Sarah Frierson hopes her oil paintings are “not your typical Charleston paintings.”

While some might be quick to rise to the defense of our art scene, she explains with a smile, “A lot of the paintings you see here are these overly stylized, beautiful Charleston scenes. But you can tell they’ve taken out what detracts from the beauty — things like the throngs of tourists or the telephone wires. I don’t have a problem with it, but I prefer to paint what’s there.” And what’s there for Frierson are things like electrical meters mounted on ancient brick buildings, or a power line that might edge across the corner of a painting.

Working with oil paint on canvas, Frierson loves experimenting with mediums like wood, and encaustic painting, where wax is melted on a hot plate and mingled with oils to produce a softer, filmy effect. Her art is influenced by memories and mundane surroundings and places that she’s been. Lately, she’s stopped painting human figures, intrigued instead by the emotions that linger in abandoned places and negative spaces. In one work, a broad canvas depicts an empty room in a shaft of sunlight, bare of furniture. Another, entitled “Midday, Peachtree St.,” is a study of a stark white house and a blue afternoon sky streaked with clouds.

Born and raised in South Carolina, Frierson is a newbie on the Charleston art beat. She graduated from the University of South Carolina with a BFA in 2008, and spent the past year soaking in Charleston while working a fellowship at the City Gallery. Having grown up mainly in Columbia, she was a frequent visitor before moving here to pursue her career full-time. “I like the fact that Charleston is such a live city. There are always people out and about, up to one thing or another.”

But most importantly, Frierson was lured in by the thriving art scene in the Holy City. “I’ve met so many people working on interesting things, and it feels like everybody involved in the arts here is working to make Charleston an even better arts community.”

Now she finds inspiration everywhere, even in watching the documentary Man on Wire, about tight-rope walker Phillipe Petit, for example. “It was such a beautiful metaphor for taking risks, for doing something you think is terrifying. It made me want to experiment with painting the emotions that go along with that — tension or the concept of things that are bound.” The result is a series of paintings, one entitled “Tightrope Walker II,” composed of a strikingly appealing vivid green with an intricately detailed rope stretched across the 26″ x 17″ canvas.

While most parents would cringe at the thought of their child flinging themselves into a career as a starving artist, Frierson will be the first to tell you she’s lucky enough to have parents that cheered her on from day one.

“My father went to USC in the 1960s, and he studied painting for just a year. Everyone told him, ‘You’re never going to be able to make a living being a painter in South Carolina.’ And so he gave it up,” she says.

Beginning in September, Frierson’s work will be on display and for sale via silent auction at City Lights Coffee, and in October, she’ll co-curate a month-long show entitled Unearthed at the Rick Rhodes Gallery with Kristi Bishop, Hirona Matsuda, and Nina Garner. “We wanted a title that encompassed all of our styles,” she explained. “Whether it be working with found objects, using natural elements as subjects for photography, or examining buried memories or forgotten emotions. And because not a lot of us have shown around town before, it’s a show about unearthing new artists, too.”


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