FAVOR, GRACE, PROSPERITY

by PATRA TAYLOR photography by HOLGER OBENAUS

 

Tyrone Geter’s career as an artist is on fire. The 74-year-old, retired professor of art from Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, has built an international reputation as a world-class artist, painter, sculptor, illustrator and teacher. He’s known throughout the art world for his larger-than-life charcoal on torn paper works, which reflect his African American heritage and draw upon oral narrative tradition and music for inspiration. Every piece of Geter’s art embodies compassion, hope, justice and perseverance, concepts he learned from his mother.

The recipient of numerous awards and recognitions for his work, Geter most recently received the prestigious Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts, and he accepted a three-week residency at Yaddo, one the nation’s most prestigious artist retreats. With a full schedule and a growing demand for his artwork, Geter wasn’t interested in gallery representation … that is until he met Meisha Johnson.

“I was persistent,” admits Johnson, who recently opened Neema Fine Art Gallery, the first fine art gallery on Charleston’s famed Broad Street dedicated exclusively to exhibiting the diversity of African American artistry. “Tyrone Geter and his work are phenomenal, which is exactly what I’m looking to represent: phenomenal people who are phenomenal artists.”

After researching African American artists from across South Carolina, Johnson knew she wanted to represent Geter. All that was left was to convince Geter he wanted to be there. Clearly, Johnson’s gentle brand of confidence and clear vision for her gallery made her offer hard to resist. After several telephone conversations, Geter invited Johnson, along with her 4-year-old daughter, Sabina, to his home studio. Individually, they are hard to resist, but together they were a tour de force. Geter agreed to join Johnson’s growing list of artists, adding yet another dynamic dimension to her gallery’s offerings.

Geter is in good company. April Harrison, a self-taught artist from Greenville, South Carolina, has also attracted the national spotlight with her illustrations in What Is Given with the Heart, the final children’s book written by prolific, award-winning author Patricia C. McKissack, who died in 2017 before she could see the published book. “We can’t keep the books in the gallery,” says Johnson. “Everyone who sees it buys one. It’s such a beautiful story wrapped in April’s incredible illustrations.”

 

Johnson says that Harrison paints using a variety of media—acrylics, powders, watercolors, pencils and collage—which show up in her sweetly sentimental and powerfully emotive mixed-media work.  “Regardless of what’s happening in the world around her, April stays focused on who she is—love, family, bonding, nurturing. There’s a spiritual context underlying every piece of her art. Her works seem to captivate visitors to the gallery, making her one of my best-selling artists,” Johnson says.

She adds that because of the incredible success of What Is Given with the Heart, the world can expect to see more of Harrison’s work in children’s books in the near future. Neema, which means “favor, grace and prosperity” in Swahili, has lived up to its moniker from day one. With a heart for education and the soul of an artist, Johnson has been amazed at the wonderful reception she and Neema have received in a city known internationally for its fine art galleries.

“One of the things I love most about owning a gallery here is all of the fascinating and beautiful people I meet every day. I have met so many great people, both locals and tourists, who visit the gallery as a result of reading about us in the media or who are strolling Gallery Row and come in. Many have become instant friends. I enjoy learning about their life’s journey and am encouraged that they are both inspired and excited about the art we have available. I feel very much at home here,” says Johnson.

“One of my goals is to see more African American-owned businesses on the Charleston peninsula,” she continues. “It’s exciting to see that introducing the diversity of African American artistry on Broad Street seems to be drawing a more diverse group of art lovers and collectors to the street. That’s very gratifying.”

As Johnson continues to welcome art lovers into her gallery, bragging knowledgeably about each of her artists as people take in the paintings, pottery, jewelry and basketry, Johnson remains focused on her goal of showcasing her artists’ phenomenal work, even as a series of her own paintings is taking shape in her head.

Patra Taylor is a full-time freelance writer living in Mount Pleasant.