Dixie Dugan’s art exhibit, currently on display at the Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum, is aptly named “Dixie Dugan: A Retrospective.” Each painting and descriptive label seems to be a stepping stone, making up the memory lane of a great Myrtle Beach artist.
From her early humble fingerpainting, to the pastels of her formative school years, to the watercolors that gained her notoriety, then on to her famed and unique “paper painting” origami collages, Dugan’s 65 displayed works are a map of her journey and illustrious career as an artist who has mastered a wide swath of media.
The exhibit is laid out from the starting point of her early still lifes, and then works of landscapes, interesting characters and animals flow through several rooms and decades, as the exhibit concludes with her most recent work. The display is clearly a retrospective of Dugan’s work, but it’s also a refreshing and soulfully captured reflection of Myrtle Beach and Lowcountry history and culture.
“It’s fun and interesting to see places in our community here,” said exhibit attendee Gwendolyn Alston.
Alston was visiting the exhibit with a small group of her fellow Red Hat Society friends, all dressed in head-to-toe red and purple regalia for the occasion. The ladies oohed and awed over Dugan’s work and exchanged critiques and interpretations with each other as they took in nostalgic scenes of Myrtle Beach.
“I’m amazed by how she captures life and how her work varies from our culture, to the community, to animals and to people. … I want to come back again,” Alston said.
The pieces of Dugan’s life in Myrtle Beach that illustrate cultural landmarks, such as the Myrtle Beach Pavilion, are laid out like a family photo album for the enjoyment of both longtime locals and curious newcomers. There is even a painting of the art museum being transported by trucks to its home on Ocean Boulevard.
These works particularly seem to celebrate the bygone days of a different era in Myrtle Beach — a time that exists now as a phantom, haunting the hearts of those who remember the days and creeping into the souls of the viewers who never had them.
Dugan’s paintings are precise, warm and imaginative. She captures life with a keen eye and distills its meaning and mystery in her watercolors. Though simplistic and light, a beach scene seems to encompass all the depth and majesty of the ocean.
Her nude pieces are accurately described by the museum as possessing “interest and dimension” through a use of contrasting warm and cool colors.
Many of Dugan’s “paper paintings” are also on display. They seem to be Dugan’s favorite medium to date, as her latest work is done in this fashion. According to the museum, Dugan was inspired by Henri Matisse’s paper-cutout artwork while bedridden from a car accident. She began creating pictures with paper she cut out from National Geographic and Smithsonian magazines. Her daughter later introduced her to origami paper, which seems to have led to her newest work of Asian-themed paintings.
Her collages have rich colors and vibrancy, but they also have an impressive accuracy, making the eye disbelieve that they are made from paper, not paint. Dugan paints magnolias in this style, too, and if you look closely at some of these works, you can see tiny magazine pictures within a larger image. Animals, people gathered together, as well as company logos, are all hidden in her work “One Magnolia Blossom.” There are little bits of life woven into this piece, all working together to create the big picture and trying to stay quiet so as not to steal its thunder.
Many of Dugan’s works in this medium celebrate Lowcountry culture. She portrays Gullah women working hard, looking thoughtful or sometimes posing proudly. Her collage “Monarch Cycle Journey,” which celebrates the flight monarch butterflies make each year from Canada to Mexico, serves as a bridge between cultures, as a room of mostly Gullah works ends and a roomful of her Asian-inspired art begins and also concludes the exhibit.
“Dixie Dugan: A Retrospective” offers viewers a wide assortment of subjects, while it also entertains with several different media. This is an enjoyable retrospective that pays a much-deserving tribute to a unique and masterful artist, as well as one that pleasantly evokes the ghost of bygone days in Myrtle Beach.