We all have that friend. You know the one we mean. The one who, bless his navy blue chinos, just gets a bit too excited when a conversation stumbles into the stop-motion special effects of Ray Harryhausen (hint: he’s the guy who did the visual effects for films like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Jason and the Argonauts. Yeah, we know: oh, that helps).
He’s our geeky gallant with a taste for all things retro, funky, and cool from the many-storied history of fantastic pop culture. He’s a leg up from your average comic book nerd: he won’t just grab any issue of Transformers from the quarter bin. But he will go ga-ga over a painting of Tarzan or John Carter, Warlord of Mars that looks like it was torn from a 1930s-era pulp adventure rag.
And when those kitschy but cool leanings guide us to a gallery filled with Matthew Foreman’s gorgeous textured paintings of jazz greats like John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and Sir Duke Ellington, we start feeling it ourselves. We love Foreman’s many-layered approach to painting. From a distance, his celebrity-inspired works (his vision of Britt Ecklund is one of our favorites) have a photo-realistic quality. Up close, you can see how the lace, spray paint, and acrylics stack together, giving the work a slightly sculptural quality.
Welcome to the world of Greenway Studio, tucked away in a groovy little corner of Avondale. The fledgling studio (they just celebrated their first anniversary) hopes to host several shows each year, showcasing painters, illustrators, photographers, and others who share their broad-of-tent vision of just how surreal and enchanting the human imagination can be.
The seed of inspiration for Greenway probably goes way back to the days when local artist James Baldwin received a couple of conflicting messages about his preferred style. The head of the art department dismissed his fantasy work as “funny book stuff” while another teacher secretly pulled him aside and whispered that some of the most interesting stuff in American illustration was being done in comic books and graphic novels.
Together with Melanie Merz, Baldwin originally opened Greenway with the view to utilize it as studio space, but soon became enchanted with the idea of people gathering, laughing, perhaps even sipping from the requisite glass of wine, and absorbing art less commonly seen.
We can see why. It’s easy to get swept into the strange magic of one of Erin Eckman’s works or to stand in front of one of a surreal landscape by James Christopher Hill and almost feel transported into the heart of a classic sci-fi film or a strange land of ancient ruins.
These almost seem like the kinds of realms that Baldwin and Merz are dreaming of when they start speaking about the abundance of talent and creative vision in the Charleston area as well as of their hopes for a broader-minded aesthetic in the future.
Baldwin, an artist who gushes over the work of his influences – fantasy greats like Frank Frazetta, Wally Wood, and Hal Foster – likes to imagine a day when not only publishers of graphic novels but also Hollywood special effects types will recruit from Charleston when searching for the next visionary to help create strange, surreal lost worlds to enchant and amaze us.
Thanks, Greenway Studio, for keeping that magical cauldron of imagination well-stirred.
Story and photos by: Jason A. Zwiker