Tired of the same old, same old of Miami's art galleries? Art Basel too big and impersonal for you? Well, honey child, treat your senses to a place that is not too far from home and absolutely amazing. The art gallery scene in Charleston, S.C. awaits you.
So, a girl walks into a bar. Sounds like I'm going to tell you a joke, but this is really how it happened. I was sitting at the bar at The Vendue and in walked a local artist that would have made Helen Keller swoon. Meet Stephen Elliott Webb. Once I found out what he did, I quickly engaged him to be my gallery tour guide so I could get an insider's peek to all the fabulous galleries. More on Stephen later as I like to save the best for last.
A few weeks later, with a very comprehensive itinerary in hand, we met to begin our walk about; with over 50 galleries in Charleston, I'm sure he was hard pressed to pick a handful for me to visit. So, let's get started.
The first gallery was Helena Fox Fine Art. She is a fourth generation art collector and her gallery carries 20 artists in the American representational style. Along with the works of nationally and internationally renowned artists, the 22K gold jewelry of Sarah Amos also calls the gallery home. Next on the list was Ann Long's gallery where I browsed 25 artists of modern art and classical realist works. The next stop will prove very interesting for Miamians as Rebekah Jacobs has a high-end vintage photography gallery with quite a bit of Cuban inventory, which you can browse on the Internet. Definitely worth your time.
The next three are my favorites. The John C. Doyle gallery houses Mr. Doyle's works of realism and impressionism. It just so happens, Mr. Doyle and Guy Harvey (for all you Florida fans) were friends, and there is one original sport fishing painting left and it is for sale at the gallery. If you can afford the price tag of $75,000, it would be one to have in your collection. Blue Cuban Seas is one of my favorites as it features Hemingway's boat with a marlin jumping over it.
If you favor the surreal realm, then Robert Lange Studios is a must see. Run by a husband/wife team, all the artists have a tie to Charleston and you can actually go upstairs and see Robert work. Once I was up there, I really didn't want to leave as I became totally transfixed at watching him. Jealousy is one word that came to mind due to the fact he made creating look so effortless. "There is no right or wrong way to be an artist," he told me. Clearly the man has not had the privilege of seeing my 'paintings'.
One last stop before heading to Stephen's studio and that was at the Principle Gallery. Walking through the front doors, I was struck with the elegance of the space and felt myself slow down in order to take in all the beautiful paintings. Frank Russen, who is the director of the gallery, recently came from Naples. Clearly it is Naples' loss, as Frank has brought his extensive knowledge base, fabulous ideas and personality to the gallery to make it one not to be missed on an art walk.
As I mentioned earlier, I have saved the best for last. Stephen walked me over to Mitchell Hill Gallery to show me his work and then over to his studio so I could get a first-hand look at how he turns an ordinary canvas into a spectacular piece of art. I was completely amazed at how he could take watercolor, latex, acrylic and oil paint along with glue, gesso, enamel, salt and soap and create something any South Beach condo would be proud to hang on its walls. "The lawlessness of abstract art is truly therapeutic. All chains are cut and the artist's mind can run free." And so Stephen's words rang true for me, for as I looked at piece after piece, I swear I could feel the ocean breeze floating through open balcony doors.