Charleston is known as the Holy City for its lovely churches. I enjoy the grace they bring the city but there is one place of God that is not on the tour book roster tucked under an aqua awning on King Street: John Carroll Doyle’s studio. John is Charleston’s first born son of the artist community. Born, raised and self taught he has embraced, struggled and forged a way for himself out of clarity, determination and broken-ness which parallels any great spiritual journey. The layers of this man’s life and his art serve as parable and myth for all that journey to the Holy City in search of beauty. According to Doyle, great art and beauty reveal the face of God. And, reflected in the decades of paintings he has done about his beloved Charleston, God’s greatness is revealed. Doyle often depicts local residents, both famous and infamous, great and small going about their daily life. A follower in the footsteps of John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn and Joaquim Sorrolla, his paintings carry on the tradition of technical competence which was extremely rare when John was emerging as an artist. Dyslexia gifted John with an acute visual memory and the day I spent with him gave me a glimpse of that virtuosity. We ambled about the city, visiting various restaurants displaying this man’s prodigious work: Sermets Corner, A.W Shucks, Fulton Five house some spectacular paintings and are a must see on any Charleston Art Tour. We went to Doyle’s gallery on Church street I reveled in the works housed there and then headed down the street and clambered up the long narrow metal stairs to his sanctuary, the studio over on King Street. The gallery is housed in a lovely 17th century brick structure and the current works are some of my favorites in town. Once we headed over to the studio John was kind enough to do a demo for me: he painted a large Marlin from memory. I was simply stunned. His palette, a simple affair of ultra marine blue, alizarin crimson, titanium white, a touch of cadmium red, cadmium lemon yellow, yellow ochre, sap green, viridian green, ivory black, cerulean blue, and burnt sienna soon magically transformed themselves to a vibrant sport fish surging from rolling seas, a grand life force. This wonderful canvas image emerged completely from John’s memory. He had a simple pencil sketch as reference and in two spectacular hours made magic happen and a great large painting emerged! I was stunned. Having worked as an illustrator for sports fishing magazines for two decades he obviously had rendered many fish…but still the impossibility of what he so effortlessly channeled from his heart and mind through his muscle memory hands was nothing short of amazing. It was said that when Mozart composed God sang and the same can be said of Mr Doyle: his brushes simply do the work of worship.
John Doyle’s wonderful paintings can be seen at John Carroll Doyle Gallery 125 Church Street in Charleston or in addition to the restaurants listed above at Tommy Condons, 82 Queen, Virginia’s on King, Harbor Resort at Patriots Point.