A Trigger of Colors
Sally Bunting is nobody’s starving artist
By LEAH RHYNE
The first thing you may notice when you talk to Charleston-based artist Sally Bunting, aside from her soft, Greenville drawl, is her tendency to laugh. A lot. The laughter, though, matches her artwork: a whimsical collection of flowing, vibrant abstracts and brightly colored animals. They reflect her love of fun, laughter, and a life full of spontaneous adventures that led her exactly where she means to be: a “not starving” artist.
Bunting found art early in life, or maybe it found her. A quintessential little sister who wanted nothing more than to live up to her big brother’s straight-A example, she unfortunately struggled in school. “I have mild dyslexia and I’m ADHD to the core,” she says. “For me, art was the one thing at school that I excelled at. I took a lot of pride in that. Getting an A in art was a big deal.”
Bunting’s family encouraged her as she entered every art contest she encountered. Most of the time, she came away with a prize. First place. Honorable mention. It didn’t matter. She’d found something she loved. Something she was good at. Something all her own. For middle school, she found an art school, learned how to apply, and made it happen. “I never let anyone tell me I wasn’t going to go to League Middle School of the Arts,” she says.
Of course, the teenage years are tumultuous for anyone, and Bunting was no exception. Choosing a standard high school instead of an arts magnet was a mistake, she says. She lost touch with her artistic soul. “Those were four very difficult years for me.”
It was in the art studios at the College of Charleston, though, where she would find herself again, and this time for good. “I wanted to be an artist my whole life,” she says. “But you grow up and you figure out reality. Reality tells you an artist is always starving. I didn’t want that for myself, so I majored in what I thought I needed to have a decent career. International business.” She took an art class for fun, and, as she says, “The moment I was back in the art room it hit me. Yeah, this is where I should be.” Another art class followed, then another.
In Bunting’s senior year at the college, when her internship manager offered her a job in her major field, she turned it down. “It was like I was someone else in that moment,” she says. “Walking away, I kept thinking, ‘What did I just do?’ and ‘Who just said that?’”
It would be a fateful decision. She had almost enough credits for an arts management major, so she took more classes, which led to another internship. Once again, serendipity led the way for what would be a game-changing relationship. “I’d admired Lulie Wallace’s work for years,” says Bunting. “And my aunt had just gotten one of her pieces. My mom suggested I call her up, so I did. I said, ‘Hi, I’m Sally, and do you need an intern?” Bunting pauses and laughs again. “It took a couple days for her to call me back, but that was it. Lulie was an inspiration. She opened my eyes to the fact that you can be an artist, and not starve.”
In November of 2016, Bunting opened her online gallery, inspired by Lulie Wallace’s. Filling her virtual space with vibrant portraits of animals, she was surprised at how well they sold. “I didn’t know people would love brightly colored animals as much as I do, but I’m thrilled they do,” she says. Each animal is one she’s met along one of her life’s many journeys: an elephant in Thailand, a panda in China, her friend’s dog, her neighbor’s chickens. “I give them names because I feel like that’s giving them a personality,” she says. “Naming them is the most fun part for me. So is picking their colors. How was she acting that day? Sassy? Then she gets lots of hot pink!”
Her abstracts use a different part of her mind and heart. “As a kid, art was my one way of expressing myself,” she says. “I was never very good about being open with my emotions…art was my outlet.” That holds true with her abstracts today. They’re her voice. “Sometimes I’ll have a Bible study in the morning, and I’ll have this trigger of colors like turquoise or teal. I have to go to a blank canvass and start playing. I’ve got a very playful nature. I always have music on, and I get into the flow, and that’s literally what the abstracts are.”
Sally Bunting paints with her heart on her sleeve and her love of all things bright and beautiful. If the “sold out” stickers on so many pieces on her website are any indication, she’s struck a chord with art collectors’ heartstrings, and she hopes to make beautiful music for years to come.