How Hilton Head Island was an ‘enormous gift’ for painter Joseph Orr

Joseph Orr’s “In Front of the Sunset.”
Joseph Orr’s “In Front of the Sunset.” Submitted photo

The paintings of Joseph Orr will be featured at Red Piano Art Gallery this month in a celebration of the artist’s more than 20-year relationship with the gallery.

“We were a much smaller gallery up on Orleans Road when we first saw the work of Joseph Orr,” said Ben Whiteside, owner with his wife, Lyn, of the gallery. “A kind of odd-looking, generic package arrived by mail, filled with small artworks, mostly landscapes, all by some artist named Joseph Orr. They were just outstanding, but we had no idea who he was or how in the world these paintings ended up at our gallery.”

Whiteside said he reached out to Orr, then living in Missouri, and after a few minutes of nonstop conversation, had developed a plan in which Orr would provide additional paintings and visit the Lowcountry to meet the folks at Red Piano. And discover Hilton Head.

“As an artist, a painter of landscapes, arriving on Hilton Head Island was just an enormous gift,” said Orr. “Everything about the setting thrilled me, and I was ready to take in this amazing Lowcountry first hand.”

There are close to a dozen Orr pieces hanging throughout the Red Piano. His richly imagined and dramatically portrayed landscapes are done on canvas or Masonite and created in his medium of choice, acrylic.

My favorite piece is “In Front of the Sunset.” Consider the movement Orr communicates through his portrayal of the subtle motion captured in the waterway, the ripples in the water, the motion of the seagrasses and the reflection of the sun on the water.

A close second favorite is “Breaking Through the Fog,” acrylic on Masonite. Orr’s use of a dark palette at the lower edge of the painting is brilliant. The dark shells seem to absorb their own light.

Orr explained that the surroundings were at the core of his interest.

“The place doesn’t have to be profound or monumentally significant,” said Orr. “It just has to express something in me that another person can understand and appreciate.”

Another characteristic is that Orr focuses his attentions on scenes of solitude.

“My childhood was unusual,” said Orr. “For lots of very good reasons, I lived in Tokyo, California, Colorado, Kansas and Missouri. My father was in the military, and we always seemed to be moving from one place to another,” he added. “I think the reason I enjoy solitary settings, and painting them, is that during those early years, I was living kind of by myself. My location, and my setting, seemed more important or familiar to me than the people that I might have met there.”

Artist, musician, teacher and writer Nancy K. Wellard focuses on portraying and promoting the cultural arts, first in Los Angeles and, for close to 30 years, in the Lowcountry. Email her at

If you go

What: The Red Piano Art Gallery

Where: 220 Cordillo Parkway, Hilton Head Island

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday (or by appointment)

Contact: 843-843-4433 or