It is 1 p.m., and the sunlight is casting its hue against Randolph Hall, cascading shades of apricot and Princeton orange. The Cistern is engulfed in a sea of azaleas and the grass has just turned vivid green, carpeting the ground that students lie upon. The spring air envelops the space with open arms. In the far right corner, there is the familiar sight of a man in a shaggy white shirt and worn blue jeans, focusing on his canvas with a brush in hand. People watch, mesmerized by the swift and steady motions his brushes take as he orchestrates with ease and patience. With each upward and downward stroke he conducts a chorus of colors, composing a very meaningful masterpiece.
DAB, as he is known in the art world, is a local artist who paints historic buildings. He first began painting as a child, often punished for his tendency to draw and doodle in school. With each new school year, his upcoming teachers were warned of his behavior, and as the year progressed he was often banned from using coloring utensils.
“Eventually the children around me were banned from lending me anything, and it got to the point where I was just kind of isolated from the rest of the classroom,” DAB said.
Each spring, for the past three years, DAB has returned to the Cistern to continue a painting of Randolph Hall. DAB plans to complete this painting, which many have watched progress over the years, by the end of April.
The Cistern is a place for quiet contemplation, but in warm weather it also hums with activity. Slackliners and frisbee-tossers dart beneath the stately oaks. While sports like these are constantly regulated, making sure each lap around the track or throw on the field is legal, the world of art is not as strict and narrow. Instead of rule books and refs, the rules of art are individualized and abstract. The artist decides what is authentic or not.
Painting has always had a unique way of revealing truthfulness in people, situations or society. Dating back to the 1400s, humans have been interested in the art of tracing. As technology advancements are welcomed into society, this technique grows more and more popular and has quickly began to distort the original idea of painting. Today, artists are able to create masterpieces faster than ever by taking a photograph, projecting the image onto a projector and then tracing the image onto the surface to be rendered. From there, the image can be painted, glazed and sold for anywhere from $12 to $15,000, all within the span of a few days. In Charleston there are over 125 galleries, and many are filled with these types of paintings.
However, DAB considers himself to be a “real artist.” With no preliminary boundary lines beneath the paint, no tracing involved and zero use of photography, DAB completes his art with only patience and a paint brush. Using a technique he refers to as “dabbery style,” DAB makes an effort to create a realistic image of this building. This method consists of three years worth of delicate layering using only a 20 inch or smaller brush.
DAB does not glamorize the reality of what a “real artist” looks like today. Productive days depend on good weather and consist of long hours spent on his feet. As the cost of living in Charleston rises, the price of creating real art grows as well. Still, his passion for painting has endured throughout the many difficulties.
“If I stand here at this easel, then everything goes well. If I step away from the easel, then all havoc comes. It’s just like if you were to take a goldfish out of a goldfish bowl and set it on the table; it would flip flop around. If you take me away from the paint, then my gears aren’t running right. So if I just stay here, all is smooth,” DAB said.
As this spring is welcomed, so is a new season of completion. With each finishing touch performed in the last stages of this project, DAB continues to strive for authenticity within his work.
*This article first appeared in the April 2017 issue of The Yard.