William Halsey is a name in the Charleston arts scene that has held a lasting legacy.
And it's being revived next week with a new never-before-seen exhibit at George Gallery. The exhibit is "Paint on Paper," a series of 17 pieces by Halsey that were created later in his life, during the last decade before his death in 1999.
The College of Charleston's Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art was named for the pioneer of avant-garde abstract artwork at a time when his local contemporaries were reveling in realism.
"It’s funny because when Halsey was alive and working in Charleston, he felt like he was on his own — and he was," says George Gallery owner Anne Siegfried. "Traditional, representational work has always been a thing in Charleston because it fits with the aesthetic of the city, and Halsey was lonely in his pursuit of non-objective work. But now I feel like he's so of-the-moment."
As Charleston is finding its way through new growth as a city, Halsey's work has been an important factor in the expansion of an arts scene that is now slightly more multi-faceted and experimental than it was during his lifetime.
As Siegfried notes, he was straddling this fence that connected Charleston to other big cities and their well-advanced, provocative art. He had an eye on the bigger picture, what was happening beyond the Lowcountry, and then applied it to the patina of Charleston and his work.
Siegfried says she doesn't think she could be doing what she's currently doing at George Gallery — focusing on art similar to the kind that Halsey championed — without his influence. And it has taken a while to settle in. Even 15 years ago, she says there wasn't quite the hunger and appetite for modern art that there is presently.
"But now, I think the population here is changing and people are thinking about living with art a little differently than they used to," she says.
The artwork that will be debuted at George Gallery was the result of Halsey's respiratory issues in the '90s that forced him to shift from working with oil on canvas to paint on paper.
Yet, Siegfried says, he didn't think of these works as any lesser but treated them the same, still applying a heavy medium and crafting what she calls "little jewels." They're small but mighty.
For the opening reception of the exhibit, which will be on display from May 23-June 22 to coincide with the Spoleto Festival, all 17 pieces of artwork will be on the walls of the gallery's front room.
"It's an opportunity for enthusiasts of Halsey's work to see a narrative of what he was doing toward the end of his career, a period when most artists have worked out all the kinks and know what works," Siegfried says.
Halsey's work, ahead of its time, now feels current.
"I'm so glad people are finding it and discovering the importance of what he did for Charleston, especially him staying here when he could have gone anywhere else," Siegfried says.
She says that, perhaps, was his greatest gift to the city.