Each spring, the directors of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art stage a show that exclusively features the artwork of students at the College of Charleston. That show – Young Contemporaries – has been a marquee event for nearly 40 years. And this year’s edition, which runs through April 22, 2023, features the work of over 40 students. Like all exhibitions at the Halsey, it’s free and open to the public.

According to Katie Hirsch, the gallery’s director, Young Contemporaries is an important event for the Charleston community. It offers benefits for both the exhibitor and viewer alike.

Studio art major Thomas Hicks won the Norton M. Seltzer Prize for his piece “Cinders.”

“I’m consistently impressed by the work submitted for this annual exhibition,” Hirsch says. “This year, we received over 450 separate submissions that were reviewed by a very selective juror (New York City-based artist David Antonio Cruz). It’s interesting that students from all across campus submitted artwork for consideration. Consequently, this show includes not only the work of students from the School of the Arts, but also pieces created by students from a wide array of academic majors, including marketing, biochemistry, psychology, business administration, geology, economics and more. For us, the Young Contemporaries show accomplishes dual objectives in allowing the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art to showcase the talent of our students, and giving students a chance to experience the competitive review process involved in submitting work for a professional exhibition. The energy of this exhibition is like no other.”

Studio art major Thomas Hicks, a rising junior, is one of the students whose work is featured in the exhibit. In fact, Hicks had several pieces accepted, and one, a fabric-based hanging entitled “Cinders,” won the Norton M. Seltzer Prize.

“I started out as a photographer,” Hicks says, “and I still work in that medium, but I’ve evolved a strong interest in fabrics and texture. Before the show, I was really intent on winning a prize and getting recognition for my work, so, I put particular energy into that.

“Cinders,” he continues “represents a process for me as an artist. I’m really interested in knits. I love the tangibility of this medium, so I bought a knitting machine for Christmas. I love the way different yarns react to this machine and I wanted to explore that through my art making. I used cotton because I like the way it reacts to plaster when it’s dipped. The mixture for this piece was equal parts water, glue and plaster mixed. The glue is used so that the piece can burn easily and the plaster isn’t blocking all the cotton. There’s a complexity to the piece that I think the juror appreciated.”

Catherine Quarles

Catherine Quarles won Best in Show for her portrait “Ink.” (Photos provided)

Where Hicks appears to have invested in complexity, another award winner – English major Catherine Quarles – favored the power of directness. Her large-print color photograph “Ink” was chosen Best in Show. It depicts her father standing outside the back of his home, shirtless.

Quarles, who will graduate this May, says she was shocked when that award was announced.

“I’ve identified as a visual artist for some time, but it’s still surprising, especially when my primary identity is as an English major. I took that photo for a class last semester. I was exploring environmental portraiture and narrative cohesion by capturing images of people I know well,” she says. “At the time, I had just purchased an external flash for my camera, and I was teaching myself how to use that. I’ve learned that lighting can really impact the way that I make photographs; it can add a lot of drama.”

And, as an English major, she has a unique perspective for understanding drama.

“For me, art and literature are very complementary. Literature is all about developing critical analysis and reading skills, and when you’re looking at photographs or images, you’re also reading them,” says Quarles. “You’re making meaning from a visual thing. For me, visual literacy and written literacy are really interconnected.”

Young Contemporaries will be on display in the Halsey until Saturday, April 22, 2023. Visit halsey.cofc.edu for more information.