Feature Articles

January 2011

Spartanburg Art Museum Features Works by Laura Spong

Chasing the Undertow, a collection of paintings that trace the life work of Laura Spong, an 85-year-old South Carolina artist famous for her bold non-objective style, is on exhibit at Spartanburg Art Museum in Spartanburg, SC, through Feb. 18, 2012.

The 30-some works-of-art date from her early career in the mid-1950s to some of her most recent work painted just this year. As a whole, it shows the development of a vision that has had its ups and downs for more than 60 years but that has matured and been embraced late in life by patrons near and as far away as Hollywood.

For the most part, the works have been hung chronologically in the gallery, with the older paintings in the back and the newer ones near the entrance. The progression and change in style are obvious to even the most untrained eye. Spong’s work has always been in the non-objective/abstract/expressionist camp of creativity. But as this exhibit clearly demonstrates, her work became more and more non-objective - where there is no resemblance of reality - as Spong aged. With her pieces Madonna And Child (mid-1950s) and Flower (1960s) there are visual hints that the resulting images were modeled from “things” she might have actually seen. However, skip ahead to her three-canvas piece Why?, painted in 2010, and the imagery is bolder with more contrast, more subtle uses of color, more layers, and is representational of nothing tangible. To walk through this exhibit is to take in a quick summery of the artist’s life’s work.

“We are most fortunate to have Laura Spong’s work here at the Chapman Cultural Center,” Marketing Director Steve Wong said. “Even though she has been a productive artist in South Carolina for many years, it hasn’t been until the past few years that she has achieved the recognition that she deserves. Actually, it wasn’t until she turned 80 that people really began to seriously collect her work. I think one of her biggest breaks came when her work was chosen to decorate the set of the Lifetime television series Drop Dead Diva. That gave her national exposure.”

“I find it most interesting that she is an older artist (now 85) and a long-time South Carolina resident who deals exclusively in non-objective work,” Wong said. “It’s very modern, and, of course, the images are not of anything. They are vibrant shapes and colors, accented with squiggling black and white lines and dashes of contrasting color. They speak on a very emotional level, to a part of your brain that bypasses words or realistic images.”

Spong was born in Nashville, TN, in 1926 as Laura Miles. She graduated cum laude from Vanderbilt University in 1948 with a degree in English. Her arts education was confined to two studio and one art history class. She married Ernest Maye Spong Jr., moved to his hometown of Columbia, SC, and gave birth to two twin sons in 1949.

During the 1950s and ’60s, Spong was active with the local artists’ guild, winning various awards and exhibiting within the state. During the 1970s and ’80s with the death of her husband and the need to provide for a family, Spong took on various art-related jobs, and kept a somewhat lower profile in the working-artists community. It was in the 1990s, when Spong decided to embrace her art wholeheartedly that she took a studio in Columbia’s Vista, the chic downtown district, that her work began to gain a far-reaching appeal with it appearing throughout the state, the South, and beyond. Today, she is considered one of South Carolina’s most prolific and most-sought-after artists.

For further information check our SC Institutional Gallery listings, call the Museum at 864/582-7616 or visit (www.spartanburgartmuseum.org).

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