An Assemblage of Art & Light

Written by Beth Brown Ables & Photo by Paige French

Picture an art gallery.

What comes to mind is most likely cold, hushed, stilted. 

Now picture a gallery owner.

Most likely that person is also cold, hushed, and stilted.

Cast those thoughts aside. 

Teresa Roche, owner and curator of Art & Light gallery in Greenville, SC glows with warmth and radiates enthusiasm. So, of course, does her gallery. Entering Art & Light is not unlike ducking inside a kaleidoscope with all of the jangling color and shifting light. Like a kaleidoscope, each visit to the gallery offers new perspective as artwork is rotated and rearranged. 

Art & Light hosts eight resident artists whose medium and techniques vary from oil paintings, woodcuts, and drawings to mixed media and watercolor. 

    “The artwork here isn’t finely finished. Things here have a rougher look, like sketches on book jackets—I encourage that in my artists.” 

Each artist’s work is individual, yet each complements the next, which credits Teresa’s knack for arranging and assembling. 

How did this begin? Such a unique, welcoming art gallery is rare. 

Before she was a curator, Teresa Roche worked in the corporate world as a creative director. Each year, along with a colleague, Roche hosted an art show featuring her collages and her coworker’s handmade light fixtures: the art and the light of Art & Light.

When time came to leave the corporate world, Art & Light developed into a once-a-month open studio gallery in the fledging arts district of Greenville. 

    “I keep things new, always changing. The flow of new art, new artists was important. I held 55 shows in five years in that first space.” 

This quest for newness is apparent in Art & Light’s permanent space off Augusta Road. The gallery revolves with each season as Roche encourages more muted pallets to complement wintertime: bare branches and snow-heavy fields. But soon after the New Year, the gallery bursts forth with brighter color and subject matter. Even within the seasons, Teresa is often found re-hanging and rearranging art: always changing, adding, stepping back, adding and subtracting from the visual story.

Roche works closely with her resident artists, encouraging them and demanding much from their work, and in this way, their lives interact and overlap.  As her insight and encouragement inform their work, she reaches out to her customers and collectors. “I want to show people how artwork can tell their story: if they connect with a piece—even just liking the way it looks, they can begin to arrange their own walls into a visual collage of who they are.” 

Her advice for novices to art collecting:  “Go to shows, to openings. Meet artists, visit their studios. Find out what you like, and then buy your first piece of art. It will be exciting and maybe a little scary, but you will be proud of what you are doing.” And in this way, her work of connecting and overlapping lives continues: artists to collectors. 

It’s logical that Roche herself is an artist of collage and the theme of assemblage is apparent in the whole scope of her days: her work, family, and art overlap and complement one another to create who she is: a curator of life’s story pieces. 

 “I have been drawn to assemblage since the very beginning (for over 20 years) - one of my first pieces was a collage/assemblage piece using tissue paper - I have always loved working with paper and I was intrigued by the layering of the tissue - as I layered it the colors changed and became almost stainglass-like. 

“It's only been in the last year that I noticed the correlation between my art work and choreography.  I ran across a college notebook of notes from a choreography class and as I flipped through them I had this revelation that all the work I have accomplished is steeped in putting small pieces together to make a whole.  Later the same week that I found the notebook I started working with the actual note paper and felt the most inspired that I have ever felt.” 

As with all visual art, words fall short when it comes to description; however, much of Roche’s recent work embraces a somewhat literary facet: her work often features book jackets unhinged of their pages, circlets of text, and miniscule bundles of pages or fabric. Tiny shelves are set with diminutive “magic books” reclaimed from cast aside volumes. 

    “I learned early on not to throw anything away: save the leftovers! You never know how something might be used.” 

Often, she begins with a whole: nubby paper washed over with vivid watercolor, those cast aside choreography notes, large ratty sheets of cardboard, discarded dirty lumber. Then it is broken apart: ripped, sawed into small bits, and then reshaped and encouraged into a new place, an unexpected, soulful yet delicate grouping.

Her creating-time occurs in the same way; this rearranging only happens in bits of time so that even her days are cut into smaller fragments of creation.  Early mornings after coffee and devotion along with early evenings while her husband finishes dinner are set-aside for studio time. She may only glue one piece, trim another board. Bit by bit the whole breaks apart and becomes a new whole.  

Teresa’s life is its own assemblage, it seems, with the gallery (its customers and artists), her personal artwork, and her family all inspire and influence the other—taking the best from each. But what is it underneath and unseen that holds it together? 

    “My faith and my relationships.  God gives each and every person gifts.  I have never felt particularly talented as a dancer, choreographer, artist, but I do feel I have a gift of putting things together.  Whether it's a family birthday gathering, an art opening, a technology show or just one of my assemblages, I feel my strength lies in the planning and execution of the details.  I am fortunate to have had a very rich life filled with parents, teachers, mentors, bosses, friends who have encouraged me and I am so thankful for that.  Each and every one of those people are a part of my journey and it's all been the bits and pieces they have taught me that has made my life rich.”

A visit to her home studio offers a glimpse into a soon-to-be change in Teresa’s life: tucked beside her studio - as neat as one of her carefully arranged assemblages - is a quiet spot: a nursery for her soon-to-arrive granddaughter. 

    “My work has softened so much. It’s amazing what a baby on the way will do to a person.” 

Above the crib—Teresa’s proudest work of the past year: a love letter of an assemblage, warm with pastel and looking something like a drawer pulled out and hung open on the wall: a map, a garland, loops of text marking significant spaces—all speak a story of a baby hoped for, and then, there: along the bottom of the box—a small shelf, here more magic books arranged side by side. But this time they are new and unused, blank. Ready and expentant.

“I want us to write stories in these, I see her adding her own memories here.” 

Life, art, work: all overlying and becoming authentically whole and beautiful.  Bit by bit.