Remembering Michael Tyzack

Michael Tyzack, one of Charleston’s most highly regarded artists, passed away on Sun. Feb. 11 after being diagnosed with cancer last month.

Born in Sheffield, England, in 1933, he still retained his quintessential Britishness after 30 years in the Holy City. During that time he was instrumental in setting up the College of Charleston’s studio art department, where he was still teaching through January of this year. “Internationally, I’m known for my abstract art,” Tyzack once told us. “In Charleston, I’m a teacher.” That suited him fine, and he considered himself compelled to work in the Lowcountry not least because of the quality of light here. As he explained, “It informs my color choice almost as much as my emotions.”

Tyzack has works in the permanent collections of Tate Britain in London, the Kunstmuseum in Switzerland, and the National Gallery of Wales, among many other galleries. His recent abstract pieces contained simple, gradated shapes. He dealt with color variations so subtle that sometimes they didn’t seem to be there at all. “Pessimists see an absence of color,” he said, “optimists see the potential presence of color.”

Michael’s other passion was Dixieland jazz, and he was a longtime member of the Early Days Jazz Band, playing at Mistral restaurant weekly for years. He would compare the sounds of his group as abstract blocks akin to the shapes in his paintings.

The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art is preparing a memorial service and exhibit to open March 10 at 2 p.m. in the Simons Center for the Arts Recital Hall at 54 St. Philips St. “We also see the memorial as a way to discuss setting up a prize in his name,” says Halsey director Mark Sloan. “In 1965 he was selected by Clement Greenberg for the John Moores Liverpool Exhibition prize. He always said that was a transformative thing in his life.”

Much more than the money he received, it was the encouragement that came with the prize that really gave him a boost as a young artist. An annual Tyzack prize would provide a similar pat on the back to a graduating senior as an acknowledgement of excellence. It would make a fitting tribute to an artist who always encouraged his students to take risks with their work. “Without risk,” he believed, “there is no serious painting.”

“This would be a way to perpetuate his legacy,” says Sloan. “His name would be on people’s lips every spring.” Contributions to the prize can be sent to the College of Charleston at 66 George St. —Nick Smith

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