All Are Welcome

BY ROBIN HOWARD

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Let’s say you walk into a nice Charleston establishment in your grown-up clothes, and you spot a rope swing with a sturdy wooden seat suspended from the ceiling. Your first thought isn’t “What’s that doing there?” it’s “Can I swing?” If you happen to be visiting the Robert Lange Studios on Queen Street, the answer is, yes. Yes, you can swing, and there’s even a big sign that says so.

The rope swing is just one of many welcoming surprises that make Robert Lange Studios one of the most popular art haunts in Charleston. First Friday openings are famously fun, no doubt contributing to its Best Art Gallery designation by the Charleston City Paper. In 2004, Robert Lange and his artist wife, Megan, opened the gallery on East Bay St., around the corner from its current location. In 2010, they moved to 2 Queen St., but only occupied the first floor. Two years later, they expanded to the upper floor and to the gallery’s current footprint.

Today, the cavernous building houses works from emerging and well-known contemporary artists including Nathan Durfee, Ali Cavanaugh, Kerry Brooks and Amy Lind. Durfee exploded on the art scene with his colorful, pop-surrealist works, while Lind’s ability to capture the true essence of emotion earned her recognition as one of the “100 Under 100 New Superstars of Southern Art” in Oxford American.

Something interactive is happening in the gallery nearly every day of the week. Downstairs, landscape artist J.B. Boyd maintains a meticulous studio complete with two comfy chairs, so visitors can watch him paint. Upstairs, Lange’s studio is just as welcoming. He paints as he talks to visitors, who curl up in chairs to watch his realistic paintings come to life.

“All sorts of people come to our openings. Whether you’re wearing flip-flops or high heels, you’re welcome here. We believe art should be democratic, so we see this gallery as a public service. We’re here to inspire, not just to sell art,” Lange says. “We believe that every person is creative; being creative is nothing more than giving yourself permission.”

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Across the gallery from Lange’s studio is a lovely two-bedroom apartment that’s the setting for their unique artist-in-residency program. This cozy space is home to a rotating roster of visiting artists who come to Charleston to create work for the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art and the Redux Contemporary Art Center. It also houses other artists and professionals who are visiting Charleston and need a place to create. Artists who apply must agree to host some kind of community program while in residence—a concept that is a cornerstone of the Langes’ philosophy.

Though he began painting at an early age, Lange was recognized as a math prodigy and went to college on a full math scholarship. After two years he transferred to the Rhode Island School of Design, where he received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, also on full scholarship. He opened Robert Lange Studios the year he graduated. That’s when he and Megan Lange boldly declared: “All are welcome” and “Art is for everyone.” They reinforce those beliefs right down to the tiny details.

Walk by the gallery on any given day and you’ll find a neat stack of their free miniature coffee-table books on the brick stoop outside. The popular books, which feature original works, insights and inspirational quotes by the gallery’s artists, are collected by art fans.

You can stop by anytime to get your copy. But be sure to step inside and watch Lange or Boyd paint, chat with friendly, knowledgeable Megan Lange—and take a whirl on the swing.

Robin Howard is a full-time freelance writer who lives in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com.