met the Episcopalian minister from San Francisco in the painting and of how their friendship grew over time, long before she made the first brushstroke. “It’s a very heroic thing,” Schwab says. “You really have to know the essence of someone.”

The stories writ on canvas go on and on, with different styles from one end of the gallery to the other.

“Principle Gallery is dedicated to sharing the very best of international contemporary realism,” says Ward. “Focusing on painting and sculpture, the gallery proudly represents emerging, mid-career and established artists with a distinct personal approach to their work.”

The calendar is chock-full of events to make the public feel welcome. September marks the fifth anniversary of Women Painting Women, a national art event in which Principle is proud to participate. November will bring House Painting, an exhibit that will transform the gallery and show how art can be incorporated into every room–from a sexy master bedroom and a classy kitchen to a super fun kids room!

“There are so many different styles, so many different ways in which artists can express an idea,” Schwab says. “It’s amazing how you can put a contemporary impressionist work on the wall next to a narrative, conceptual painting and it just comes alive. The art is in how you mix it up, how you find the paintings that speak to you. It’s really about telling stories. It’s about curating life.”

Jason A. Zwiker is a freelance writer in Charleston.

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