Charlie Hall is serious about art.
Although better known for his political cartoons, Ocean State Follies and Drink and Dabble nights, he’s a Rhode Island School of Design graduate and a Classical High School alum. And when the Wickford Art Association asked Hall to be the juror for its “Cooler & Warmer” exhibit, he was excited about the opportunity.
His first thought was: “Will anybody take me seriously, does anyone know I’m a serious artist?” he said Sunday during the opening reception in Wickford, where he also announced the winners and talked about why he chose the pieces he did.
“It’s a great theme for a gallery show, not a great theme for a state slogan,” Hall said, noting that it’s unusually playful and light for an art exhibition, which sometimes have themes along the lines of “Mankind’s Struggle For Himself.” Felicia Touhey, the association’s education coordinator, came up with the idea for the show and having Hall as the juror.
Hall arrived at the gallery on Thursday, Jan. 12, to select the works. He said it took him about 30 minutes to whittle 156 entries down to 72, but then took him about four hours to decide on the first through third place winners, honorable mentions and juror award recipients.
According to Judy Salvadore, the association’s gallery director, a larger-than-usual crowd gathered for the opening reception. “I think Charlie Hall is part of that – he’s a draw,” she said.
And, judging by the laughs from those gathered during Hall’s remarks, he was a hit.
“The whole gang is here, all of Wickford,” Hall said by way of greeting to the crowd, which filled the room.
“[Most people] think of me as a comedian, and that is true – I have been on ‘Star Search,’” he said. “Being recognized as juror was quite an honor, quite a responsibility.”
He then went on to talk about how all art has cooler and warmer tones, and what inspired his selections. He noted that he had “to overcome my personal tastes” and also take into consideration mediums he is less familiar with, like sculpture. “Cooler and warmer,” he said, can be colors, temperatures, and also the feelings you get and different emotions you can have when looking at a piece.
His first place selection was “Salmon Sky” by Donato Beauchaine of North Kingstown, a painting of warm, billowing clouds against a cool, blue sky. Hall said this was the first piece to catch his eye.
Beauchaine said he’s been a member of the association for about five or six years, and that he weighed two submissions before settling on “Salmon Sky,” which he thought better suited the theme.
Beauchaine said he immediately knew the theme was referring to the campaign for the state, and joked that it would have been wonderful if someone had submitted a piece about Iceland. He said that Hall is “a Rhode Island institution,” and noted that “you never have a juror come and speak about the work” at an opening reception.
“How cool to actually have the juror be here and speak about everything. It makes it better and more memorable. [And it’s] even better that he’s joined,” Beauchaine said.
Jillian Barber of Jamestown was awarded third place for her photograph “Windmill,” which captures a serene snow scene. “It’s the coolest, coldest picture I have – the colors are all lavender, white, some blue,” she said.
“[Hall] brought such levity to the opening, [it was] so fun. He’s also an artist himself, a trained artist, [and he] saw through artists’ eyes,” when making his selections, she said. “He saw the individual beauty in each piece.”
The last award Hall gave out was what he called the “Literal Award,” which went to a woman who submitted a painting of a glass of ice water next to a cup of hot tea. He said that she “took the job very seriously,” and gifted her with a copy of his recently published adult coloring book, “Electile Dysfunction.”
“I’m glad you guys chose me, and I’m now one of you,” he said as he closed his remarks.
After being asked to jury the show, he became a member of the association. Hall said that hosting the Drink and Dabble nights, which are his spin on paint and wine nights, inspired him to get back into acrylic painting about four or five years ago, and that he plans to enter some of his paintings into an upcoming members show.
Hall, who lives in North Providence and said he just hit 60, has been creating political cartoons for about 16 years for newspapers all over the state, including The Independent. He also told the crowd Sunday that, after a five-year hiatus, he’ll be resuming the Ocean State Follies come April at a restaurant in East Providence.
“I know,” he said, “that’s a three-day trip from Wickford.”