“I can see color better when realism gets out of my way.”
That’s how Betsy Havens explained part of her approach to her work, on display through Dec. 15 at the Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Myrtle Beach Art Museum.
Haven’s exhibit, “Congregate,” is joined by “Rhythm & Hues,” her husband James Calk’s exhibit, also running through mid-December at the museum.
Partners both in life and in their work, the couple shares a home studio, working about 20 feet apart.
Married 17 years, they were introduced back in the ‘60s by Havens’ father.
“My father knew Jim because Jim is a classically-talented musician, and my father was an organ dealer,” Havens said, highlighting and praising her husband’s gifts, as she frequently does in conversation.
The couple is unabashedly devoted to each other, is obviously a team, and while their work is distinctively different from each other’s, their mutual support undergirds them and propels them forward at the same time.
Havens started studying at the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia when she wasn’t yet a teenager, and after getting a design degree and finishing post-graduate studies in the history of architecture and Southern Lit, lived and worked in Columbia for 30 years. Havens and Calk shared a studio there before selling their businesses and moving to their riverfront home in Georgetown where they live with their labradoodles, Monet and Matisse.
The common thread in “Congregate” is the human form, whether it’s a dancer, a fisherman, a crowd scene or a portraiture.
Havens explained an intense piece showing a crowd walking away by saying, “If they’re walking away, you can go with them. If they’re coming towards you, you can only stand there and wait for them.”
A people watcher, Havens enjoys observing people look at her work, “the way they stand when they look at it…”
“When they stand for more than a few seconds, you know it’s speaking to them. They’re going into the painting and thinking about something from their own life,” Calk said, finishing his wife’s thought.
“I know where I want the viewer’s eye to go, and it’s the responsibility of the figure in the painting to help the viewer,” Havens added.
Admission is free to the Myrtle Beach Art Museum, at 3100 S. Ocean Blvd. It is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1-4 p.m.
For more information, call 843-238-2510 or visit www. MyrtleBeachArtMuseum
Calk, who started playing the piano when he was 5 years old, is the organist and choir director at Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church, and always has music playing as he paints what he called “large-scale abbreviated landscapes.”
Museum curator Liz Miller described Calk’s work as “carefully orchestrated, vibrant bursts of color juxtaposed with soft, less saturated hues that together form majestic, sweeping vistas which beckon viewers to explore them.”
“It’s about expansion and contraction,” Calk said about his work. “It’s about contrast.
“How can you suggest life on a canvass when there is no life?
“I take paint and make light and shadow, and I want to give the viewer a glimpse of what’s in my mind. If it’s too articulate,” he said, “It becomes boring. If you paint the light, you also have to paint the shadows.”
Calk explained that every painting has a major center of interest, a focus, and everything else is abstract. He called it “abstracted realism,” and said it’s the periphery that is abstracted.
He uses thick paint and said, “If it falls off, that’s ok. It’s living, it’s breathing and I encourage people to touch it.”
Havens said that to create well in the abstract, an artist also needs to know how to paint realism, even if it’s not a preferred method.
“Sometimes we have to go back to something like an old world still life because that’s how you hone your original skills.”
Both artists consciously avoid guiding the viewer about what to take away from their work.
“For me,” Havens said, “The figure, the shape of the figure, becomes the vehicle.”
“I want them to interpret it out of their own life.”