For any regular reader of Carolina Arts over the last eight years, commentary from Judith McGrath – all the way from Western Australia – has been a sort of sounding board as to what’s going on in the visual art community – around the world – or at least the other end of the world. Although Australia is 24 hours of flight travel away from us in the Carolinas, it seemed at times that McGrath was writing about the art community right here. I know there were times when I wondered if she had installed some kind of spyware in my computer to monitor my commentary. When her e-mail would arrive – out of the blue – it often mirrored what was on my mind. Believe me, it was spooky at times.
It all started when Scottie Hodge, owner of Tempo Gallery in Greenville, SC (now closed for some years) sent me an e-mail about an article she read that McGrath wrote for an online publication called, Art Thought Journal. After reading the piece I contacted the editor of that publication to see if I could run the article in our publication. He said I’d have to take that up with McGrath. I contacted McGrath and in our Nov. 2000 issue we offered a guest commentary entitled Visual Art vs Entertainment.
The reaction to that guest commentary was very favorable – mostly because of the article’s content and insight, and some as relief from my views. So, from that day on we have offered the occasional – View From Down Under. You can see that first article and all others she offered archived on our website at (http://www.carolinaarts.com/afewwordsfromdownunder.html).
Who was this voice from down under? We have posted this description after each installment: Judith McGrath lives in Kalamunda, Western Australia, 25 minutes east of Perth. She received a BA in Fine Art and History from the University of Western Australia. McGrath lectured in Art History and Visual Literacy at various colleges around the Perth area, and was an art reviewer for The Sunday Times and The Western Review both published in the Perth area. McGrath is currently a freelance writer and reviewer for various art magazines in Australia. She also co-ordinates the web site Art Seen in Western Australia found at (http://www.artseeninwa.com).
Well, as I mentioned in commentary in Carolina Arts a few months ago, McGrath was planning a trip to the east coast of these United States and was planning a trip to South Carolina. She was actually planning to visit Bonneau. When they asked about hotel info in Bonneau – when Linda (my better half) and I stopped laughing, we explained that we might have to direct them to another city close by.
Oh – how interesting that could be – Judith McGrath in SC – in Charleston! I didn’t get my hopes up as I know all the things that can happen to derail the best laid plans. Just look at John McCain. His “straight talk express” ran aground in Alaska – much like the Exxon Valdez did. They’re still cleaning up that mess.
But on Sunday, Oct. 5, 2008, I was driving Judith and her husband Owen from Summerville, SC, to downtown Charleston for a look at what the visual art community had to offer.
I had made some plans as to what and where we would go, but like I said before – the best laid plans sometimes have to be adapted. We had to deal with what would be open on Sunday and Monday, and unfortunately, that took some galleries off my list. And, we found that some galleries are not going by the hours posted in Carolina Arts‘s gallery listings. And, on the other hand, fortunately some galleries that should have been closed were open.
McGrath’s tour of South Carolina began in Spartanburg, SC, where her visit was front page news, but in Charleston we would be traveling under the radar – much like I do. If you have followed my commentary about the good Mayor of Charleston, I have to look twice – both ways – before I cross the streets in Charleston.
First off, the weather was great the two days they were in Charleston. It’s like we were actually having Fall weather in South Carolina. Our weather is the complete opposite of what they have at the same time in Australia – our summer is their winter.
After a short driving tour of Charleston, our first official stop was at the Gibbes Museum of Art. Although the couple was somewhat fatigued in visiting Art Museums up and down the east coast, McGrath did fall in love with Alice Huger Ravenel Smith’s watercolor landscapes – not her works with people, but the landscapes. But, what she really wanted to see was the commercial galleries. So we headed out to see who was open.
The great thing about Charleston’s commercial art community is that it is concentrated in a few areas of the city. You can park in one stop and visit dozens of galleries in just a few blocks of each other.
