Featured Artist: Clayton Spangler

This is part of a series of interviews with artists working in and around Charleston, West Virginia. If you’re an artist who’s interested in having your work featured in WhyCharleston, drop us a line at info@whycharlestonwv.com.

How did you get started in your art?
I’ve been a photographer for over 25 years; I had experimented with painting some time back, but never perused it with the same passion as I had photography, so it fell to the wayside. Then came along software developed by painters for painters who were working from photographs; it was a perfect marriage of disciplines for me!

Blossom Dairy by Clayton Spangler

I realized that I could take my photographic work and digitally “paint” using a mixture of oils, watercolors, different media
“textures” to create original artworks. When I started walking and photographing the streets of Charleston – I was inspired to try my hand at working with subjects that I had been around almost all my life; but seeing them in a totally new way!

What are the major influences in your art?
Light, Shadow, Color. Those are what draw my eye to something of course. I like exploring new textures to output my work onto- I love canvas, the material has “visual weight ” to it. I enjoy other artists work, seeing how they might interpret the world around them- it sometimes forces me to re-examine my own approaches to ideas that I may have dismissed or put on a back burner, only to be redefined and made possible by the inspiration of others.

The Moon Players by Clayton Spangler

What differs your technique from other artists?
Well, apart from the fact that all my work is created digitally from inception to the printing of the final work- I would have to say that the way I explore light and it’s relation to the subject is key when I come up with my ideas- remember; I’m starting from a raw photograph-then to digitally paint with bright and saturated colors, which give a “known “subject an entirely different feel. It elevates the common scene to an uncommon view or experience for the viewer.

How do you describe the art scene in Charleston?
I think that there is an abundance of talent in the Charleston Art scene. There are so many mediums represented here, from painting, sculpture, beadwork, photography, clay, glasswork and stained glass, to my unique specialty of creating digital paintings. It’s robust, and as many of us can attest to- it is a very “family” type group of individuals!

The key to the core of this is that as long as your art is from the heart, the community will come out and support you as an artist- and other artists have given me so much advice on how to present myself and succeed- I think there is a very nurturing aspect of the community as a whole.

Hanging Fish by Clayton Spangler

How receptive are the people of Charleston towards your art?
I didn’t start out creating my canvases and prints for anyone but me at first- so I honestly wasn’t sure how my works would go over here in Charleston.

But with the shows I’ve had here in the city- The response was immediately positive! I’ve gotten a lot of feedback, which some has surprised me. The things I’ve felt an affinity for, places I used to go as kid-those are the places I’m drawn to- and to have someone come up and say “I bought that piece because it was where I met my spouse” or “we used to take the family and buy such and such at this location”. I’ve come to realize that a lot of what I have created are links to those people’s memories. My work means as much to them viewing it as it did when I first decided to make it. That is VERY satisfying!

Clay Center by Clayton Spangler

What are your favorite art pieces around Charleston?
I like works of Mark Tobin Moore – his work, although a distant style from my own- reaches me. Tracy Higginbotham- I love the “Vibrancy” of her work- and I get a sense of both chaos and peace by looking at it. Bruce Haley- He’s inspired by the world around him and a fearless explorer in his work; bold. If it’s of my work, I like the streetscapes I’ve done; it gives a sense of “place” for me

What particular things in Charleston inspires you to create art?
Aside from light and shadow (I notice that first and foremost ) is the architecture of Charleston, more and more the people and how they interact with the city around them, and how the city’s personality changes from day to evening and the transition as it becomes two distinct and different places- yet still the same.

If you were to create an art piece depicting Charleston, what medium, technique and inspiration would you use?
That’s a good question! I would still use the same techniques I do right now- Taking a photograph, digitally painting with my tools and programs, and making it onto canvas- but I would like the opportunity to make it large- much bigger than the 20×30’s that are my typical size.

My inspiration would come from the people and the city around them. From my memories as well as those that are given to me as suggestions- I would like to create something that everyone could identify with and feel a part of when they see it.

Capitol Street  by Clayton Spangler

Where would you recommend tourists to go for the best place to experience Charleston’s art scene?
Several come to mind. Going to the Clay Center for one, as it is one of the best places to view the best artists only Charleston, but the state. And the Artwalks held on the third Thursday of each month, where the galleries of Charleston open their doors and you actually get to MEET the artists! And more recently- Festivall, where the city becomes a work of art- this has become a quick favorite of mine!

Clayton started his photographic career in 1984, when a chance meeting with Author Stan Cohen, led him to have some of his first photographs appear in Kanawha County Images: A Bicentennial History. Since that time, his work has gone on to be published in Tourist magazines and trade magazines nationwide. “I’ve been really fortunate to be able to travel, see and meet so many wonderful people, and get to attend events I wouldn’t have gotten to see otherwise.” Clayton says “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

In addition to his journalistic and environmental portraiture skills, Clayton also shoots fine art, landscapes, and specializes in event photography. By pushing himself to be more creative, he strives to keep an “edge” to his work without sacrificing his style and artistry. “It’s the challenge of setting my work apart, not settling for what’s already been done that motivates me” he says.

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