There’s something enigmatic about the way mixed-media artist Greyson Smith approaches gardens and flowers.
Such objects of natural beauty have long numbered among the oldest, most tried and true subjects for visual artists. And yet, the paintings and drawings in his exhibition Gardens of the Carolinas & Other Pursuits are distinctive in their fragmentary nature and striking, evocative color palette. The approach is an enticing mix of what feels like elementary nature sketching and reproductions interpreted through a thoughtful and conceptual modern lens and artistic practice.
The unusual approach, Smith explains, is a by-product of his unusual path to the subject matter, as well as his compositional method.
“I create a lot of non-objective artwork, which is what I was mainly making before starting these pieces,” he explains. As an arts student at Winthrop University, he developed his own style that he’s adapted to different contexts.
“I found it very frustrating to draw realistically, so I always kind of shied away from that,” he says. “Working that way is how I developed my use of color and my use of shapes and use of line. And then I also worked a lot, since graduating, with image transfers. So that process is where I take photographs and I transfer them to printmaking paper and then I paint and draw back into it.”
That process is how the current display was largely borne.
“I went to these gardens and took a ton of photos, and then I would go back to my studio and go through the photos that spoke the most to me or the photos that I felt like created a narrative,” he explains. “Then I would kind of think about what I experienced when I was at these gardens, what were the most prominent elements? Like at the Magnolia Gardens [near Charleston], all of the Azalea bushes were in bloom. I would recall certain colors and incorporate those into the pieces.”
The result is something that exists between traditional painting and photography, a space that makes intuitive sense for an artist like Smith.
“I view the use of photography as a tool to produce artwork,” he says. “To me, the most exciting thing about using the photography is that I get out of the studio and experience nature. You know, while I’m at these gardens photographing them, I’m able to take that joy and inspiration that I had at those spaces and then bring them back to my studio and produce artwork.”
Smith limited himself to just gardens associated with the American Public Gardens Association in the Carolinas in the hopes of drawing attention to public horticulture practices and giving patrons familiar access points for the work.
“I feel like a lot of people throughout the two states will have seen some of these gardens,” he suggests. “They should be able to connect with it, or at least recognize one of the gardens as close to home.”
The concept, which Smith points out was funded in part by a grant from the South Carolina Arts Commission, also allows him to build and expand on it as time goes on.
“Choosing gardens associated with the American Public Gardens Association gave me a lot of opportunities to create and to continue creating this body of work,” he offers. “And even to expand beyond the Carolinas eventually. I have a show in 2020 called Gardens of the South, so I’ll be visiting gardens in Georgia and in Florida. It was just a common connection and became an easy way to identify gardens to produce imagery from.”
What: Gardens of the Carolinas & Other Pursuits
Where: Goodall Gallery at Columbia College, 1301 Columbia College Dr.
When: Through Oct. 27
Opening reception on Thursday, Aug. 29, 6-8:30 p.m.