In the studio: West Fraser

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. 

Shoreline Sunset, 24" x 36" oil, available

Shoreline Sunset, 24" x 36" oil, available

 

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.

 

Midway Church, 24" x 10" oil on canvas, West Fraser, personal collection

Midway Church, 24" x 10" oil on canvas, West Fraser, personal collection

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.

 

Morning light on a gallery wall in Fraser's downtown Charleston studio. 

Morning light on a gallery wall in Fraser's downtown Charleston studio. 

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.

 

West Fraser studio. Painting on easel, A Setting Moon, 22" x 30" oil on canvas

West Fraser studio. Painting on easel, A Setting Moon, 22" x 30" oil on canvas

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”.

 

Inside West Fraser's studio. Personal collection. 

Inside West Fraser's studio. Personal collection. 

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.

 

West Fraser studio

A New Charleston Renaissance

"Come quickly. Have found heaven" are the words Alfred Hutty wrote to his wife after venturing down to Charleston.

 From 1915 - 1940 Charleston experienced a Renaissance. Creatives like Hutty, Debose Hayward, George Gershwin, and Alice Ravenel Huger Smith put our city on the map as an artistic haven. Fast forward 70 years and you'll find that Charleston is home to over 45 galleries, an elaborate preservation society, a dozen museums, and (still) a whole lot of creatives. 

Our city has cultivated and embraced this innovative lifestyle. While directing Mitchell Hill, a contemporary gallery on King Street, I had the honor of working with The Renaissance Hotel on their 2016-2017 renovation project. Regardless of the city, the Renaissance brand makes "local" a top priority. Pulling from a selection of artists that exhibit in Charleston, I (joyously) curated this gallery wall which is now a focal point in their Wentworth Street location

 

Carbs and Colors: Yes please! ART + ANTIPASTO at Le Farfalle

Looking to learn a bit more about the emerging art market? On Feb 4th I'll be teaming up with the lovely people of Art Mag and the always decadent Le Farfalle for an afternoon of wine-ing, dining, art, and a creative panel discussion. 

Limited seating is available so be sure to grab your tickets before they sell out! 

office decor: you do you

I was recently asked to speak at the Black Southern Belle Collective on the topic of "showcasing your brand and personality in the workplace". What an honor! At a conference filled with powerful women (and men) who all thrived in the creative world, I was on cloud nine talking about what I love most. 

I wanted to share the presentation I created - since most things are better when a visual is involved...

Are you a sign maker? A graphic designer? Be sure to stay true to your company’s mission. This space is a projection of the work you do and the style you represent. 

Slide3.jpg

Did you start out in NYC? Did you get inspired one day while you were making coffee at Starbucks in college? This is a great opportunity to visually tell your story. 

This is another opportunity to incorporate your product. Florists, craftsman, and artisans should explore ways to display their goods. Textures make your eye pause and process. Don’t be afraid of living creatures; plants and even something as wacky as a fish bowl will set your gallery wall apart.

This is for the flex-space warriors: Tape, cork board, or magnets are a great way to keep you searching for inspiration. If you’re one who tears out pages of magazines or prints photos, allow your gallery wall to change as your inspiration does. Allow this to be your “fridge” when you’re proud of a project! You’ll become your own motivation. 

Book cases and clusters of pieces make visual sense when you’re displaying items that are available for sale. Maintain your "look" or personality, while considering how shop-able your wall or shelves are to consumers. 

left image: Charleston Weekender, other images via Pinterest. 

Shrink Me: Assemblage by Hirona Matsuda

During any given week I see 300-3000 pieces of art.

Art fills my life and I love it. 

That being said, I can count on one hand the number of times a week I see something that makes me stop, stare, and say "holy s**t". That's not always the reaction that clients are looking for when we're searching for a mantle piece or dining room painting, but this is the reaction I love to have when seeing something created by a Charleston artist.

Drumroll please........

I sat down with Mitchell Hill gallery director, Ashley Miller, to pick her brain a bit about this recent show:

Canvas:   Hi Ash! Wow, Hirona really brought it this time. What has been the reaction by collectors and passerby since the opening? 

AM:    Well the opening actually got a little scary at some points... Like there were SO many people in here. [Mitchell Hill gallery]. It's been really well received - and lots of sales, which is one sign of a success. People always love Hirona's work but many of her long time collectors agreed that this is her most cohesive body of work yet. I agree. People also pointed out that it's relevant to the way our city is changing too. We see lots of scaffolding, cranes, growth. 

