Rhythm and Flow
The art and life of Carl Turner
By LEAH RYHNE
One might not expect Carl Turner to be so introspective. Prior to becoming a Lowcountry landscape artist, he held a successful career as a graphic artist in Columbia. Graphic design is about precision. Angles. Bold and often unnatural color combinations.
Now, though, as local painter and art teacher recently juried into the Piccolo Spoleto art show after an absence of several years, Turner has come to appreciate the rhythm and flow of art, and of life.
“I never planned on being a landscape painter,” says Turner. “But I fell in love with the Lowcountry scenery. It’s got a sculptural quality. The vertical palmettos versus the curve of the live oaks and all the other vegetation. It’s like it was all sculpted by the wind.”
Turner lives on Shem Creek, and watches the ebb and flow of the tide daily, which tunes him into the ebb and flow of his own daily and artistic routines. “There’s a meditative aspect of being an artist. Like in a movement or yoga class, you have to pay attention to your body when you’re getting ready to paint. Calm your breath, sill your mind.”
To help with this, he turns often to music’s rhythm. Turner’s go-to CD is a European band called Drala. “It’s a world music fusion band with influences from India. It quiets my mind and allows me to sharpen my focus. Then I can let that good energy flow through my arm, off the brush, and onto the canvas.”
That introspection and calm helps him, as both artist and human, to appreciate the flow of life. In a series of landscapes called his “Beaufort Bungalow” series, Turner painted tiny, run-down homes set back in the forests and marshes between Charleston and Beaufort. He used to make the drive through the lowcountry from Columbia to Jacksonville, years ago, and always noticed them. “There were so many older homes. They looked like carryovers from the Caribbean or Gullah culture. And I’d wonder, ‘How do people live down here? There’s nothing here.’”
As those homes began to disappear into a world of subdivided suburbia, he captured a remaining few on his canvases. “I wanted to capture a landscape and lifestyle that’s slowly passing away.”
Or could one say…flowing away?
Turner incorporates that rhythm and flow into the classes he teaches at Karen's Korner in Mount Pleasant (843-971-4110). Rather than focusing solely on techniques (i.e. how to mix a particular shade of gray or how to work a particular brush stroke), he allows each artist to set up their work, get flowing, and then he answers questions about how to proceed through the painting and if needed, gives a hands on demonstration. However, even teaching at all is a serendipitous thing. “It wasn’t something I ever planned to do, but I’ve found I really enjoy it. As a teacher, I don’t want to create clones of myself. Being an artist is about finding your own voice, and developing your own language.” As Turner encourages his students to think about the rhythm and flow of their compositions, he encourages them to paint their ideas in their own styles. It’s all about balance.
The same goes for his presence in the Piccolo Spoleto art show. He was juried into it years ago when he first arrived in Charleston, but life happened and he stepped away from his space for several years. Re-entry proved challenging. There are numerous artists vying for spots, and only a few open every year.
Still, he’s thrilled to be back. “I met lots of artists that first year,” he says. “I can’t wait to catch up with them, and to share the stories of what we’ve all been doing.”
As Turner continues to flow through life and art, his goals have become much clearer. The most effective art, he says, doesn’t just record life. Instead, it holds a mirror up, revealing something about the artist and the viewer, in each painting.
He says, “The thing about marsh scenes is everybody paints them. But so many people, when they buy mine, say something like, ‘It gives me such a peaceful feeling to look at your painting.’”
That’s what Turner wants to capture. He wants his viewers to disappear into his paintings, to take a moment and feel the serenity of the rhythm and flow of the world. He wants them to become a part of his natural landscapes. To forget the self, and focus on simply being.
If he can do that, one landscape at a time, he’ll consider his life works a success.