Who said you need to go to a museum to see good art?
There’s a growing amount of it on view, for free, in the streets of the tri-county metropolitan area.
The Charleston peninsula boasts the highest concentration of murals, but painted exteriors can be found in North Charleston, West Ashley, Mount Pleasant, James Island, Folly Beach and elsewhere.
Some of the murals were made by world-renowned artists, some by local creatives. Some are promotional, some purely expressive. Some are realistic, some abstract.
A lot of it is worth contemplating. So if you’ve a vehicle and nothing better to do, consider taking a tour through the Lowcountry in search of its decorated walls.
Here’s a guide, meant to provide you with a significant, though incomplete, catalog of public murals.
Avondale, West Ashley
Behind a row of shops along Savannah Highway in West Ashley, near the intersection with Magnolia Street, you can view a slew of murals, enough to be considered an outdoor exhibition.
Some are modest, some are goofy, some are pretty intense, such as Hitnes’ enormous turkey vulture. Stroll along the alley on a cool sunny day to check it all out.
On the road to Folly
Check out Douglas Panzone’s cartoon realism (or is it expressionist surrealism?) at 1411 Folly Road, such as the tiger and the maze, then continue to Folly Beach for the eclectic hippy vibe that includes some smaller exterior paintings.
In 2015, the nonprofit Enough Pie organized a public art project that resulted in several cool murals on an exposed wall on the corner of Huger and Hanover streets. In the corner is a 3D Charleston mural by Sergio Odeith, an abstract expressionist piece by Tim Hussey and a few others. Well worth a pass by.
The king of the American muralists, Shepard Fairey, is a Charleston native now living in Los Angeles who has developed the Obey empire whose mascot is Andre the Giant. In 2014, the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art brought him home for a two-part art show. Framed works were displayed in the gallery. But Fairey also braved the heat and humidity to paint four murals in the city, three of which survive.
The biggest is “Power and Glory,” found at 658 King St. The second biggest is “Green Energy,” applied to the side of College Lodge on Calhoun St. The third is an unnamed abstract piece painted on the brick side of 364 King St.
Boatwright is the king of the Charleston muralists. He’s made dozens of them, some for businesses, some just straight-up art. Check out an oldy but goody at 68 Queen St. of the city’s famous foodies. Or the cityscape at 341 East Bay St. Or the sexy Mexican woman, a brand-new mural he painted at Santi’s restaurant at 1302 Meeting Street Road. Last year, Boatwright fixed up two old advertisements on the side of a building at the corner of Spring and Coming streets. He’s as much a preservationist as an artist.
Andre Michaux mural
Local artist Karl Beckwith Smith painted a beautiful homage to the influential botanist Andre Michaux, who once maintained the French Botanic Garden where today the Charleston International Airport is located. The mural, commissioned by the small nonprofit Friends of Andre Michaux, is mounted above the passageway leading to the parking garage. It’s hard to miss. Next time you’re there, pause to appreciate it.
If you keep your eyes open for them as you make your way around town, you will notice more murals, miscellaneous paintings on the sides of commercial spaces, abandoned buildings, schools, homes and more. Famed Lowcountry artist Jonathan Green has applied African motifs to cottages on Meeting Street once occupied by freed blacks. He also created a tile mural for the entryway of Sanders-Clyde School on the East Side.
Odeith created a three-person portrait on the side of Moe’s Southwest Grill in Mount Pleasant featuring John Lennon, Al Capone and Marilyn Monroe (perhaps a visual acronym, MOE, that stands for musician, outlaw and entertainer). A short way down Coleman Boulevard, you can see Sean Williams’ sunset landscape on the side of the restaurant Smoke.
The John L. Dart Branch Library at 1067 King St. features the Cynthia Graham Hurd Memorial Mural, named for a beloved librarian who was one of nine killed in the 2015 Emanuel AME Church shooting. Over on Rutledge Street is the Charleston Strong mural, featuring doves flying into the sky, another memorial to the victims of the church shooting.
There are others, such as the enormous tiger on the outside of the Charleston Tattoo Company building on Folly Road, and the paintings along East Montague St. near Park Circle in North Charleston.
The Lowcountry is getting more and more colorful.