Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Imagination is a very high sort of seeing..." and through ￼Michael Story's imaginative eye, viewers of his paintings are taken to a sensory pinnacle of form and dimension. It is from such a high sort of seeing that the artist gives his view — by painting through his imagination.
Michael Story has emerged as one of South Carolina's most revered visual ambassadors.
His opulent landscapes give majesty to South Carolina's mundane — the tidal creeks, the sun-bleached beaches. His landscapes make those who aren't here want to come, and those who are here want to stay. Story captures the natural magic of the Palmetto State from coastal eddies and marshes to the inland rivers winding gracefully from the high country toward the Atlantic.
Long before he picks up a brush, Story begins painting in his mind's eye. First, he may walk the stretch of beach that fronts a stand of scrubby Palmettos with an understory of cabbage palms. Or he may take a u-turn and come back across a primitive bridge just to talk to a salty shrimper casting a hand-knotted net into a shimmering creek. He may take photographs and make color notes, creating his own reference material to take back to his studio and ponder, searching for the most visually-pleasing design he can evoke from the collected elements. When he addresses the canvas at his easel, Story lavishes hues onto shadows that were there all along, colors that would have gone unnoticed had he not pronounced them. In his paintings he changes the weather's mind and mood with shadings and light.
In the way that raconteurs can take a mere incident and weave it into an unforgettable tale, Story captures the same scene a beach walker or river hiker may have paused to absorb, perpetuating the scene as invitingly placid, yet vibrant and visually tactile. Under his brushstrokes land masses become dramatic backdrops for unrestrained coastal horizons. Stands of mottled trees become filters of through-light, flickering onto bleached rock or tannin-stained river. Light becomes another natural tool, washing across a narrow strip of beach, cutting a ribbon through dense marsh grass.
Owning a Michael Story painting is more than aninvestment in art; it's often a virtual real estate purchase as well, a cornering of the tranquility market. Collectors find that their favorite Story piece allows them to return again and again to a favorite coastal scene, or a superior vantage point on a much-loved river. Long after a respite is over, nature lovers can enjoy the serene sustenance over and over, just by standing before the art and letting it transport them to a place and a time well worth remembering, well worth revisiting.
One couple who has begun collecting Story's paintings for both their Upcountry home and their beach home shared with the artist just how therapeutic it was to have his work within easy eyeshot all the time. "What they told me is about the highest compliment I have ever had," the artist admitted. "They had gone through some pretty rough family and health challenges and they said looking at the work calmed and centered them, gave them strength and hope."
Like beauty, the power of art is in the eye of the beholder. In the case of these collectors, the art has not only been powerful; it has also been the catalyst for a building relationship that has evolved into a commission for a new piece for which will require numerous "reference" visits to the couple's beach home. Others who have begun collecting Story's South Carolina scenes are drawn to the artist's paintings because he is able to express their sentiments about the state's natural treasures in ways that their own words could not adequately convey.
With just the wave of a brush, Story civilizes the Palmetto State 's most primal resources: its land and water. Painting landscapes has come naturally for Story. He was reared in a family that enjoyed plundering the woods and riverbanks. For a portion of his early career, he designed and illustrated some of the state's most breathtaking scenes while he was part of the graphics staff at South Carolina Wildlife Magazine. Working indoors in tight quarters on visual representations of the most expansive stretches of Carolina outdoors eventually drew Story to lay down his xacto knife and pick up his brushes for good. "The demands of the advertising art field were leaving little creative energy for painting. Gradually, as graphic design became more and more computer-driven, and as I realized my goal of building on my experience were limited in that area of art, I shifted my focus to fine art. I believe strongly that all good painting requires good design. Pure technique is never enough." Story has been painting steadily since then, employing both good design and technique.
Guided by earlier studies, both in academic settings and with artists whose techniques he had admired, Story breathed fresh air into his works and captured sea and marsh breezes and river crispness and blended these elements into his palette. "I had studied pastel and oil painting with Daniel Greene, a nationally-known artist in North Salem , New York . The year before that, I had taken my first watercolor class with Robert Mills in South Carolina, whom we have now lost," Story said. Those tutorials built upon skills he had been developing since his maternal grandfather noted the young boy's innate abilities as an artist. "Being around him had a lot to do with my becoming an artist," Story recalled. "We divided our summer vacations between our two sets of grandparents, but the first visit was always to my mother's parents. My grandfather, Ken Osgood, was a commercial artist who was also a fine artist. I loved to hang out in his workshop and watch how he handled a brush. He told my parents I was going to be an artist."
To fulfill that family prophecy, Story's parents nurtured his talent. When they moved to a small town outside Philadelphia, they saw that their son got private art lessons. The next family move brought them to Charleston where Story took lessons at the Gibbes Art Museum. His first real panoramic work resulted from a part-time job painting billboards after school for (Ted) Turner Advertising. He began an art major at East Carolina University in 1971, but later transferred to the University of South Carolina where he completed his BFA degree in 1975. He quickly began being including in juried and open exhibitions, teaching and lecturing, cultivating a growing client list in both the private and corporate sectors, and accepting high-visibility commissions. One of his works seen by audiences attending performances at the grandly refurbished Newberry Opera House was reproduced as a limited edition print. Michael Story will be the featured artist for a one-man show hosted at the Newberry Opera House in the fall. Others of his paintings have also been published by an internationally-recognized Canadian fine arts print house and are disseminated through world marketing channels.
Although Story has begun incorporating into his body of work evocative scenes he has caught sight of as he has traveled the land, he comes back to South Carolina when he comes back to his studio.
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