Kevin Foltz in Cabo

By Patra Taylor

As it turns out, you can go home again. Just asked commercial photographer turned contemporary artist, J. Kevin Foltz. After wandering the planet for most of his adult life, fueling his creative muse through the people and places he’s encountered along the way, Foltz recently returned to the Lowcountry and easily fell back into the grits-okra-oyster roast lifestyle of his youth. He admits that fishing and the shrimping (and living closer to his parents) also played a major role in his decision to make the move back to the area from South Florida which served as home base for his work for better than 15 years.

Foltz grew up straddling the line between the Carolinas. “Due to my father’s corporate transfers, my family bounced around to a number of different towns for a few years,” states Foltz who has never met a stranger. “Eventually, my parents settled in Charleston. I have many great memories of visiting them here in the Lowcountry.”

Ingrained from childhood, Foltz’s need to wander drove him to explore parts unknown whenever possible. When he was 15 years old he traveled to Peru as an exchange student and fell in love with the people and magnificent visual imagery that dominates that South American nation’s landscape. He also learned to speak fluent Spanish, allowing him to meld with the culture and experience it fully.

“When I graduated from high school I went back to Peru instead of going straight to college,” admits Foltz. “My father finally convinced me to return to the states and enroll at the College of Charleston, where I spent my freshman year.”

By the time he transferred to Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., Foltz was keenly focused on pursuing a career in international business. “I’d signed up to take a class in Portuguese,” recalls Foltz. “But on the first day of class, I learned the Portuguese teacher had passed away. To fill my hours, I decided to take an introductory class to photography. And that was all she wrote.”

The irony that a stranger’s death changed his life has never been lost on Foltz. After he finally convinced his parents that photography was a viable career option, he transferred to an art school in Fort Lauderdale where he earned his degree. Having married his Peruvian sweetheart, he moved his young family to Nashville where he launched his career as a commercial photographer and began racking up experience running photography studios. A few of his commercial clients included Kroger, Hydra-Sports Boats and Gibson Guitars in Nashville and later Toyota and Coca Cola in Lima, Peru.

After living and working in Peru for several years, Foltz and his family moved to Miami. “When we came back to the states, my intention was to go to New York City,” continues Foltz. “In fact, my friend Norman Jean Roy, New York’s best known portrait photographer, invited me to stay with him in the city. While I looked for work during the day, I printed in his darkroom on Wall Street at night.

“I couldn’t convince my wife to move to New York, so I finally returned to Miami,” he continues. “I got a job with a custom publishing company which allowed me to travel throughout Latin America and the Caribbean photographing for various airlines, hotel associations and tourists boards.”

Even as Foltz’s career transitioned from being a commercial studio photographer to a full-time destination photographer specializing in resort and culinary photos, other doors began opening for him. First he won a large grant from the South Florida Cultural Consortium based on the black and white photographs he’d taken of people he’d encountered during his travels. “My artist’s statement for the year I won the Consortium grant was simply, ‘All humans are divine beings,’” he notes. “That pretty much said it all.”

Foltz also won two consecutive three-year artist residencies at the ArtCenter/South Florida. The organization’s mission is to advance the knowledge and practice of contemporary visual arts and culture in the region.

“During my first three-year residency, I showed my black and white fine art photography,” explains Foltz. “It was during my second residency at the ArtCenter that I really began to evolve again. The other artists there taught me to paint and I began to experiment with mixing my traditional darkroom photography with other media, allowing me to add another dimension to my art.”

Foltz says his mixed media artwork has always been inspired by his real-life travel adventures. Then during a whitewater-rafting trip on the Cangrejal River in Honduras, his adventure went drastically wrong. As he was shooting the rapids, he was suddenly thrown overboard and became caught beneath the raft. In those few long moments under water, his leg hit a rock, breaking it.

Finally pulled from the river, Foltz began the toughest journey of his career, from the bottom of a raft with a severely injured leg to a jungle lodge where he spent a long night before being transported the to the city where he received the first medical treatment for his injuries.

“That slowed me down a little bit,” quips Foltz.

Weeks on his back slowly turned to months. But gradually his condition improved from “impossible to travel” to “difficult to travel.” The day finally arrived when his creative muse insisted he get on with it. Accepting his first assignment in months, Foltz was back on a plane. The wanderer was back on his game. A few months later, Foltz was on assignment in Charleston. That got him thinking about his future.

“I ended up moving back up here and now here I am,” he says.

Next month, local residents will have their first opportunity to view Foltz’s art as one of the featured exhibitionist for the grand re-opening of Redux Contemporary Art Center located at 1056 King St. on the first floor of the old Port City Paper building.

“We are thrilled to be revitalizing this gorgeous Augustus Constantine-designed building,” states Stacy Huggins, Redux’s executive director. “The new center allows us to expand our studio space to accommodate more than 40 contemporary artists. Kevin’s art will be featured in one of the four opening exhibitions. The event will give the pubic its first peek inside our new facility.”

According to Huggins, the grand re-opening is slated for this May 6. “We’ve planned a members-only preview from 6 to 7 p.m.,” she says. “Then from 7 to 10 p.m., is our free open-to-all event focused on showing off our artists and our new space.”

The best way the community can support the new art center is through membership. “It’s a tangible way people can have a positive impact on our organization,” notes Huggins.

“I am excited to be part of the Redux family,” says Foltz who will operate out of one of the organization’s new studios. “It’s invigorating to be surrounded by other artists … it pushes you to do better work. Plus, I really love the energy of Stacy and her assistant, Greg Colleton. I think it’s going to be an incredible place to create art when I’m not doing commercial work.”

Since his return, Foltz has also joined forces with a small team of local fellow adventures in Expedition: Charleston, a project designed to capture the rarely seen hidden wonders of the Lowcountry and bring them to life in images and narrative. Foltz serves as the project’s lead photographer and art director.

“I’ve traveled all over the world,” concludes Foltz. “But I never found a better place to live than the Charleston Lowcountry.”

 

Mercury newspaper racks are located at the following locations:

The Meeting Street Inn

Clair's Service Station at 334 Folly Rd.

Harris Teeter on Houston-Northcutt Blvd.

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