I met West Fraser and his wife, Helena Fox, at their home in 2013. A mutual friend of ours is some-what of an adopted son to them. He invited my boyfriend and I over for Sunday dinner. West and Helena were in the kitchen making a batch of shrimp and grits as their college-aged daughter walked in the door with (what seemed like) 15 girlfriends, who all made themselves at home without a breath. Then walked in 3 more guests. My Italian immediately set in... Was there enough food for this crew? Well, of course. Apparently they host half of CofC and their friends on a regular basis.
This warm, open-door hospitality is something they have shared with me for years now, and I couldn't be more grateful.
In the studio with West Fraser:
Sarah: "Painting the Southern Coast" is your latest book. With stories behind each of the paintings shown, what is the general story you were looking to convey?
West: The big story is about a love for and pride of a place, the richness of connectedness laced with a subtle undertone of melancholy due to the changes and environmental degradation that I have witnessed over the years of observing this place I call “My Country”. A steady yearning to paint the S. E. Coast has yielded a body of work that I am proud of making and especially to be allowed a forum to share my experiences and results of my endeavors. It is my hope that with my work I might inspire viewers to learn Natural History and Environmental Science and be more aware of their surroundings, to be curious enough to learn the rich History that makes this place special.
Sarah: Your collector base includes museums, Lowcountry natives, businesses, and international power-houses. Your work seems to appeal to all sorts of people. What is the relationship between the collectors and your work?
West: My relationship with my collectors has enriched my life beyond the financial rewards. Money gets spent but friendships last a lifetime. I am always humbled by the impact my work has on people, admirers and buyers. I have received letters that describe beautiful and powerful connections are rewarding far beyond expectations. I am included in many very serious individual and public collections. Most recently I was selected to provide the bulk of new work for a Hotel, The Montage at Palmetto Bluff, which expanded an already strong collection of work to around 35 pieces. At palmetto Bluff, on the May River in Beaufort County, SC, I was given the opportunity starting in 2000 to paint what I refer to as “A Portrait of Place”, whereby I had access to a large un-developed property and asked to create a body of work before the first bull-dozer arrived.
Sarah: I remember you telling me about painting the Bluffton Oyster Factory and you were beaming. It seemed like a wonderful experience for you. Which subjects are more challenging or invigorating for you?
West: I tend to look for challenges to push myself beyond the comfort zone. The series of painting I have done of the Bluffton Oyster House is part of a larger body of work that I refer to as “Support American Fishermen”. Regarding the ‘Bluffton Oyster Factory Shuckers’, I have created a memorial fund at the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry (the Joseph B and Carolyn B Fraser Memorial Fund) to encourage a Sustainable Seafood Harvest in the Beaufort county waters. By using the intellectual property rights of the painting I have offered reproductions for sale that then directly fund the effort. In other paintings, such as “What Are You Reading” which is in the exhibition at the Gibbes Museum, I enjoy creating meaningful and beautiful paintings that also have messages beyond the surface or subject. I do not lean on conventions of artists past works but try to create new and unexpected compositions and approaches to subjects.
Sarah: Already having a celebrated career with many more years ahead of you, what are your aspirations moving forward? Nine solo museum exhibitions is remarkably impressive for someone who is middle-aged...Where to now?
West: I wish I was middle-aged. I am honored to be given the first solo exhibit in the newly renovated Gibbes, it is my third solo show there. I continue to be an advocate for the Gibbes and it’s role in the community. In the world of Art as I understand it, an artists career is built on public and private recognition. No amount of self-promotion will be as relevant. I have worked as in “tunnel vision” my adult life. I have given myself to my career. In that effort, my goal has been to create a sustainable art business that I can depend on into my old age. I will continue to push myself out of a comfort zone and explore new possibilities nationally and internationally, but never foregoing the place I call “My Country”.
Sarah: At what point in your career did you feel like you "made it"?
West: There are several levels of made-it, I have achieved some of those levels with publications and exhibitions yet I am not at the mountain-top enjoying the view, yet.