Bold knife strokes from Sandra J. Booker

Surfing through the Charleston Artist Guild’s website the other day, I was struck by the amount of artistic talent represented by the Guild. Not only was I consumed by the appeal and breadth of the art, but the mission and support system of the Guild struck me in a way I did not anticipate, specifically when coming across the High School Seniors Art Exhibit.

I thought about what a grand feeling it must be to know you can pursue a career in visual art and have community support along the way. I had to ask artist Sandra J. Booker, a guild member since 1997 and the Guild’s featured artist for December, about her relationship with the CAG.

“The Guild has been good to me and for me,” Booker says via email. “It offers many programs for artist, workshops, monthly meetings with art-related talks and social gatherings.”

But a line from Booker’s artist bio struck me, as well: “The beauty of art in Sandra’s life began when she retired from a career in nursing and moved to Mount Pleasant, South Carolina in 1989. Having been interested in art and oil painting most of her life, she was finally able to start a new career in art.”

I wondered, what does it feel like to have a passion for art, but not pursue it until you’ve completed one career and moved into another?

“My love of oil painting started in the 1960s when my husband was stationed in Japan,” Booker says. “I took oil painting lessons from a Japanese artist who came to the base and held classes in how to ‘copy the masters.’ I still have some of those paintings.”

When Booker returned to the States, though, her artistic pursuits were put on hold so she could work part time and raise a family.

“I did attend art classes when I could,” she says. “After retiring, it was full-time painting for me.”

Now, her paintings highlight landscapes and Lowcountry scenes and are imbued with precise technique, bold and vivid colors, and a sense of wonder. But the pieces the catch your eye are the pieces that have something extra about them: palette knife strokes.

“I found the palette knife liberating, and a challenge,” Booker says. “It is painting wet into wet, ‘Alla Prima,’ meaning all in one session instead of being built up layer by layer.”

This technique is what pushes Booker’s work into a visceral realm. Seeing the lines, the cuts and knowing the pace that the images must be rendered brings an urgency to a still portrait. The animals captured on canvas with the palette knife take on a different life through the thickness of the paint.

And serene scenes of snowscapes and marshes are caught in an active, in-between state, as if there is potential energy building up to movement on the canvas.

Booker brings a flare to her art through the use of the palette knife. And it seems she’s found a second career that suits her well.

What: Sandra J. Booker, Charleston Artist Guild’s featured artist of the month for December

What: Booker’s exhibit, “Essence of the Lowcountry” is on display through December

Where: CAG Gallery at 160 East Bay St., Charleston