Charles Clary

South Carolina artist Charles Clary’s cut paper artwork may appear at first to be nothing more than an exploration in color and layers that form landscape-esque peaks and valleys. There is, however, a much deeper meaning lurking below the surface of his work. On his website he writes about how his work shifted in 2013 with the passing of both of his parents from cancer. He says, “I began to think about nostalgia, longing for a childhood I never had, and parents that I needed. These thoughts brought me to the exploration of drywall and discarded wallpaper.”

His work doesn’t stop with drywall and wallpaper though. Clary recently opened a solo exhibition at Paradigm Gallery titled “Be Kind Rewind” in which he deconstructs 1,000 VHS tape boxes that he associates with the nostalgia of his childhood. Clary shares that as a “latchkey kid” he regards movies as a babysitter of sorts and feels a strong connection to these discarded pieces of his childhood. He began to use them as a medium to process his grief over his childhood and the passing of his parents by embracing the feelings of nostalgia that these movies evoked.

Take a look at some of Clary’s work below, and be sure to see the section at the bottom for the discussion prompts to use with kids.

Views from Clary’s 2020 exhibit titled Memento Morididdle at Jones Carter Gallery. This work is an installation that combines 355 hand cut works inside of found frames.

Installation of Be Kind Rewind

Detail of two pieces from Be Kind Rewind

All Photos courtesy of Charles Clary on Instagram
Quotes sourced from Clary’s website

Discussion for Kids

I feel it important to note here that while death can be a complicated subject to explore with children, it is important to introduce the process of grieving as a powerful impetus for creativity when speaking about Clary’s work.

  • Nostalgia is a feeling associated with a memories (often pleasant ones) of the past. What objects or memories do you remember in this way?

  • What do you think Clary’s cut paper designs look like? For example, do they look man made? Natural? Or like something you’ve never seen before?

  • Do you think that Clary is breaking any rules/laws by adding his artwork to the covers of the VHS movie boxes?

  • Clary’s work explores the idea of seeing what is beneath the surface (behind the drywall, inside of the movie box, etc). A fun activity (depending on age/maturity) would be to ask what the child to draw what is beneath the surface of a beloved object or even beneath their own selves. What do they imagine existing there?