Common Ground

BY JESSICA DYER

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Renowned painter Betty Anglin Smith has been represented all over the country, from New York to San Francisco and points in between. But here in Charleston she has her own gallery, Anglin Smith Fine Art, which features her work alongside that of her equally talented triplet children, painters Shannon Smith Hughes and Jennifer Smith Rogers, and photographer Tripp Smith.

Ten years ago, Anglin Smith moved her studio from her home in Mount Pleasant to a small 1920s cottage in the village of Meggett, 30 minutes south of Charleston. The cottage required massive renovations, but Anglin Smith says she just fell in love with the lines of the old house and the surrounding property. “I came down here to take some photographs for a painting commission I was working on and fell in love with this place,” she explains. “Now, 90 percent of the paintings I’m doing are the views around here—the meadows, the rural farmland, the marshes, the sky.”

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Bright light, expressive strokes and bold, exaggerated colors are the hallmark of Anglin Smith’s style. Preservation captures a Lowcountry tidal marsh at sunset, the slanting light radiating orange so that you can almost feel the last of the sun’s heat. With its mix of warm and cool colors, the painting positively vibrates with raw emotion and energy.

Daughter Shannon Smith Hughes takes a different approach to her paintings, though the light also takes center stage. “As a painter, my eyes are always looking at how light is hitting a subject,” she says. “I am drawn to reflections and water because I like the shapes and the abstractedness of the scenes they create, the subject is almost secondary.” Paintings such as Shrimp Cocktail highlight this fascination with reflective surfaces—the glass dish, silver fork, copper colander, even the shiny shells of the cooked shrimp—all provide surfaces to bounce light and serve to move the eye around the canvas.

“I set up all of my still lifes in my studio at home in Mount Pleasant,” she says. “Painting from life is much different than from a photograph. That’s also why I enjoy painting outside when I can, it’s a great teaching tool.” In fact, Smith Hughes and her sister are both members of the Plein Air Painters of the Southeast and started teaching their own workshops last year.

“Painting outside gets you out of your comfort zone,” concurs Jennifer Smith Rogers. “You’re forced to do a painting from start to finish right there. It’s a good exercise—you can be spontaneous just react to the light and what you’re seeing, rather than getting too caught up in detail.”

Most days, however, Smith Rogers likes to bring her studio right into the gallery. “I started using the gallery as a studio about four years ago,” she says. “It’s nice for me to get away from home and come to work where there are no distractions and the light is just beautiful.”

Smith Rogers is perhaps best recognized for her street scenes and rooftop views of Charleston and the surrounding landscape. “The French Quarter is a wonderful place to paint,” she remarks, gesturing to a freshly painted canvas propped on her easel. “I always try to capture the light and make it the focus of my paintings. Even with night scenes, the street lights or the moon against the darkness just give you this instant drama.”

Though he keeps busy as a full-time commercial photographer, Tripp Smith also maintains wall space at the gallery. Smith’s subjects are the untouched areas of the barrier islands and the Lowcountry landscape, and his rich black and white photographs are the perfect foil for the more colorful work of the other artists the gallery represents, including painters Kim English, Colin Page, Carl Plansky and sculptor Darrell Davis.

In the end, what sets this family of artists apart is their unrivaled use of light and their ability to capture the true essence of the Lowcountry.

Jessica Dyer is an arts professional, freelance editor and writer currently living in Charleston.