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The Low Country: Paintings by Preston Russell

November 8, 2003 ­ January 25, 2004

 

Artist's Statement

What a visual feast to live in the low country. American by birth - southern by the grace of God, as the old saying goes. More and more northerners are discovering this privilege as well, flocking into the area like wildfowl following primal instinct. The low country embraces us all, including myself from Tennessee, which is significantly north of the low country. Most everywhere else is too, exceeding mere geography.

I have been an artist for over forty years, but only became a serious one after I moved to Savannah. The reason I add "serious" is due to the low country alone. When I drove down that first Savannah street in 1972, I saw something very moving-arresting. Old things, things that don't tend to dwell elsewhere in America. Old ways, old traditions. Tradition, someone said long ago, is the living faith of dead people. One can feel it here, even on a visit. After a few years, you know it. Old buildings, many drooping in splendid decay, like elderly folks who become more beautiful with the patina of survival. These old structures even seem to endow their occupants with an aura, as if an ordinary person walking down a Savannah street seems more real-even extraordinary-compared to that same person walking around the ubiquitous American strip mall. Romantic people in their own peculiar realm, both a part of the other, inseparable, eccentric. John Berendt captured this essence perfectly in his international best seller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil:

The city looked inward, sealed off from the noises and
distractions of the world at large. It grew inward, too, and
in such a way that its people flourished like hothouse plants
tended by an indulgent gardener. The ordinary became
extraordinary. Eccentrics thrived. Every nuance and quirk of
personality achieved greater brilliance in that lush enclosure
than would have been possible anywhere else in the world.

Progressively, I became compelled to record this vision, in a committed way. This is what I mean by serious, not me-but it-the subject, which is the low country and her people, demanding my respect. Recalling Gertrude Stein's famous observation, there is definitely a "there" here-magic-and in Charleston, in Beaufort, in Bluffton, the Golden Isles, and other places I have yet to discover. And when I do discover them, often by chance, I feel excitement and humility, indeed awe, confronting a chance revelation of the "there" which is here. If successful in capturing that fleeting there-ness, I am privileged to share in a degree of timelessness, a moment of grace that the subject alone gives-before it darts off-never to be quite the same forever. What will life permit me to observe tomorrow? A far greater artist, Andrew Wyeth, expressed this visual quest better than I can:

I think one's art goes as far and as deep as one's love goes.
I see no reason for painting but that. If I have anything
to offer, it is my emotional contact with the place where
I live and the people I do.

 

The above text was originally published in The Low Country: From Savannah to Charleston, Paintings by Preston Russell (2003), which is available for purchase in the Museum Store.

 

About the Artist

Born in 1941, Preston Russell was raised in Clarksville and Nashville, Tennessee. He studied art and literature at Tulane University and Austin Peay State University, before graduating from Vanderbilt University Medical School in 1966. He practiced medicine in Savannah for nearly three decades, after moving there in 1973. An artist since childhood, he continued his painting even while maintaining a busy medical practice. He was a founding member of Savannah's Gallery 209 in the 1970s, and, in 1976, the French government chose three of his works for American Artists in Paris, an exhibit that was part of France's cultural salute to the American Bicentennial. Over the years, Russell's work has been featured in many exhibits in the low country. His works are included in private collections throughout the country, as well as in the permanent collection of the Morris Museum of Art. Now retired from the practice of medicine, he continues to paint full-time. He is represented by galleries in Savannah and Charleston. (right: Preston Russell, Andrew Low House, 2000, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 20 inches, Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia)

 

Associated Program

Luminarias on the Levee: 'Tis the Reason To Light the Holiday Season

Friday, November 21, 2003

Decorating and gift-giving ideas, designer jewelry trunk show, holiday greenery, and a book signing. Join our special guests-artist Preston Russell for a book signing; Katherine Palmer, jeweler; and Milledge and Joanne Peterson, owners of Bedford Greenhouses. 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

 

The above text is from the exhibition brochure and the following text is from the exhibition wall panels:

 


The Low Country: Paintings by Preston Russell

 

When I drove down that first Savannah street in 1972, I saw something very moving-arresting. Old things, things that don't tend to dwell elsewhere in America. . . . Old buildings, many drooping in splendid decay, like elderly folks who become more beautiful with the patina of survival. These old structures even seem to endow their occupants with an aura, as if an ordinary person walking down a Savannah street seems more real-even extraordinary-compared to that same person walking around the ubiquitous American strip mall.

-Preston Russell, 2003

 

Preston Russell's paintings reflect his continuing fascination with the low country and Savannah, his adopted home since 1973. Originally from Clarksville, Tennessee, Russell, 62, studied art and literature at Tulane University and Austin Peay State University, before graduating from Vanderbilt University Medical School in 1966. An artist since childhood, he continued to nurture his love of painting after moving to Savannah to practice medicine in 1973. Over the course of the past three decades, he has developed a unique approach to depicting Savannah and its surroundings. He has pursued a life in painting, exclusively and vigorously, since his retirement from his medical practice in 2000. His paintings have been featured in numerous exhibits throughout the low country, and two works by him-sun-dappled interiors, both of which are included in the present exhibition-were acquired for the Morris Museum's permanent collection in 2000.

Tight, clean lines and a strong use of light, shadow, and reflection characterize Russell's interpretations of the landscape and architecture of the low country. He eschews symmetry, preferring to push his compositions off-balance in a manner reminiscent of Andrew Wyeth, whom Russell acknowledges as an influence on his work. Unlike Wyeth, however, Russell paints his compositions in warm, vibrant colors appropriate and natural to his Southern subjects. The vibrancy of his painted surfaces is a result, in part, of his painting technique: beginning his paintings in acrylic, he adds a layer of oil paint, then applies varnish, often repeating this process in order to create a rich, visual depth in his paintings.

This exhibition, organized by the Morris Museum of Art, features paintings that were published in The Low Country: From Savannah to Charleston, Paintings by Preston Russell (2003), which is available for purchase in the Museum Store. (right: Preston Russell, Russo's Seafood, Barnard Street, Savannah, 2002, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24 inches)

 

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