Orangeburg FAC hosts rural creatives exhibition

Creative Connectors: The Rural Experience

  • Wednesday March 8-April 21, 2023

Visual artists, who reside and work in places where fields and trees outnumber roads and street signs, create works that are uninfluenced by trends or movements. And, they may not have much in common with other rural creators. What they often do share is an artistic expression evolved from contemplation and observations that imagination in solitude can produce.

Imagination in solitude is what the six artists whose works make up Creative Connectors: The Rural Experience have in common. Even though their styles, media and themes are vastly different, the connectors are their rural expressions. The excitement and delight these juxtaposed pieces bring to this exhibition communicates the same harmony the six artists have for each other and the work they have produced.

They came together from across the state to bring their contributing collection to the Orangeburg County Fine Arts Center: Terrance Washington, from Barnwell County, Ian Thomas Dillinger, from Colleton County, James E. Wilson, III, from Bamberg County, Robert Matheson, from Newberry County. Ernest Lee is from Richland County. Rajasekhar Yarraguntla teaches in Barnwell County.

“Seeing the artists greet each other with such warmth, helping one another with final preparations before hanging the works, listening to their lively conversations, it quickly became obvious that the Arts Center has a very special show by these confident, energetic artists,” said Vivian Glover, director of community arts and development. “They have an air of excitement around them. Combined, they pull together something current and significant out of South Carolina. And this dynamic came from rural perspectives.”

Portions of this exhibition were previously shown at the Aiken Center for the Arts. For this show, several new works were added by artists, including all the works by Robert Matheson. The invitation from the Orangeburg County Fine Arts Center was summed up by Dillinger. “It was encouraging to the group. To have another opportunity to be shown. It inspired me to make new work to be seen.” The exhibition, located at 649 Riverside Drive, Orangeburg, 29115, opens on Wednesday March 8, 2023, and runs through April. 21, 2023. The Artists’ Reception is Wednesday, March 15, from 6-8 p.m., and is free and open to the public. For additional information, call 803.536.4074 or email

Creative Connectors: The Rural Experience, as an exhibition, is supported and has been encouraged by the South Carolina Arts Commission. The program is funded in part by grants from USDA- Rural Development as well as from a Neighborworks America grant won by the Center for a Better South.

Ernest Lee is probably the best known of the artists having honed his own reputation by painting and selling his pieces in a devised “outdoor street corner gallery.” His iconic dancing chickens are popular and recognizable. For Creative Connectors, he has brought a variety of less seen themes, where his masterly use of colors and visual perspective show a greater, more reflective talent. “Most people know me as the chicken artist. This time I wanted to show my other paintings. Rainbow in the Sky and Deep in the South, two of Lee’s other works are included in the show. “Painting is a privilege and a blessing,” says Lee, who has painted all his life.

James Wilson, III, has been a photographer for over 25 years capturing images in deeply rural settings that strike him as unique or as natural phenomena, which he regards as an experience akin to reverence. “I look for something different, uncommon. Something that you won’t see again.” He includes the solitary and long-deserted homes he spots while driving in Pickens County. “Back in the day most people lived in small houses alongside a road. Now they are dilapidated. Ten or twenty years from now they will be gone,” Wilson observes, adding that they are architecturally significant. “Their structures say something about the people who lived there. I try to imagine those lives were during their time, to appreciate how people used their homes.”

From a child, Wilson was entranced by clouds and skies. Many of his images illustrate his awe for the changing formations and colors. “I’ve never seen anything as rare as the shifting shapes and colors found in the sky.” His collection consists of images capturing light and hues in the heavens not only in rural environments, but anywhere he travels.

Travel is what Rajasekhar Yarraguntla did leaving India in 2014 for the United States finding himself an educator in the most rural sections of Mississippi and Louisiana, before accepting a teaching position in Barnwell County. Still teaching in a remote area, where the nearest stores and businesses are miles away, he is as unique as his art, with his use of flower patterns and colors. Yarraguntla began teaching himself art during his own school days. “I like to experiment with natural materials and to represent nature in my work,” he says of his art, which was recognized by India’s Ministry of Education. “I apply different materials like dried grass sticks and magazines upon acrylics.” Elegant Beauty on hardboard showing an Indian woman styling her hair, uses natural grass culms collected in India, with different precision cuts and colors to form her image.

Coming from a culture with thousands of years cultivating the arts in paintings, sculptors, pottery, and textiles, Yarraguntla, is self-assured experimenting with modern, abstract compositions including those of Hindu gods like “Ganesha” and “OM.” He is intertwining traditional and sacred art, from his perspective of the past and present now influenced by his years in the rural South.

Terrance Washington, also an educator, has roots entrenched in Blackville. His paintings are a tribute to his affection and devoted appreciation of the artistic beauty his sees. That same sensitivity takes measure of the world from his homebase, especially these parts of the world that can be perilous for a young Black man. Living in rural domesticity doesn’t divert his attention from watchfulness nor the urge to articulate the continued struggle for justice. His works managed to convey aesthetic messaging using rich colors and defining lines. “I see myself as a modern-day Impressionist illustrating what is going on in the world around me.”

Washington says he wants to create works that evoke conversations, that prompt people to think especially about the role of art in his time. His colors are bold and alive, and subtle and intimate at the same time. Love 44, Grove Like That, and Woman in Thought, who figure is mother, grandmother, sister, wife, proud but contemplating, draws the viewer into the past and present themes in his work.

Robert Matheson digital images celebrate the present but with a broad historical premise that has captured his imagination since moving to Newberry from Utah, via California, becoming engrossed in the history of South Carolina. He agrees that South Carolina, as a state, may have the most significant places and fascinating people of the 50 states. His current focus is the Revolutionary War battles and in particular a battle in Orangeburg. “Fortunately, there were no causalities, but it was a significant battle,” observes Matheson a digital artist. Digitizing prints for his contribution to the exhibition “really pushed the limits of my digital art skills while telling the story of the Surrender of Orangeburg, which to my knowledge has never been illustrated before.” He is excited about introducing a key element of the war for independence to the area. “I hope the community enjoys it and learn a bit about Orangeburg from interpretation. I know I did.”

Matheson, who describes his work as “using technology as the paintbrush” noted that the title of the series is Re-Imagining the Surrender of Orangeburg. “I trained an Ai to blend a sketch in my style with descriptions of the American Revolution battle that took place on May 10 and 11, 1781, in Orangeburg.”

Ian Thomas Dillinger from Colleton County creates and actively lives the life of an outdoorsman residing in a rural South Carolina setting. Dillinger makes his home beside the Edisto River in Walterboro. A former educator, Ian now farms, does carpentry, and paints inspired by the rural decay and natural beauty of the river and its inhabitants. He is known for his reuse of natural and man-made materials in the creation of his work. Stop Y’all,” a graphic representation of the reappropriation of cast away materials and common place signage in the rural South. “I hope visitors to the Arts Center are intrigued by the experimental techniques I use to demonstrate how art and nature can ingeniously and harmoniously make a statement.”