J Michael McGuirt’s new show hanging in the halls of Harbison Theatre says his show was inspired by none other than his hometown, Camden, SC.
“I was born in Camden, raised in Camden. Love Camden and I kind of alluded to being in the area. You’re exposed to a lot of art; got the Fine Art Center there and a lot of musical programs, so I was raised around that and inspired by that, and then Camden in itself is a really beautiful town,” says McGuirt.
McGuirt is a self-taught artist who initially set out for a degree outside of the art field, yet art was continuously a part of his life, and so he took hold of that. He started with sculptures but it wasn’t until a few years ago that he would discover the medium that would be found in a majority of his work.
“I went to Furman University and have a business degree, but I’ve always been creative. … I’ve actually made sculpted dolls before, a long, long time ago; but probably about four years ago I was introduced to acrylic painting and I was like, ‘I love acrylics.’ And they dry fast and you’ve got to really work with it, unlike oils. You know oils take a long, long time to dry and, I had tried an oil painting when I was in college. I just went and bought supplies and was like, ‘I’m gonna do an oil painting,’ which of course didn’t work out. I was like, that’s just really juvenile looking you know, no classes or whatever,” McGuirt explains.
Since the decision to work with acrylic paint, McGuirt has developed a very unique technique with his work. Rather than thinning his paint with a paint thinner, he simply uses water and works with his painting while it is completely wet, rather than waiting for layer after layer to dry as typically done with acrylic paintings.
“… I really want to work with color and not [be] so constrained. So, I started watching it and messing around with it. And there’s a lot of people who do the flow work now and they make products that are thinned acrylic paints, and so they’re layering them like- well, I want to do that but I want to do it a little differently. So, it took about a year and a half to develop the technique … You’ve really got to get all of the motion and the life and the depth, all at one time and that was the trick – [that] and controlling. You’re thinning the paint and letting it flow …,” says McGuirt.
On September 7, 2018, Harbison Theater opened a gallery exhibition for McGuirt’s collection known as “Form and Flow,” in which McGuirt’s new technique is amply exhibited. Harbison began the process of hanging art on their lobby walls nearly three years ago, however, it wasn’t until Executive Director, Kristen Cobb joined the team nearly a year ago that the art has really began to take off, starting with McGuirt.
“I’ve known Mike McGuirt for pretty much, most of our lives, 20 plus years. And I’ve really watched him evolve as such a talented artist and the type of work he does is so fascinating … He approached me about doing the show and I really loved the idea of having his handmade robots,” Cobb says.
While most of the work found in this show is Abstract paintings, McGuirt has also brought in three dimensional figures that most people call “Robots,” along with a couple of modern, geometric black and white paintings. McGuirt is a fan of modernism, and through the inspiration of the Bauhaus movement and his love for modern work, he was able to develop these pieces, which also play into his show at Harbison Theater.
“There was a school in Germany, Bauhaus, and I’ve always liked modern stuff and appreciated, you know, the modernism and it was the fore runner of that … Their students were also known for their parties and the wild, wacky costumes that they designed. They were geometric but they were asymmetrical and they used circles and squares and curves. But it was like, one side of the head would be one color and then the leg would be that color. So, it was balanced yet it was still skewed. And I’m like, okay, that’s what I want … So, the inspiration for the three-dimensional figures came from that,” Michael explains.
With this show at Harbison Theater, McGuirt wants people to have their own experience through his work. “People really want to be engaged by a painting,” he says. “They want to relate to it. So, I’m like, let me give them something really complex and I like being complex in a painting. People, no matter what their background and what their mood is, they might relate to that painting. They may see something in there that I didn’t see and I’ve noticed that really depends on the person.”
You can also find work of McGuirt in other locations, such as in his own gallery in Camden, SC. Outside of art, McGuirt does real-estate and owns The Heritage Antique Mall, which holds his very own art gallery. McGuirt is also a member of Sumter Country Artist Guilds which is associated with the Sumter Country Gallery of Art, where his painting of a young bird recently won a People’s Choice Award. “I made it bigger in its chest like it’s taking a deep breath and it’s got its eyes closed, and I’m like, it’s about to fly. I called it ‘Gathering Courage,’” McGuirt says.
McGuirt’s work will show at Harbison Theatre through October and more shows by a variety of local artists are on the way. Cobb wants to continue supporting local art and developing more extensive relationships with local artists. After working for The Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County for over ten years, Cobb appreciates the value of local relationships. “I know how important it is to have those relationships with the local artist and to be able to give back to the local community … Columbia is very fortunate. We have some amazing artists,” says Cobb.
To see McGuirt’s work at Harbison Theater, tour the venue during any of their operating hours. Support local artist, local art and local venues - these are the things that give Columbia, SC, so much character.
Intern, the Jasper Project
Learn more about Bauhaus at