Rich, vibrant colors and soft textures are some of the hallmarks of pastel paintings. One new gallery aims to introduce the beauty and timelessness of the medium to the Charleston art scene.
Artist Cecilia Murray recently opened the Cecil Byrne Gallery in a charming space on historic Broad Street along Charleston’s Gallery Row. The business is a new venture for Murray, who started her career in fashion design and merchandising in the shoe industry. “I wanted to get back to fine art,” she says. “I was designing footwear and I wanted to get back to something that was for me, that wasn’t about commerciality and big business, so I started landscape painting. At the time, I was living in Duxbury, Massachusetts, and I was so lucky—there was this incredible group of nationally known artists right in my backyard. So, I studied with the best right off the bat!”
Now living on Edisto Island, just south of Charleston, Murray finds artistic inspiration every day in the peace and tranquility of the landscape, the ocean views and marshes, the light and amazing sunsets, the abundant wildlife and nearby Botany Bay, a 4,000-acre nature reserve practically in her backyard. “One of the things I love about pastels is that you can achieve such incredible effects and it’s portable. It’s great for plein air painting,” Murray explains. “Having Botany Bay in my backyard—I couldn’t ask for more inspiration than that! And it’s a great place to take other artists who visit me.”
Many of those artists are represented by Murray at the Cecil Byrne Gallery and include numerous national and international award-winning pastel painters. “Getting these artists represented in this part of the country was one of my primary goals,” Murray says. “I wanted to bring a group of award-winning artists to this area in a medium that is not well represented in this town. For me, having a gallery here just made the most sense. … The support I’ve gotten from fellow gallery owners has been wonderful, and the response to the work has been really positive.”
And no wonder. Among numerous standout pieces in the gallery is Eventide by Liz Haywood-Sullivan, whose landscapes positively glow with dramatic, atmospheric light. In addition to countless accolades for her artwork, Haywood-Sullivan travels extensively, teaching workshops on pastel painting, and is the president of the International Association of Pastel Societies. She has also been an important artistic mentor to Murray. “Liz is fantastic and very generous with her knowledge of painting and with her teaching. She has been instrumental in this change in career path for me,” she says.
Other artists represented are Jeanne Rosier Smith, who explores her love of the water in Curl, part of her gorgeous wave series that demonstrates the translucency she can achieve with the opaque and often challenging medium. Mike Beeman’s softly rendered songbirds capture the vibrancy and velvety richness of the pure pigments, and Alain Picard employs a technique in his pastel landscapes that lends his work a tactile quality similar to that of oil paintings created with a palette knife.
Though Murray is passionate about pastels, the Cecil Byrne Gallery also carries the work of several wonderful oil painters including Sue Gilkey and tonalist Penny Billings, as well as several artisans working in textiles, jewelry and woodworking.
A visit to the Cecil Byrne Gallery is a delight—the atmosphere Murray has created is both intimate and welcoming. She says: “I have had several people say, ‘I don’t feel like I’m in a gallery, I feel like I’m in your living room.’ And that I take as a compliment, because it means people feel comfortable.”
Jessica Dyer is an arts professional, freelance editor and writer currently living in Charleston. Find out more at: linkedin.com/in/jessicadyer1.