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Charleston in My Time: The Paintings of West Fraser


"Charleston in My Time: The Paintings of West Fraser" will be on view April 17 through June 9, 2002 at the Greenville County Museum of Art.

A native of lowcountry South Carolina, West Fraser has been called a modern Impressionist, an artist intent on capturing the light and color of a scene while painting on location. It's called plein air painting or "painting from life." Fraser began to work almost exclusively on site in 1989.

"Painting from life freed me up from rendering to achieve a more emotional, stylistic way of painting," Fraser observed. "In the studio, I felt I was missing something. I realized that I needed to be outdoors, where the human eye can see far more clearly than a camera." (left: West Fraser, On a Night Like This,1999)

West Fraser was born in Savannah in 1955; his father was the developer of Sea Pines Plantation. He studied natural sciences at Clemson University and Marine Biology at the College of Charleston before taking a year to discover himself. During that year, he recognized art was his calling, and he enrolled at the University of Georgia to earn a degree in Fine Arts.

Early in his career, Fraser worked as an illustrator and graphic designer while establishing himself as a painter. He gained some critical recognition for his maritime paintings-watercolors created while he lived in Pennsylvania in the early 80's-but his oil paintings of Charleston have been breakthrough achievements. The Holy City, a 2000 painting of Circular Congregational Church, captures a view that is familiar, but renders it with such depth, color, and presence that the landmark gains both emotion and reverence in the telling. But there are also simpler, less familiar scenes like GNS Grocery (2000) and Boxx's Filling Station (1996), which convey the spirit of Charleston as seen from well off the tourist track.

A selection of paintings from the Charleston Renaissance, named A Charleston Legacy, will be on view adjacent to the Fraser exhibition. Included will be works by Edward Hopper, Alice Smith, William Halsey, Elizabeth Verner, and Anna Heyward Taylor, among others. The images contrast with Fraser's work not only because of method and style-the Charleston Renaissance artists worked almost entirely in the studio from sketches-but also because they portray what Fraser called "a downtrodden Charleston,"whereas the city as he paints it is restored, repaired, and growing. (left: West Fraser, The Holy City, 2000)

The Fraser exhibition coincides, in part, with another Impressionist exhibition. As a plein air painter, Fraser says he was inspired by such noted 19th-20th century painters as Childe Hassam, John Twachtman, and William Merritt Chase. All of them are represented in American Impressionism: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which opens in Greenville May 29, 2002.   Charleston in My Time is on view until June 9, 2002. American Impressionism runs through September 1, 2002.

Fraser will lead a workshop in plein air painting at the Museum on May 4, 2002 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. The workshop is open to the public, but class size is limited. Those interested in participating should call Museum Curator Martha R. Severens at 864-271-7570, extension 19, or send her an e-mail at mrs@greenvillemuseum.org.  The course fee is $50, and the registration deadline is April 26. There is a Acrobat pdf available with an application form and other information at the museum's website.

Fraser will also participate in a Gallery Talk and book signing at the Museum on Sunday, May 5, 2002 at 2 p.m. This event is free and open to the public.


Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Greenville County Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine

Editor's note:

See a Resource Library article on The Charleston Renaissance for photos of related scenes.

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 2002 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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