A crowd of nearly 70 showed up on Oct. 16 at a reception to see drawer-artist Jillian Dickson debut a brand new exhibit at Lander University's Monsanto Gallery.
Dickson's five-week exhibit, titled "The Collective Mine," runs through Nov. 20 and is considered an artistic coup for Lander's College of Arts & Humanities.
"I've been showing my students her artwork all six years I've been teaching at Lander," said Elizabeth Snipes-Rochester, associate professor of art. "To have someone of her caliber exhibiting here and interacting with our art students is a real treat for us."
"The Collective Mine" features Dickson's most personal effort yet in more than 12 years and 60 art showings.
The exhibit, with 21 unnamed pieces, is inspired by Dickson's own life and identity as a woman and mother. Juxtaposing feminine iconography and symbols with traditional decorative motifs, the result is a surrealist look at "what's happening in my body."
The highly detailed and sometimes visceral imagery tells the "stories all of us females have but don't speak of publicly."
"I created a series of drawings to examine the forgotten and neglected connection between the female tactile body and wild Mother Nature," said Dickson, whose work has been shown in 18 U.S. states, 10 colleges and universities, and in both Paris, France, and Venice, Italy. "To accomplish this, I fused images of human organs with budding flowers, ribbons and butterflies to appear as a singular functioning unit."
Talk a bit further and you might also find out why she loves Olives - with a capital O.
"There are secrets strewn throughout the pieces," Dickson explained, "and this is also a secret because my daughter's name is Olive."
The rest of the exhibit involves clothing piles, clothing pieces, sweaty tired flowers on straining, overloaded human organs, and other flowers and organs trying to overcome thick pieces of intruding hemp rope.
But put them together with the understood theme and it all seems to make sense - only with the fine touch of a drawing artist that most of us would find hard just to imagine.
"I've loved art like hers since I was little, and I think what she's doing is unique," said freshman art student Roxie Harris.
Senior Spencer Bautista added, "The way she blends nature with the human body is very impressive. And I was curious to know how she got to this point."
As to how Dickson got from her first drawing to national exposure, consider that it all began at a young age in Chicago, Ill., with mom and dad - and French impressionist Claude Monet.
"My mom and dad encouraged me to be an artist - they noticed I had an unusual enthusiasm toward viewing art at the Art institute of Chicago Museum," Dickson said. "I, like most viewers came to visit Monet's haystack paintings. Although at the time I couldn't articulate why the work was so masterful, I could identify Monet's calculated application of value and color, and the temperatures he depicted in the different scenes were rare to witness."
Following a first solo exhibit at Bradley University in 2005 while still an undergraduate fine arts major, Dickson soon added South Carolina to her first-year portfolio with showings in Belton, Seneca and Clemson University.
"In the beginning, I wasn't nervous for showings - but now, as a professional artist, I get very nervous for an exhibition, especially if I am to attend the reception or opening," Dickson said.
Judging from the Lander reception, however, it looks like the only thing Dickson has to fear is the nervousness itself - as Snipes, Harris and gallery director Jon Holloway said she was nothing short of inspirational - and talented.
"Some art exhibits are very black and white, very straightforward - this one is more on the side of an interpretive experience," Holloway said. "By presenting her work, we're broadening our horizon and understanding of what you can say with art."
Snipes added that she expects Dickson's exhibit to bring out a lot of creative inspiration among her students.
"We are thrilled to have Jillian here in our gallery," she said. "The gallery is an extension of our classroom - and her presence means a step forward by showing contemporary work that challenges viewers."