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Beauty Is Life Deep exhibit features the contemporary watercolor of award-winning Charleston artist

By Emily Havener

Images provided.

On artist Anita Landone Harley’s website is a quotation by Giorgio Morandi, Italian painter and printmaker known for still life: “To achieve understanding it is necessary not to see many things, but to look hard at what you do see.” This is a clue to interpreting Harley’s paintings, which are currently featured in a solo exhibition at the Public Works Art Center in Summerville. The five series of paintings feature people and are not meant to be portraits, according to the artist, but “rather an attempt to record the inner world of the individuals.”

Harley is especially pleased that her work will be exhibited at the Public Works Art Center because it offers art classes for children, and Harley attributes her interested in painting to Saturday morning art classes at a local high school when she was growing up. She painted until she went to law school. Then, five or six years into her practice, she returned to painting, choosing watercolor because “it was easy to carry, it didn’t make a mess, you didn’t need a big studio.”

Once her children were in high school, she was able to focus more of her time on experimenting. She considers her style to be in the watercolor school of Sargent, which uses spots of color and incorporates white space as part of the overall work. Her “Pattern” series, she says, “is my attempt to take traditional watercolor and make it more contemporary.” She uses a patterned flat background with acrylic paint, with figures in watercolor.

Harley moved to the Charleston area nine years ago with her husband, whose grandfather, Joseph Emile Harley, was briefly governor of South Carolina before his death. “I have to say that Charleston has a wonderful history with watercolor, for example with Alice Ravenel, whose show was at the Gibbes recently, so I think this place is receptive to that.” She adds with a laugh, “It’s interesting I don’t do landscapes because I have a beautiful marsh view out my window and great light to paint.”

She chooses people as her subjects instead. “I spend a lot of time looking at people. If I’m in the grocery store or the doctor’s office, wherever I am, I’m looking at people.” Sometimes she asks if she can take their picture and paint them as a subject; she’s never had anyone refuse, and she sends them a sitting fee and a digital image of her finished work. While installing he current show, entitled “Beauty Is Life Deep,” she caught the attention of a young boy who admired her work and asked her to paint him, which she agreed to with his mother’s permission.

“That’s what it is all about, it seems to me,” she says, “making connections with people.” Her “Together, We …” series, which features individuals on drawing paper with a white outline and a solid background, was inspired by her sense that despite appearances, “We’re more connected than what’s going on in the world.”

Harley is now an acknowledged part of Charleston’s watercolor tradition as a first-prize winner at both the 2019 Piccolo Spoleto Juried Exhibition and the 2017 Charleston Artist Guild, Members Exhibition.

“Beauty Is Life Deep,” will have an official reception on Thursday, June 17, from 5:30-8:30 p.m. and will continue through July 23. The Public Works Art Center is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday at 135 West Richardson Avenue, Summerville. To learn more about the exhibition, To learn more about Anita Harley and her work, visit


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