For Saluda artist Jim Carson, family played an important role in his artistic career, one delayed by parental misgivings despite his evident talent during childhood for drawing and painting. “Neither my father nor mother were artists, and in fact, [they] were resistant to me becoming one,” Carson remembers of his early creative instincts. “My father was a banker and thought that painting was too far out of the mainstream for me.” But decades later, in the midst of a three-decade career at a law firm in his native Macon, Georgia, his wife gave him the Christmas gift of a painting course.
His interest was reignited. “It quickly became a passion,” Carson says, “but still just a hobby.”
Now, more than 30 years after that Christmas present and 18 years after retiring to Saluda, Carson enjoys a nationally recognized reputation for his impressionistic oils and his careful balance of color and texture. Contemplative and infused with light, Carson’s work captures the sublime in the everyday, from interiors and street scenes to landscapes and seascapes. “I didn’t want to be an artist who was known for painting just one or two subjects,” he explains. “So what I try to do is find the design of light and shadow patterns as they fall through a scene, whether it’s a still life, a landscape or a cityscape, or an interior. The subtleties of the temperature changes in those shadows and light can make a painting ‘pop.’”
His talent is even more remarkable given that, in keeping with his parents’ wishes, Carson never attended art school. But in another boost from family ties, his sister-in-law saw his potential early on and displayed some of Carson’s “hobby” work in her interior-design shop in Augusta. Some of them quickly sold, which did not go unnoticed by the frame shop and gallery across the street that soon became a second outlet for Carson’s work. “They sold there, as well,” Carson recalls, “and that gave me the courage to be in a gallery in my own town, in Macon.” Other galleries and more sales encouraged Carson even more, so that a full-time career seemed possible when he retired from law practice in 2003.
As that marker of later life approached, Carson began studying seriously with fellow Macon artist Marianne Dunn, from whom he absorbed the fundamentals of light, shadow, and shape. “She was a wonderful artist, teacher, and person,” Carson says. “Without her and the special attention she offered me, I would not be here.”
Equally significant in Carson’s growth was a chance meeting at a plein air festival in Wisconsin some years later with Atlanta-based painter James Richards, another master of shape and color. “I loved his work and eventually signed up for one of his workshops in Atlanta, and that led to a mentoring relationship which lasted for years,” Carson says. “He brought me up to levels that I would never have dreamed of reaching.” Carson attributes Richards’ mentoring for his acceptance as a signature member of the American Impressionist Society and Oil Painters of America, along with membership in New York’s venerable Salmagundi Club.
This fall, Carson will serve on the faculty for the annual Plein Air South festival in Florida and will be a presence at the Plein Air Painters of the Southeast show in Tennessee.
Both Dunn and Richards impressed upon Carson the same lesson he now imparts in his own workshops — breaking a scene down into basic shapes. “It’s definitely the way to begin,” Carson says, “and then seeing smaller shapes within those big shapes. Painting ‘things’ is hard, but painting shapes can be easy. And that start is as good for painting as an impressionist or as a photorealist.”
Although plein air painting remains Carson’s first love, his studio work (based on his own photos) accounts for a significant part of his oeuvre. And much of it is inspired by the rugged foothills terrain and cultural life of Saluda.
“When the decision to give art a full-time chance came along, Saluda seemed a much better option than Macon,” Carson says. “Eighteen years later, things are still going well.”
Jim Carson, 20 Main St. #2, Saluda. (Carson’s work is also carried regionally at Crown Gallery in Blowing Rock). To schedule a private gallery visit, see jimcarson.net, call 828-749-3702, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org