Painter Alex Waggoner captures the Charleston peninsula's in-between beauty 

This must be the place

click to enlarge 69_cents.jpg

Elizabeth Ervin

There's something about Charleston — the peninsula, in particular — that draws those from "off." For many it's the food, for some it's the views, for other's it's the history. For SCAD alum and transplant Alex Waggoner, it's the architectural details — the jagged bricks, the slanted roofs, the places beloved and the spaces forsaken. Just as much as it's the charming Wagener Terrace cottage it's the out of order gas station, the broken chain link fence, the scaffolding and bright orange cones. It's the pause between Husk and Harbinger, the space in between.

Waggoner's work, for the past few years, has focused primarily on buildings. They look like color show trippy blueprints from some ulterior dream world — but they're also, for those who have taken a moment to look around, almost instantly recognizable. Given Waggoner's seemingly intuitive sense of depth and perception, you'd think she possessed some formal training in architectural renderings. Not the case.

"I always enjoyed architecture," says Waggoner, "but in school it was more conceptual paintings, time-based things, process-based things with really no subject matter at all, very non-representational. It wasn't until I moved to Charleston to have an internship at Redux that I fell in love with architecture."

And it wasn't a cursory glance that cemented Waggoner's relationship with the city and its spaces. It was long, slow, walks. "It's just so old! And it's a tourist town and it's old. My hope is that people can slow down a little bit and walk around and take in the oldness of it. The history of it. That's where the show came from. So we can slow down and maybe not get so wrapped up in the fast progress. Because we have something really special that not every city has."

Just back from a trip to Austin, Texas, Waggoner says she was reminded how different — and inherently precious — Charleston is. "Not every city is confined to a physical boundary like 'this is the peninsula' — we only have one way to go. It's so finite. When you think of other cities they're so sprawling...Austin is growing so much too but there is no defined space, it just kind of melts. So it feels more ambiguous as to where the edge is. Charleston is special because it has that defined edge. We can't redo it. The history, it's in the space."

In SLOW, Waggoner's second solo show and first at Beresford Studios, she will present all new work, displayed at the Friday early evening opening reception just as the sun begins to soften. "People can go in and take their time," says Waggoner of the intimate studio space. "With the windows, from 4 to 7 it will be so sunlit. The bright colors will benefit from the light."

click to enlarge Artist Alex Waggoner - ELIZABETH ERVIN
  • Elizabeth Ervin
  • Artist Alex Waggoner

Even if one were to look through Waggoner's ouevre and not recognize the piece respresenting the corner of Justice and Spruill, or the one of the blue brick house on Bogard, they would still try to place it. The bright colors — so deep and consistent across the plane they look like melted crayons, etched through with lines and bricks, panels and shingles — are so convincing you start to second guess yourself. I know that place, I'm almost certain I've seen it before, isn't's like, right down the street! And maybe it is, or maybe it's on the other side of the city. In any case, after studying Waggoner's work, you'll be on the search for her subjects.

Asked why she focuses on (mostly) stand-alone buildings, as opposed to people or more fleshed-out landscapes, Waggoner says, "I think when I started doing it, it was a way to use the same process and time based techniques I'd learned but give it a shape. The repetition of shaping bricks, the repetition of doing lines. It gave my brain the time to think about the message. I'm just really drawn to it."

The message being a palimpsest of meanings, with deep roots reaching down to the water table of the marshy, soggy peninsula. It could be an homage to places as we wish they'd stay, before the "for sale signs" became as prevalent as the salty air. It could be a love letter to spaces we conveniently ignore — "With my pieces at Beresford," says Waggoner, "I started — I couldn't stop looking at road barriers and I would look across from the barrier and there were these historic spaces, so I'm kind of focusing on what's across the street." Or it could be that uncanny double take, that glimmer of memory from a slow walk taken long ago — a gentle reminder that we're more than the "coming soon signs." It's re-discovering the yellow home with the yellow bricks and unruly front yard, tucked away from the main drag, Oh, I remember you.


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