Until last week, it's been over ten years since I've ventured off the St. Julian Street pedestrian mall of City Market and up the stairs into the world of original art and fine craftwork orbiting above the heavily trafficked retail spaces on the ground floor. I wish I'd done it sooner.
Three friends and I invited ourselves to visit Hunter/Kinkel Studios, where painter Roeder Kinkel of Tybee Island shares space with Jesup-based painter Ruth Hunter.
Hunter and Kinkel's space is the first in a hive of five studios found at the top of the interior stairwell of the building that's anchored by Vinnie Van Go Go's and A.T. Hun Gallery.
If City Market is a neighborhood, then this cluster of studios seems to function like a neighborhood block-each artist doing his own thing, yet supportive of each other's creative goals and aware of each other's struggles and successes. Balancing their personal needs to express their creativity and grow artistically with the practical need to make art that will pay the bills.
The five art spaces are ‘home' to four painters, a sequential artist, a jeweler and a knitting studio. Kinkel, a mixed media painter with a graphics background, uses "a gypsum based compound and then acrylic washes ...that tend to bring out the texture" that's incorporated into abstracts or representational work, mostly of fish and of female nudes. After painting solo in the space for four years, he was joined by Hunter about a year and a half ago.
Hunter has fine arts training but "learned her chops on the street as a quick sketch artist," says Kinkel. "Now she does formal portraits" as well as interpretive work, in oil and wax, and in oil pastel, often incorporating the human form-a face, a torso, a stretching female figure.
"As studio partners, some friendships work well because you each have respect for each other," says Kinkel. "We respect the artwork we do. I think [Hunter] has a lot she can teach me, and she is out of town so this is her way to touch base with what's happening. The practical side was we can split the cost."
Down a short hallway from Hunter/Kinkel Studio, Derek Larson and Kyle Stavella are the new kids in the neighborhood. Both enrolled at SCAD, both working at a nearby downtown restaurant, their space has the feel of a working studio, including Larson's work in progress tacked to the wall-an assignment for his sequential art course.
Larson credits his former professor Jeremy Mullins, who died in a hiking accident in mid-June, for expanding his understanding of how sequential art can be presented-taken off the printed page and onto a studio wall, using glass or other media. One of Larson's finished works is a six part story drawn in color on half of a double-hung window. Next to it is a four part story drawn on pink squares--ceramic tiles secured with white grout, reminiscent of a 1950's era bathroom.
"They're trying to get it pumped up. They've only been in the studio a month," says silversmith "King David," the across-the-hall neighbor of Larson and Stavella. On Sunday during a return visit, David was seated outside his silver studio by a window overlooking St. Julian Street, grinding a piece of silver flatware into jewelry, accompanied by big band-era jazz coming from the open door of his shop.
Next door to David's workshop is a knitting studio featuring handmade shawls and other pieces by David's wife, Diane Parham. Across from Diane's place is the studio of illustration-style painter Kerry Harried.
Every so often, shoppers stroll through, trolley stickers on their shirts, maps in hand, talking to Kinkel or David, taking a quick look and a break from the heat.
"We've got a good vibe," says David, lifting his voice above the whine of the grinder. "We're glad to have visitors come in and roam around, find out about us."