Gerardo Leccese proudly displays a portrait of the late U.S. Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, showing support for strong women who, he said, at times don’t get the representation they deserve in history | Photos by Joyelle Ronan

Seeing artists in the flesh talking about their work and interacting among their peers makes art come alive to visitors of Piccolo Spoleto this year, just like in four decades of festivals in the past.

The annual outdoor art exhibition at Marion Square (329 Meeting St.), which runs every day through June 10, is a festival community of more than 20 artists who share their colorful art with visitors from around the world.

Gerardo Leccese

In his tent, Gerardo Leccese, who has lived in Charleston for the last 23 years, has combined wood carving, photography and painting into almost all of his art pieces on display. The 63-year-old artist gives each piece a theme based on a person or location. Examples: two mirror pieces appreciating artist Frida Khalo or the late U.S. Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as well as many of his other canvases that highlight New York’s Broadway, Santorini and other European cities.

Artist Gerardo Leccese, 63, shows off his art pieces inside his tent at Marion Square | All photos by Joyelle Ronan

Peggy Howe

Full-time artist Peggy Howe, 77, has worked out of her art studio in Mount Pleasant since 1994. She attends the Piccolo art exhibition every year. While she said she successfully sells her paintings, she said many consider her art too risqué, even the exhibition runners. 

“They recognize that what I’m doing is above the average; they know that,” Howe said. “But they won’t quite bring me up because it’s pushing. I was told back in 2004 I couldn’t hang any nudes out here. And I fought it.”

Most of the time, Peggy Howe, 77, finds her models on the street by taking the time to talk to them before asking if they’d be interested in posing for her

Howe’s art examines how the naked body can be more than sexual and tastefully seen. Howe is also prominent on representation and diversity; many of her paintings show women and men of various shapes, sizes and races. “When I’m behind the easel, with a model, I know I’m living the right life for me,” she said. 

At Howe’s studio, located at 1600 Home Farm Road, Mt. Pleasant, she organizes figure sessions where other artists can learn how to paint and draw the human body

Susie Barrett

Susie Barrett’s bright pink and blue paintings are hard to miss among the multiple white tents at Marion Square. As a mixed media artist, Barrett, 50, of Charleston, thinks art doesn’t always have to be meaningful or dull but can simply be a layered painting of neon flowers or tropical leaves with gold accents. 

During the art exhibit, Susie Barrett spends her time painting and getting to know fellow artists attending the series

“It’s very bright and poppy,” Barret said. “Everything is super-whimsical, happy and playful. That’s kind of my philosophy about art, it doesn’t have to be sad or dark. So, it’s very light-hearted.”

Paintings bursting with bright pinks, purples and green illuminate Susie Barrett’s tent. Many of her paintings feature the beauty of nature, like flowers and butterflies

Tate Nation

Living in Charleston for the last 19 years, Tate Nation, 69, hopes that whenever someone looks at his art, they feel like they’re on vacation. He said most of his art has a Caribbean influence to them by incorporating the blues of the ocean, seashells or sandy beaches.

“I hope they get excited,” Nation said. “I love that, when someone says, ‘hey, your work makes me smile,’ that makes me happy. It’s like I’ve done my job right.”

Tate Nation’s painting “This Way to the Beach” was inspired by Eleuthera, an island in the Bahamas

Nation gets most of his inspiration from traveling and sightseeing, like in his favorite piece, which is on sale at the exhibition “This Way to the Beach.”  

Nation spends most of the day at the exhibition sitting with his paintings and sharing stories about the creation of each of his pieces with visitors

Lauchlan Davis

Describing her art as more bright and inviting, Lauchlan Davis, 26, of Charleston, started painting five years ago. Most of her works are oil paintings that have a collage-style technique. The collage-style method in her art allows observers to discover something new each time they look at one of her pieces.

Paired with an easel and various paints to choose from, Lauchlan Davis greets exhibition participants while painting outside at Marion Square

While each of Davis’ pieces is intricate and may take hours to complete, she said she doesn’t measure the time it takes to create each. Instead, she measures them in the effort. When she paints, she loses herself, focusing on each brushstroke or figure until she finally steps back to appreciate the completed work. She has sold many paintings at the exhibit, but some are still for purchase, ranging from $500 to $1,825.

Coloring collages and dotted mirrors line the inside walls of Davis’ tent

IF YOU PLAN TO GO: Every day until June 10 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. The art exhibition is free entry. 

Timia Cobb and Joyelle Ronan, who are arts journalism graduate students at Syracuse University, crafted this photo essay and words.

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