Park Avenue property provides unique venue for artist guild exhibit

Photo by Warren Westcott Bill Jackson, who enjoys creating both paintings and sculpture, stands next to one of the pieces that ornaments his Park Avenue garden. Visitors can see it and other works when the Aiken Artist Guild holds an exhibit there in November.

Several in the block of stores between Fairfield and Union streets on Park Avenue are now occupied by businesses that are bringing a new flavor to the row that is anchored at one end by the Aiken Visitor’s Center and Train Museum.

The Aiken Artist Guild is planning to take advantage of the upsurge to this area by calling upon Bill and Becky Jackson to share the property at the corner of Park Avenue and Fairfield Street that has been their home for a number of years. When the guild asked the Jacksons to host an art show in November, the Jacksons very graciously agreed, so the organization is busily planning the details of the show.

The Jackson home plays a part in Aiken history for it was once Johnson’s Drugstore, a business run by a highly respected black physician and pharmacist in the days of segregation. Prior to that, it was Bishop’s Grocery Store.

By the time the Jacksons purchased the property, it was rundown. Their purchase included the building on the corner which is bisected by a staircase leading to upstairs offices, a rather narrow building next to it with just one level, a building at the back that Jackson now uses for welding his metal sculpture and a weedy vacant lot that had once held a store-type building that had burned.

When the Jacksons bought the property, they considered simply tearing the whole thing down and starting afresh with something of modern design. Thoughts of preservation prevailed. When the Frank Gehry house that Jackson dreamed of got put aside, the couple’s efforts to convert the property to new uses gave the block an asset that will enhance other changes to come.

Jackson’s canvases will be included in the guild exhibit, hanging on the brick wall inside the narrow, one-story building that is a part of his complex. His comparatively large paintings reflect the abstract and expressionistic style that he favors. Right now, he is at work on a series inspired by “Dante’s Inferno,” the first part of the epic work readers know as the Divine Comedy.

When he read the work, Jackson was inspired by the imagery to translate it into painting, and he has spent hours at his easel explicating the medieval story with oils and acrylics. Jackson has had three one-man shows at City Art in Columbia, a gallery that frequently carries his work, and the Inferno collection may eventually be a candidate for a show there.

The work of Aiken Artist Guild members will be displayed on the wall opposite Jackson’s wall. This exhibit will provide a chance for its artists to present work that might be wrapped and put under the Christmas tree. Size matters when it comes to pricing art, so most pieces will be small, but all will be original, artist-created and ready to be taken home.

Fingers are crossed that weather will permit use of the garden that replaces the weedy vacant lot. Jackson designed the garden himself, inspired by an Isamu Noguchi garden he had visited in Houston where his daughter lives, and did much hands-on work to bring his plan to fruition.

His inspiration, the Cullen Sculpture Garden, features three-dimensional work by artists of note. The garden contains Jackson’s own work, some in metal and some in other materials, along with a few pieces by other artists.

Rocks, an essential element of a Japanese garden, are placed in various places as underpinnings for plantings. Jackson said that living in other parts of the country with gray sky in winter and no green trees gave him an appreciation for South Carolina pines, but this garden has more than the usual variety of evergreens, all of them soft and graceful and adding to the serenity.

Weather permitting, the garden will provide a setting on Saturday for demonstrations of painting by AAG members. Ann LeMay and Jane Popiel have already agreed to demonstrate their painting techniques; others may be enlisted before the event takes place.

If you have seen this garden and wondered what lies beyond the iron gate, the Aiken Artist Guild exhibit offers a chance for you to find out. This special art show by guild members takes place on Friday from 5 until 8 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. The public is invited to enjoy the art and the venue.