Though he’s one of Charlotte’s best-known art gallery owners, Jerald Melberg had been feeling disconnected. At 67, he’d represented big names for decades – internationally known artists such as Robert Motherwell and Romare Bearden. But when it came to local artists, he was out of touch.
So he decided to change that. Months ago, he began perusing websites, visiting lesser-known venues, quietly checking out more than 50 artists as he searched for the area’s best young talent. The result: The Jerald Melberg Gallery’s new show, “Two to Watch,” featuring Nicholas Napoletano and Matthew Steele, two up-and-coming under-30 artists.
“I’m saying these are two people that I want the community to pay attention to,” Melberg says, “so much so that I’m showing them in my gallery.”
If you’ve been tuned into Charlotte’s art scene, chances are you’ve seen their work.
One of Napoletano’s paintings, “Fraternal Codependence,” pops from a billboard on Commonwealth Avenue. He and two other artists also recently painted a mural in Plaza-Midwood celebrating the late Brandy Alexander, a pioneering local drag queen.
Napoletano, 25, is a hyperrealist whose favorite subjects are people, depicted in ways that suggest rich stories. The childlike figures in “Faker,” for instance, practically drip with mysterious symbolism. Why does one have red fingers? What is that costume of feathers?
In other works, subjects look like they could have walked off the street. In at least one case, they did. The two women in “Hannah and Rae II” responded to a call Napoletano made for models. The women, who’d never met, showed up at his studio, took off their clothes and posed together in a special box he’d constructed. The result is mezmerizing. The idea, Napoletano says, was to build a framework, “then look at how their interaction unfolds.”
Steele, on the other hand, is a sculptor who believes structural works – even something as utilitarian as a bridge or dam – can be infused with emotion. “There is desire in a highway,” he writes on his website. “There is resilience in a dam. There is triumph in a bridge.”
You may have seen Steele’s pieces at a recent Central Piedmont Community College solo exhibition, or at the 2015 Skyline Artists Residency in the former Goodyear building on South Tryon Street, where he built Lure, a temporary work, 69 feet long, out of steel storage racks.
In this new show, wood is Steele’s medium of choice. His pieces, sawed planks of walnut, tacked together with tiny nails, are intricate and beautifully made. Two of the works play with the concept of monuments, which we typically expect to honor a hero, or mark a tragedy. Instead, Steele, 29, honor emotions with his Monument to Indecision and Monument to Regret.
Steele says he was surprised – and flattered – when Melberg expressed interest in his work. “Any artist who can see that someone’s excited about their work, that’s about the best thing you can do for them,” he says. “It’s even better if it’s a gallery owner.”
Pam Kelley: 704-358-5271
“Two to Watch”
The Jerald Melberg Gallery’s opening reception is 6-8 p.m. Friday, July 15. The gallery, at 625 South Sharon Amity Road, is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. The show runs through Sept. 10. More information: 704-365-3000.