Arts & Culture

Lowcountry artists explore books for pleasure, inspiration

"I don't have time to read. It's quite true, actually, I am cutting down drastically. I've just come back from Europe, and I am stricken with everything that's going on."

The "everything" that artist Joan Templer refers to are art exhibitions: She's the curator of the "Five Star" show at University of South Carolina Beaufort; she's in the upcoming "Art Beyond Tradition" show at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, for which she's probably at this moment producing new art; and she has a permanent display at the Charles Street Gallery in Beaufort, which is celebrating 15 years in business this month.

"I like South African writers," Joan added. "J.M. Coetzee. Coetzee is my maiden name; I think we might be related. I'm very fond of his work."

Joan's landscapes and faces and flowers fill the main room of the Charles Street Gallery, where Georgia Phillips frames art and chats with customers and, when possible, reads mysteries. She plows through so many that she doesn't even differentiate between traditionally published and self-published. She's a true patron of the arts.

"I'm reading 'Murder of the Bride,'" she answered when she allowed me to interrupt her busy day.

Artist Celia Pray is enjoying a mystery too. She is new to Beaufort, and has just moved into her studio at ARTworks.

"I'm reading 'The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie' at the moment. It's a little whodunnit. The main character is an 11-year-old English girl. The way it's narrated is comical, it's a great light read I do recommend. I read a bit of everything. Since I've been in transition it's just Sudoku and The Week magazine. I've also downloaded some literature, 'Somerset Maugham.'" Which is fitting, since that author with an English accent (Celia got hers from growing up in the Caribbean) stayed in Yemassee during World War II.

Rhonda Jordan recycles her reading time into her art. She is the owner of Tabby Fabric and Studio in Beaufort, and recommends "Seven Days in the Art World," the 2008 ethnography by Sarah Thornton. Rhonda just finished reading Vassari's "Lives of Artists" and Wassily Kandinsky's "Concerning the Spiritual in Art."

"He's really out there but entertaining," she said of Vassari. "Anybody in the world who makes art needs to read him. The book's from the 1500s. When you read this stuff you don't just figure out how but why people make art. I'm process-oriented, and the why is more important than the end product. And just for giggles I read Bram Stoker's 'Dracula,' because I can't do 'Twilight.' I'm keeping it real."

Painter Elena Madden, in her gallery-studio on West Street in Beaufort, has reality in mind too. She's reading "Incognito: What's Hiding in the Unconscious Mind," by neuroscientist David Eagleman. "It's a tough read," she said, "a workout for your brain, so I've been slowly reading it. It's fascinating." The book inspired her to try abstract art, rather than her glimmering, larger-than life series in which wine glasses stand proud as Zeus. "Your mind always wants to see reality. I've never done true abstracts before, so I took the brush out of my hand and picked up a palette knife." In her gallery, Elena has given her teenage daughter a few square feet for her photographs; one step at a time into the realities of an art career.

I just read "Eight Girls Taking Pictures." I liked it because this literary artist chose to write about becoming an art photographer when the technology was new: "The chemical stains on her fingers meant more to her than diamonds." The book relates the challenges of finding time for art and struggles with doubters.

In between reading and struggles, art flows. Deanna Bowdish, who's also in the "Art Beyond Tradition" show, reads as an act of imagination: "I just read some sappy romance novels on my beach trip," she said when I stopped by The Gallery on Bay Street. "They're easy and relatable, a movie that isn't already laid out for me. I can create the visuals, and a better ending."

Lisa Annelouise Rentz is the transmedia publicity leader for ARTworks, the community arts center in Beaufort, and the author of the "Pencils, Words & Kids" app. She can be reached at