Before Charlestonians knew Hurricane Irene was headed north, there were a few anxious moments when gallery owners Robert and Megan Lange considered calling on all their friends with boats to ferry JB Boyd's paintings from his home on Goat Island to the mainland. "He usually rows his paintings over one at a time in a tiny boat, so as the storm approached we were getting a little worried," Megan says. But Boyd painted through the storm, made his deadline, and finished his last scheduled painting as floodwaters receded throughout the Northeast.
Staring up at one of Boyd's paintings, a five-year-old visitor to the gallery said, "This is what the water looks like when I'm a mermaid." It's a fitting description of his latest series of water images. The paintings are framed in a variety of shapes and sizes including "portholes" — oval, elongated panels — and large window-like panels that allow an up-close perspective of the art. The paintings are alive and full of movement, and viewing them is a physical experience. Like a mermaid, you stare into the water as if you've just come to the surface to take a deep breath before you plunge down again.
Boyd, who calls himself a "professional vagabond," compares his paintings to footprints of his cross-continental treks. After graduating from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Boyd traveled and painted his way through Africa and the western mountains of Colorado and Wyoming before settling on Goat Island in 2007. Over the last few years, the subjects of his paintings have ranged from trees to mountains to the sea, and the unifying theme of nature is rendered with a realistic precision. Untitled Landscape 98 "So Real," the largest in the exhibit depicts a family of thin yellow Aspens set against a background of piney green. A spot of blue sky is visible in the upper right corner, just enough to give you the intense feeling that you are deep in the woods. The painting is transformative and feels as if you could literally step inside and disappear. Set alone on a wall of the gallery, the image is vastly different in texture and color from Boyd's water scenes, revealing his range.
While a handful of paintings are set firmly in the photorealism camp, some of the water pieces, such as Untitled Seascape 17 "Mojo Pin," and Untitled Seascape 20 "Dream Brother," and "The Last Goodbye" are more evocative of the sensation, movement, and color of water. There is less focused detail and more sweeping strokes that convey the looseness of water.
It's fascinating to see Boyd's work continue to evolve. Known for his technical proficiency, the result of long hours spent planning and prepping, Boyd's arduous process is scientific. He uses a waterproof camera to capture varying points of view of the water that are restrained but vibrant. This patient approach results in stunning and realistic images of nature at its best.
Throughout the month of September, Boyd will be putting finishing touches on the paintings in the gallery and starting two new ones. Patrons are encouraged to look over his shoulder and ask questions. Contact the gallery for a schedule.