The visual world of J.B. Boyd 

Coastal Beauty

Grey
On view through April 19
Free
City Gallery at Waterfront Park
34 Prioleau St.
(843) 958-6484
www.charlestonarts.sc

J.B. Boyd is adding delicate touches to a forest painting at the City Gallery at Waterfront Park. He has brushes and paints laid out on a small cart beside him. A pair of silver headphones are wrapped around his neck. He has a broad grin on his face. He's got plenty to smile about.

Boyd is 31 years old with an 11-year body of work that's varied and gorgeous to look at. Boyd can paint landscapes, portraits, realistic contemporary scenes, and timeless depictions of marshes and mountain ranges. Grey, his first solo show at the City Gallery, is themed around his marshscapes.

More reasons to be cheerful: Boyd is the recipient of the 2008 Mike and Donna Griffith Visual Arts Fund, coordinated every year by the Coastal Community Foundation of the Lowcountry. This has enabled him to look at the marshland around him (he lives on Goat Island), find some unique perspectives, and spend months working on the paintings. His decision to display some works in progress has eased the deadline pressure of the show, and also gives viewers an entertaining idea of his process.

Below the forest painting is a series of photos placed together to create a wide woodland view. This is the reference point that Boyd expands upon layer by layer, adding the tiny details that give his oil paintings such depth.

The glossy seas and breeze-blown marshes in the exhibition create an overall soothing effect. They are augmented by the long, skinny frames that he sometimes uses. These paintings fill the peripheral vision with landscapes that have calming colors — a stripped-down, panoramic piece of escapism.

Boyd also finds different perspectives to look at his subjects, working from ladders, boats, or from his back on the ground. The high angle he uses in "Aftermath" helps build a sense that the marsh is floating above the water in the foreground. Red and yellow colors make the wetland stand out, and its arrow-like shape drives it toward the viewer.

Other paintings are more traditional. In "Low End Theory," glossy, sloping silver waves move gently across the frame. In "Lost Cause," a cloud formation is reflected on water in exquisite photorealistic detail.

Despite the show's title, not all of Boyd's paintings have a gray color scheme. In "happy.2," a bright amber marsh fills the horizon, delineating the bottom third of the painting. The artist uses similar composition in other pieces like "Dreamer in My Dreams," which keeps the sea in the lower third and dark clouds at the top.

Although most of the works are recent, Boyd has included older paintings too, some from as far back as 2000. "A Tribute to Georgia O'Keefe" is from 2005; it depicts the mountainous territory of Ghost Ranch, N.M. 2006's "Hatfield" is mostly sky, accentuating soft, dark pink clouds with a modest band of water at the bottom of the frame. Like "Aftermath," it offers a freewheeling bird's-eye-view of the world.

Not every piece works wonders. A print called "Gather" seems muddy and lackluster. A low angle look at bubbly sea foam called "Lonesome Tears" is fuzzy and nondescript, although it could be argued that that's the way we see the world when we're crying.

Otherwise the show's full of ideas, from the shapes of the canvases (oval or elongated rectangles), color (the soft hues of "Red Eyed and Blue") or perspective (the use of a vanishing point in a Sol Legare Road landscape).

The Griffith award is all about getting people to appreciate and consider South Carolina's coastland. Boyd has earned the award and gone one better, helping us to experience the process he goes through to capture that coastal beauty in his paintings.


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