After leaving the Gibbes we first ran into the sidewalk display by a few members of the Charleston Artist Guild – a Charleston Fall tradition. We next headed “by request” to Charleston’s Market area. McGrath had spotted the area on our driving tour around the city. At first I couldn’t think of what area she was describing – the Market is not usually on my tour itinerary for visitors, but I soon realized the McGraths were also interested in the full view of Charleston – including the Market and antique shops on King Street. I’m a flexible tour guide so we adapted some more.
The Market helped add to the McGraths’ worldwide collection of snowglobes.
From the Market we headed into the heart of the French Quarter Gallery Association’s district, but found few open galleries there. It’s a good thing we still had Monday for our tour. We then headed to Broad Street where we found more open doors. The couple’s favorite gallery of our first day of touring was the Mary Martin Gallery. They were really taken by some sculpture there of wooden violins made by Philippe Guillerm.
After walking and driving around one end of Charleston to the other in search of open galleries, we left Charleston heading to the promise lands of Berkeley County for some barbecued ribs and corn-on-the -cob at the headquarters of Carolina Arts in Bonneau, SC, on the shores of Lake Moultrie. The McGraths live at the edge of Australia’s OutBack and I explained that Linda and I lived in what most Charlestonians think of as Charleston’s OutBack – Berkeley County.
As it always happens – when it rains it pours. We didn’t know exactly what day the McGraths would arrive, but at the same time Linda’s sister arrived for a visit as well as some good friends from North Carolina who have a house at the lake, so Linda didn’t get to do the Charleston with us.
On our second day of touring Charleston art galleries we found more open doors, but there were still a few galleries that were supposed to be open but were not when we arrived at their door. And, we missed a few that don’t open until Tuesdays, but we visited 80 percent of the galleries in downtown Charleston in our two-day adventure. And, my feet were feeling it too. I’m used to trekking the streets of Charleston and many other cities in the Carolinas, but I usually don’t take in the antique shops too. But I learned some things in our travels that was well worth the effort.
Some galleries don’t seem to be displaying the copies of Carolina Arts we drop off every month. I made a list and will be checking this out and when we find that someone is not displaying the paper, we will stop leaving them there and take out the free gallery listing we have been giving them. Most galleries had them well displayed, a few had them hidden, but we made a game out of seeing who could spot the Carolina Arts first.
Highlights this day included a visit to Rhett Thurman’s studio where we were lucky to catch the artist at work, a visit to Nina Lui and Friends (all three floors), Plum Elements for a peek at some Japanese prints and what was hailed by McGrath as her favorite gallery in Charleston – the Eva Carter Gallery. It was a special moment of pride when I got to brag that we owned a work by each of the artists represented by the gallery. It was there that the couple almost purchased a work by Karin Olah – not having seen any work like it before. Now, that’s saying something from this world traveling couple.
Work by Karin Olah
But the joke of the two day tour was, “Owen, you’re gonna need another suitcase!” The McGraths were already going to have to purchase a very large suitcase to fit all their purchases made in the US while visiting. An extra suitcase on their 24 hour return flight home was going to be an expensive item. The thought of another one was an instant headache – for Owen.
The McGraths took lots of contact info from galleries we visited and they will let UPS do some deliveries for them once they get back home. After all, it is a small world these days.
After our second day of trekking we headed back to Summerville talking about some of the places we didn’t get to see, but I think Judith and Owen had an enjoyable tour and saw a lot of interesting art and got a small glimpse of Charleston. On the subject of the bad rap Charleston’s art scene often gets from some other areas of the Carolinas – the so called love Charleston artists have for painting the city and the surrounding environment – the two world travelers said that you see that everywhere you go around the world.
I don’t know if Judith McGrath will write anything about her visit to Charleston or what she will say. But, for me it was a great opportunity to have a give and take dialogue about what we were seeing, art in general, and various subjects covered in both our commentaries. It was also a great pleasure to meet the person who has contributed to Carolina Arts from afar for the last eight years and her husband. I hope the exchange will continue for many years.
Judith – Owen, thanks for coming to see us.