Arts and Culture

Shani Gilchrist



James Busby wins the 701CCA Prize for young contemporary artists

Posted 12/4/2012 4:07:00 PM

The 701 Center for Contemporary Art has been growing a reputation throughout the Southeast for its innovative programs and exhibitions. Columbia is known among arts insiders to be a hotbed for fresh and interesting contemporary art, and 701CCA has taken that knowledge and pushed it further out into the public and beyond state lines.

The 2012 recipient of the 701CCA Prize was announced this week at a blue-hued reception on the second floor of the historic 701 Whaley building in the Olympia neighborhood. The purpose of the competition is to showcase professional South Carolina artists under the age of 40 whose work has proven to be exemplary in originality and artistic merit. The three finalists, Jim Arendt, James Busby, and Tonya Gregg are all formidable creative forces, but the prize went to Chapin-based artist James Busby.

Between the announcement of the prize and the start of an evening of dancing to the sounds of The Reggie Sullivan Project, I was able to chat with Busby about the prize and the roots of his work, which leans heavily toward geometric abstraction and consists primarily of gesso and graphite. When I mentioned that the work seemed to favor mid-century abstraction, he chuckled and then shocked me by saying that this entire body of work was more of an accident. I think many emerging artists would like to have “accidents” that have been shown at the Kravets Wehby Gallery in New York, The Chelsea Art Museum and the Galerie Jean-Luc & Takako Richard in Paris. What began as an unintentional stall brought out a different kind of artist than the one who walked into class on his first day of graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University.

When Busby was in his first semester of his MFA program, his mother passed away, thrusting him into a sort of limbo that kept him from painting. “I would prep small, cereal box-sized canvases using gesso and graphite, then would go bug my friends in their studios or go hang out. Then I would come back and put on another coat,” he said. “It evolved into embracing a simple approach to making a painting. It made me stop and think that maybe there is more to a painting that does not have a figure in it, but is just raw, plain emotion.”

Such a situation might cause many grad students to panic, but Busby says it put everything in perspective for him. It helped him pare down from the very large, intense paintings he had been creating in the past and instead embrace a “hold your breath mentality.”

The 701CCA Prize has been recognizing young artists since 2010, and Busby sees it as a great opportunity for a state that could use a spotlight for its contemporary artists. He entered because although his work has been shown in some of the great art capitals of the world, it had not been shown much in South Carolina.

“When I had big show in New York in February, my wife and I had a big party the night before and invited our friends just so they could see what it is that I do,” he said. “So often my friends don’t exactly know what I do, and it’s a great feeling to expose people to things that they aren’t necessarily ready for.”

The work of the three finalists will remain on display at 701CCA through Dec. 16. As a winner of the prize, Busby will receive a paid, six-week residency at the art center and a solo exhibition in the gallery.

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