John C. Doyle, the internationally-known painter and photographer, passed away on Nov. 12 at the age of 71.
His oil paintings and photography captured diverse aspects of Lowcountry life: shimmering ocean landscapes, blues and jazz musicians, portraits, and iconic wildlife scenes. His immense body of work has received acclaim from Chicago to Paris, despite the rarity of his forays off the peninsula.
We spoke with Doyle’s good friend and fellow artist, Marty Whaley Adams Cornwell, and she brought us along to the Gathering of Friends in Doyle’s honor at his Church Street gallery. The gallery was a bright, warm refuge from the cold, filled with old friends from the French Quarter art community reminiscing and reconnecting over shared memories.
Displayed at the gallery’s front desk was a small, sepia photograph of Doyle in his younger days. Photo albums were placed throughout the gallery, filled with pictures ranging from his childhood up until present day and clippings of press coverage he’s received over the years.
Regarding Doyle’s life experiences, Marty says, “He spoke a lot of languages.” His 25-year struggle with substance abuse was just one of these languages; throughout his life, he’d become familiar with disability, abuse, anxiety and depression.
Marty described a visit from Doyle when they were both in their 40s after she had returned home to Charleston and opened up her own gallery. “He came to my gallery and he told me he’d just had a quadruple bypass surgery, and he was looking for motivation and inspiration,” she recalls. “And I think that experience really sobered him up, because all of his friends had been off in the world maturing, but you don’t mature when you’re an addict.”
With sobriety came the ascent of Doyle’s artistic career in the mid ’80s. He established relevance with numerous commissioned pieces in local restaurants and magazine covers, and then expanded outwards. He became most well-known for his explosive depictions of sportfishing scenes with marlin and sailfish, and bluesy images like “Mojo Mama,” which was commissioned by a bar in Chicago and has been reproduced all over Europe and Asia.
Doyle was completely self-taught, and had a strong presence in the Charleston art community. “Women loved him, although he never married,” Marty says. “There was something irresistible about him.” She recalls his generosity when she was working on a particularly large piece; he lent her his studio and shared advice about setting up the canvas and mixing palettes. On one occasion, he visited her mountain house in Flat Rock, N.C. with some other artists from the area to paint together. The artists worked on separate pieces with exchanges of opinions and advice, gathering inspiration from old photographs as well as nude models posing at a piano. Marty thinks back on the collaboration fondly, saying “It was one of the best paintings I’ve ever done, and I give him a lot of credit for that.”
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