Canvas:    So what's the story behind CLIMB? The ladders are an obvious nod to climbing, but was there specific inspiration?  

AM:    Hirona traveled parts of Europe this year and one of the stops along her trip was a Swedish paper factory. They let her take old blue prints and papers that ended up in a lot of these pieces. She's a collector of random things and those random things usually end up in her studio and in her work eventually. Minimalism played a huge role in the creation of this show. How could you leave IKEA-land and be inspired to make something look cluttered? Nope. Set design seemed to be a constant theme too. The ladders take your eye from one level or set to another.  

 

Canvas:    Which is your favorite piece? 

AM:    I would have to say Water Tower. It's framed in a way that is a reminder that we're looking at a Hirona Matsuda, but the narrative is set on this gorgeous wood grain. I also think Set Design 1 is great. It's shadows and intricate details make me want to keep looking, but it's perfectly minimal. 

Canvas:    I see that some of the works are interactive. Tell me about that. 

AM:    Yeah, many of them have magnetically anchored strings and there is even an elevator. Hirona loves the mechanics behind her creations. People will see music boxes, snow globes, mobile parts. It's all very thoughtful. 

Water Tower by Hirona Matsuda

Water Tower by Hirona Matsuda

Canvas:    Awesome. What should we be expecting next from Mitchell Hill? 

AM:    Our annual small works show is coming up on December 9. Popcorn Garland, as it's called, will feature our roster artists as well as a few special guests. Should be fun! 

 

For more images of CLIMB visit the Mitchell Hill site: www.mitchellhillinc.com 

Inspired by the storm: Creative places and spaces

Hurricane Matthew was a doozy. He knocked trees down, blew the power out, and added new words to our vocabulary like "evacu-cation" and "evacu-shaming". Matthew stole lives during his trip through the islands and up towards the Northeast - many of which never even knew he was coming until it was too late. 

While I've only been around shy of 27 years I've unfortunately seen a good bit of tragedy. Something that always hits me after a horrible event is the outpour of support in the community. The spray painted sign stapled to the tree on Coleman Blvd reading "Thank You First Responders"... The handshakes and helping hands I've seen my neighbors give each other as they're cleaning up their shared disaster zones... The line-up of people donating extra mattresses to those who lost theirs in the low-lying east side of Charleston. These acts of kindness are forever moving. If only they were more common in normal times. 

With all that being said, as I was driving over the bridge today and zipped off my exit, I noticed something. Against the absurdly crisp, blue sky stood a structure that I had seen many times before, but this time it made me feel. I was aware. My senses heightened. I became curious. Why had the city decided to paint this retired bridge pier a variety of earthy colors? How could I have forgotten the effect of street art on the human brain? I had studied it in school and became borderline obsessive with the thought of it's impact on society as a whole. How did that escape me and why do we not regularly celebrate this free-to-experience art form in our city? 

Vincent van Gogh was a pretty wacky dude, but one of his quotes that always stuck out to me was, "There is peace even in the storm". Feel free to interpret that any way you please. To me I've found that in tumultuous times I rest assured that at the end of it all there is a clarity we will find, if only temporarily. 

If you want to get out and think, here are a few good places to start: 

Bridge pier on East Bay Street painted by Jim Weinberg. image: ABC News 4

Bridge pier on East Bay Street painted by Jim Weinberg. image: ABC News 4

Artwork by Douglas Panzone on James Island behind Buffalo Exchange. 

Artwork by Douglas Panzone on James Island behind Buffalo Exchange. 

"House of the Future" by David Hammons and Albert Alston, Reid and America Streets. 

"House of the Future" by David Hammons and Albert Alston, Reid and America Streets. 

The Charleston Hat Man at Church and Broad Streets. image: Panoramio

The Charleston Hat Man at Church and Broad Streets. image: Panoramio

What Will Save America? East Side, Charleston, SC. by David Hammons 

What Will Save America? East Side, Charleston, SC. by David Hammons 

Mural by David Boatwright at GrowFood on Morrison Dr. image: The City Paper

Mural by David Boatwright at GrowFood on Morrison Dr. image: The City Paper

Hop, Skip, and a Jump: Art Walkin'

By now you know that Charleston is an artsy town. Creatives have flocked to our charming city for hundreds of years, drawing inspiration from the lush vegetation, colorful characters, and serene coastline. The likes of Shepard Fairey, Dubose Heyward, Edgar Allen Poe, and Arthur Freed have all called Charleston home.  Given our vibrant city loves celebrating the arts, it's only fitting that we'd also be one of the nation's top gallery communities. 

