Morgan Cole likes to paint several works at a time, moving around her small studio, adding touches to abstract paintings, Lowcountry landscapes, and South Carolina flags — pieces she fondly refers to as “lots of stuff.” Cole is a 24-year-old Clemson grad who’s been painting full-time in Redux since this past May. A self-sustaining 20-something artist in Charleston? Yes, says Cole, adding, “It’s sink or swim.”
Cole moved to Charleston with a Visual Arts degree under her belt, along with internship experience at Anthropologie and Nordstrom. She originally thought she wanted to get into fashion merchandising — she dreamed of being one of those creatives who sets up displays in stores — but she quickly realized that painting was her real passion. A six month stint as a bank teller helped solidify that passion by letting Cole see exactly what kind of job she didn’t want.
“I really missed painting so I left the bank and got on the waitlist [to rent a space] at Redux,” says Cole. She eventually got into Redux’s annex space, spending part of her time painting and the rest nannying, working at a downtown gallery, and completing other odd jobs. As cliched as it sounds Cole knew from an early age that she had to follow her passion, and with the help of supportive parents (not everyone lets their kids major in the arts), she was able to pursue her innate desire to create.
“I remember my mom reading to us when we were little. I would be sitting on the floor drawing, and I think I subconsciously do that now,” Cole says. She references her liquid line series of paintings, where, while standing, she paints a canvas on the ground, her mom’s voice now substituted with Ellie Goulding and Coldplay tracks.
Cole, a California native who moved to Greenville when she was 15, grew up around artists. Even from a young age she wasn’t necessarily drawn to artists’ lifestyles, but rather, their art. “One [family] friend had a studio in San Francisco and she had lots of stuff everywhere, lots of colors to choose from. I was drawn to her process,” she says.
Standing in Cole’s studio today you can see echoes of that San Francisco studio. Paintings cover the wall, the floor, and a couple tables. Cole is petite and put-together, standing amidst the chaos with a knowing nod — what may appear messy is actually organized.
Cole cranks out a lot of pieces and she acknowledges the necessary commercial aspect of her art. “Marketing and selling yourself is the hardest part. Eventually painting becomes the easiest thing I do,” she says, adding that she has to remind herself to stop painting sometimes and actually work on selling her pieces. Cole currently sells her work at Celadon in Mt. Pleasant and Ro Sham Beaux, a light fixture store downtown, as well as in a store in Philadelphia. She commissions works too, working on larger and different pieces for clients who like what they’ve seen in her displays.
The hustle — marketing yourself, selling your works, and getting people to care about what you do, is the biggest challenge that Cole faces everyday. It’s called surviving, and the post-college life has taught the young artist some things she didn’t realize she’d encounter.
“It was a big leap to go from academic painting to painting at Redux. I realized ‘I can paint something pretty,'” she laughs. In college Cole had to explain everything she did, from concept to color palette. Now she just paints what she likes. “I like pink and blue and sparkles and it’s girly, but it’s who I am,” she says, noting that most of the best-selling pieces are those she had a lot of fun creating, as if the buyer can sense the passion behind the painting.
Cole knows that she is a little fish in a big pond, but she has high hopes for what Charleston may offer her. “Charleston is a trampoline city,” she says, “I would like to emerge and maybe in three to five years I’d be in Boston or New York.” Cole raises an interesting point — is Charleston a sustainable city for self-sustaining 20-something artists? With a name like Visions // Fissures, Cole’s exhibit speaks to the question of staying power, because what are youthful ambitions if not entirely unclear?
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