USC Aiken showcases work of eclectic visual, performing artist

Derived from the Spanish word for “mixed,” the term “mestizo” is popularly used to describe an individual of mixed European and Indian ancestry. In that linguistic tradition, Austin-based singer-songwriter Eric Beverly describes his paintings as “Tex-tiso” – a blending of Scottish, Irish, German, French, Cajun and Latino influences that he “mixes and matches” to come up with his unique creative vision.

After completing a Bachelor of Art in French at the University of Texas, Beverly settled in the state’s capital city where he and his band, The Sunday Best, have become fixtures of Austin’s vibrant nightlife. When he isn’t writing songs and performing, Beverly is plying his brush. Approximately a dozen products of his visual imagination will be on view in the lower gallery of USC Aiken’s Etherredge Center beginning Sunday and running to Nov. 2.

Beverly himself avows that anyone examining his paintings may detect various sources of inspiration. The subject matter may remind some viewers of the whimsical inventiveness of folk artists hailing from the Deep South and the Southwest as well as the magic realism often found in modern literature. The artist’s techniques are reminiscent of those favored by the principal exponents of some of the major European movements: the visible brushstrokes of the Impressionists and the vibrant colors employed by the Fauvist painters. The artist’s long residence in Texas, his travels in South America, his passion for French culture – all inform his work.

The exhibition of paintings by Eric Beverly coincides with the launching of the new short story collection entitled “A Shared Voice,” co-edited by my USCA colleague Andrew Geyer and me. Beverly did the cover painting for the book, and this particular work, which is also entitled “A Shared Voice,” offers an excellent introduction to the artist’s subject matter and style.

Measuring about 30 inches by 48 inches, this acrylic painting features a circle composed of eight stylized faces, most with open mouths as if they were sharing a song. The resulting image, rendered largely in saturated colors, mirrors the creative fusion that can be found in the twenty-four tales that make up the anthology, half by writers from Texas and the other half by writers from the Carolinas. In fact, to reinforce this point, the artist has carefully inserted at strategic points in the circle, visual references to the flags of Texas and South Carolina.

Other paintings in the Etherredge Center show that especially caught my eye are “Dixie Fish” and “Tiger, Tiger,” largely because of the surrealism the artist achieves by anthropomorphizing familiar animal shapes. The “Dixie Fish” might more appropriately be identified as a mermaid struck by lightning; her right fin bears the jagged scar of a lightning strike, and the top of her head is a blazing bonfire. The big cat in “Tiger, Tiger” is actually a man with a tiger’s face; his eyes are rectangular slots through which the viewer can see the cloud-filled sky beyond. Since the figure holds a paintbrush in his right hand, Beverly may regard this work as a self-portrait of sorts; after all, the fauvist style, noted for its distortion of form and its use of pure color, is derived from the French word for “wild beast.”

The opening of the Beverly exhibition will be celebrated with a free reception in the lower gallery of the Etherredge Center this Sunday at 2 p.m. The general public is invited to attend.

On Oct. 22, at 8 p.m. on the main stage of the Etherredge Center, two authors whose stories appear in the collection “A Shared Voice” will be reading their contributions to this landmark anthology. George Singleton, heralded far and wide as a master of the comic short story, will read his hilarious tale entitled “Thank You.” Immediately following his performance, Terry Dalrymple will read his tale “Nasty Things,” which takes one of the characters from Singleton’s narrative and gives the reader her amusing “back story.”

This free double reading by Singleton and Dalrymple on Oct. 22 is sponsored by the USCA Department of English. For more information on the work of Eric Beverly, visit his website at www.ericbeverly.com; for more information on the Oswald Distinguished Writers Series, please visit the USCA homepage at www.usca.edu and type in “Department of English” or “Etherredge Center.”

A recipient of the prestigious Carolina Trustee Professorship in 2008, Dr. Tom Mack currently holds the G.L. Toole Chair at the University of South Carolina Aiken. His new book “A Shared Voice,” co-edited with Dr. Andrew Geyer, has just been published by Lamar University Press (Beaumont, Texas).