Principle Gallery

Principle Gallery

The Charleston Gallery Association includes 40+ galleries and is a force behind Charleston earning the status of a "Global Art Destination". This all-inclusive group promotes the diversity that Charleston galleries have to offer. The styles found in these stimulating environments include landscape, Gullah, Lowcountry, abstract natures, realism, photography, and sculpture. Besides promoting the city's breath of talent, The Charleston Gallery Association organizes a quarterly Artwalk. On a specified Friday night during the months of March, May, October, and December, participating galleries will stay open a little bit later, bring out the wine + cheese (yes, please!), and encourage patrons to learn a bit more about the creative minds in our midst. 

The Vendue Hotel gallery space 

The Vendue Hotel gallery space 

Be sure to check out the Charleston Gallery Association website to stay up to date on artsy events in the Holy City. For those of you who don't feel like hoofing it around town but want to see all the good stuff - and have a blast doing it - contact us for a private touring experience. We will get you to the galleries that'll appeal to your taste and introduce you to some of those colorful characters that make Charleston unique. 

Ella Richardson Gallery

Ella Richardson Gallery

Going Green : The Porgy Houses

The Porgy Houses

As part of the Porgy & Bess celebration, Spoleto has compiled a group of Charleston homes that have played a significant role in African American history in Charleston. Throughout the festival these 9 residences, embellished by Jonathan Green, seek to resemble the west African style of Porgy and Bess' set while highlighting the locations contribution to the history of the city. 

The Porgy Houses - note card set by Ralph Muldrow and Sally Caithness Walker. Avaialble for purchase.

The Porgy Houses - note card set by Ralph Muldrow and Sally Caithness Walker. Avaialble for purchase.

#8 The Philip Simmons House 30-30 1/2 Blake St. 

#8 The Philip Simmons House 30-30 1/2 Blake St. 

To see The Porgy Houses for yourself check out the map

 

Going Green : Porgy & Bess

It's safe to say Spoleto 40 is going Green, Jonathan Green that is. 

Starting with the Spoleto Festival poster. Green is only the second artist from South Carolina to have their artwork used for the official poster. Needless to say he has not taken the opportunity lightly.

Who better than Green, a low-country native raised in a Gullah community, to trust as the visual designer of this oh-so-Charleston performance?

 We were curious what all of the Porgy and Bess fuss was about - so when we found out this years #spoletoSCENE tickets included a free pass to the dress rehearsal, we signed ourselves up! What a show! Besides the phenomenal opera - it was a refreshing visual experience - all thanks to Green. 

 His punchy-palette & bold prints come alive on stage. It's as if you're watching one of his famous oil paintings come to life.

The last time Charleston saw a production of Porgy and Bess was 1970. Appropriately timed to christen the newly rebuilt Galliard Center. It was a world class performance but in our perfect world, Beyonce and Jay Z would've revamped the soundtrack. Let's hope to revisit, say Spoleto 60? Or we'll settle for an HBO special. 

In his narrative paintings, Green is referencing his life in Charleston as part of the Gullah community. On stage he shines a light on a man who has decorated the city of Charleston since 1938 with his ornamental iron work.

Philip Simmons, a renowned Charleston Blacksmith, lives on in Porgy and Bess in the form of a veiled iron gate. Simmons spent nearly a century living in the Eastside neighborhood of Charleston. It was there, as a boy, he took to the trade. With over 500 pieces under his belt, Simmons has left quite the impression on the Holy City in the form of gates, fences, grills, etc. His work can be seen all over the peninsula!

Simmons pictured here at his eastside home next to his bottle cap portrait by local artist, Molly B. Right.

Simmons pictured here at his eastside home next to his bottle cap portrait by local artist, Molly B. Right.

 

Location is everything. As a boy Philip Simmons attended Buist Academy on Calhoun St. fatefully located beside the Gaillard Center. A life of accomplishment spanning a tiny low-country peninsula brings new meaning to the phrase "where ever you go, there you are."

You know it's summer in Charleston when the circular wrought iron (cough cough Simmons) signs start popping up all over downtown. Spoleto Festival 40 is upon us and Charleston is heating up - literally! Just ask the artists in Marion Square ;)