It's hard not to fall in love with Charleston artist Alex Waggoner. She is adorable; whether with her pups, with the way her "southernness" comes out in conversation, or how she not-so-subtly gives a shout-out to her partner in the arts and crafts in a video about her and her work. It's an easygoing nature that complements her brush. Buildings become memories worth recreating. The work is fundamentally rooted in "place" - right now, mainly the illustrious Charleston, SC - while abstracting and evoking universal elements.
We think you should get to know the artist behind the work. For a highlight from our interview, watch the video below. For the more in-depth understanding of A.W. read the transcript that follows. You won't regret it.
A brief excerpt from an interview with Charleston artist, Alex Waggoner:
Photographs courtesy of Elizabeth Ervin.
My name’s Alex Waggoner. I’m from Gastonia, North Carolina. I went to school at SCAD in Savannah, and studied Painting and Printmaking. I moved to Charleston after school, and have been here with a bit of Raleigh, North Carolina in the middle.
Tell us about where you grew up in Gastonia.
There’s not much to say. My parents grew up there, and I grew up there, and I was ready to get out. I was equally concerned about the program that I went to in college, as I was the temperature of the place. So, Savannah was a perfect place to go, it was beautiful; I loved it.
Chris is an important part of your life. How did you meet and how did things continue?
Chris and I met in Lacoste, France during study abroad. We were both in a printmaking class together and a lot of rosé wine - and not a lot of people in a small town; we got to know each other (laughs). We did not start dating when we got back from study abroad. We started dating about about a year later after we graduated, and then moved here together, to Charleston!
When you moved here did you move into this apartment?
No, we moved into a little sublease on the corner of Ashley and Line.
How did you know that you always wanted to pursue art?
‘Cause I can’t think of anything else I would want to do. I just love it. It’s so special, and I’ve never considered doing anything different.
Was it painting that first started it?
When I went to SCAD, I started for graphic design, and in my first 2D class, my professor was like, ‘you should come to painting,’ so I did. I never looked back.
The painting program at SCAD was incredible. I mean it’s all in one big building, and the community was so rich. You would go in at anytime, and there were people painting and the rooms were very open and there was so much communication. Critiques are one thing that I miss so much. Just to be able to be with your peers and freely give critical feedback is incredible - I miss it a lot. I don’t know, it’s special.
I had some really awesome professors. Jason Hoelscher said I should be painting, instead of graphic design - he’s brilliant. Very critical thinking and theory-driven painting.
How far into the program was that?
He was the first class on the first day! And towards the end, I had Greg Eltrainham, whom I admire so much, and is probably the one texting me! (Laughs) He said, “I booked by ticket to Alaska, are you coming?!”
How would you tell me about your work if I didn't know you?
So the kind of work that I’m doing now started when we came to Charleston for the first time. I was kind of in this weird spot where I didn’t know what to make, because I was missing that critique from school. I knew that I liked the way shapes overlapped and the negative space between them. And Charleston was just so rich with beautiful things, so I just started painting what I was seeing, and that was all of the beautiful buildings and colors and all of that. And the more I did it, the more I could think about why am I seeing all the spaces in between? That’s when I realized that Charleston is changing. And the way people are rehabbing the old, or tearing down the old, and that weird bridge between the old and the new is what I’m trying to explore.
The style: I like to be very minimalist. So, still harping back to Minimalism and different movements from the 50s, 60s, and 70s but in a more approachable way. Because Charleston is so full of color - I like it to be a little approachable.
Photography plays an important element in your work, can you talk about that?
So I think the photography - I wouldn’t even call it photography (me snapping fictions on my phone or my camera, if I have it) - the things that I see are just so instant. If I drive by a spot, I can hold my phone up and take a quick snap of it. Then I can have this archive of things that are inspiring, and if I have to go back, I’ll go back and take more - but it’s just a mental reminder.
I have this one awesome picture of this building in West Ashley that I can’t wait to do. It’s this tiny little building in a giant parking lot - and it’s empty.
So I just have an archive of pictures that I like to work from. It’s not that I just go out and look for something. That’s what I love about Charleston - these things just creep up on you. It’s nice to have the ability to have this archive of things that crept up - and then recreate them.
That just gave me goosebumps!
And I never really sketch out anything because I like the sometimes awkward compositions, because I think that reflects the bridging of the old and the new. When people put this gigantic new house on a tiny lot, next to a house that’s been there for forever, it’s an awkward composition, so I like to echo that.
You paint on birch, when did this start?
I was painting on canvas when I was in school, and then I realized my work is about buildings, and the work that I was doing in school was a little more conceptual, so I like the thought of painting on a building material about buildings, so that cyclical thing. For a technical reason, the birch is incredible: I can sand it and lay down flat areas of color better on a solid material than on a canvas. It’s just very forgiving with medium, the ability to sand it.
We are talking in your home studio, can you tell us how this apartment/studio came to be?
When I had my residency in Raleigh, I had an incredible studio space with a beautiful skylight and a wall full of glass windows - it was incredible. So when I moved back to Charleston, I had a studio at Redux Contemporary Art Center. Then Chris and I moved into this apartment. There was this little laundry room with washer/dryer hookups - but no washer or dryer. And I just thought, ‘why not save the money, be here, and be inspired to be here all the time, since it’s here?’
It’s been perfect because I work sitting down - I don’t need to stand and work. I have wonderful windows, and it’s just the perfect size. I’ll open that door to have a cross breeze - it’s wonderful.
What are your materials like?
I love different textures and materials. I always used acrylic paint in school and then discovered Gouache, and have just called in love with it. I love that it’s just super matte, the colors are just beautiful. I do use different kind of things: watercolors if it’s appropriate, or whatever I want that surface to translate with, I guess. I don’t know! I just like to switch it up. I like for people to see it from far away and get close and see something else - or at least appreciate different parts of it. Maybe as a whole image then maybe mark-making when you get closer.
Your work is so sense-of-place, but it could be anywhere.
Charleston has the traditional art that everybody has seen. The beach scenes, the baskets - it’s all beautiful, and it’s neat to have a past of that. Plus, I do paintings from other places. i had an awesome archive of photos from Florida last year. Charleston is just special for it.
It’s also neat to live in a place that you want to paint things from, too. People will be like, ‘Oh I know where that is!” which is a cool thing for the people that live here. For the tourist, maybe it reminds them of something they know, or they can appreciate it as Charleston, and want to take it home. I haven’t had that many interactions with tourists here, besides hospitality.
What are some of the challenges in work, or scheduling time to work right now?
Just trying to become an artist in a town that’s already full of artist who make stuff that’s very easy and enjoyable to look at - is hard. And trying to make time, when you have a real job - well real job is a bad word, because I want this to be my real job. When you have a job that provides the money right now.
And staying encouraged that this is what I’m supposed to do. When the money isn’t consistent, when the interest isn’t consistent: it’s hard. That’s why Chris, his comes in fits and spurts and is romantic because he likes other things. And it’s hard for me because this is my thing. When people ask, ‘What are your hobbies?” it’s: I like to paint. And I want it to be more than that - I want it to be my thing…forever.
On a painting side, I thinker’s hard to know when to stop and to know when it’s just not working. It’s hard to throw away something so physical as a birch panel. But sometimes, I think it’s important. Because if you just spend too much time and overwork something, it’ never going to be good - it’ just going to be overworked.
So a lot of the stuff I was doing a lot earlier was all hard lines. And I’d like to do some softer lines so I’m adding some ripples into here, and those bushes up there. Just trying to grow a little bit, instead of just be stagnant.