When talking about her own paintings, Susan Irish, owner of West Ashley's new art space Fabulon, points out that she imbues each of her pieces with meaning, especially one founded on her political concerns. Her Mother Nature series, for example, includes a painting that looks like a nice landscape but actually, in its strokes and lines, condemns fracking, a form of natural gas extraction that is detrimental to the environment. "Mother Nature is not happy about that at all," she says.
A self-proclaimed hippie feminist, Irish isn't shy about airing her grievances with the world's problems. Nor is she averse to offering solutions. "Everything would be easier," says Irish, "if we all talked to each other — if we held hands and talked." Irish's open heart doesn't just lend itself to her art, but to another one of her passions, along with painting, teaching, and promoting new artists, she wants to help victims of domestic abuse in Charleston. Irish says that when she first moved to South Carolina she saw more abuse than she had up North, which is why she's utilized Fabulon to raise awareness, creating a poster that she plans to sell during Valentine's Day along with a love-based exhibit. The poster shows four words intertwined: partnership, solitude, independence, and intimacy.
Irish has Christmas trees set up in her shop and she plans to keep them up through February, when a number of artists will display works under the theme of "Not your typical love story." Fabulon guests are invited to place items under the trees for My Sister's House, a local nonprofit that shelters victims of domestic abuse. "When you have a place in the public, you have a responsibility," says Irish.
When we first heard of Fabulon, we were a little wary. The name alone suggested something altogether glittery — not exactly what we want out of place that claims to be both an art school and gallery. But when we walked into Irish's center for art and education, our concerns vanished. Fabulon is actually, kind of fabulous.
Fabulon opened this past August, a time that marked what Irish calls, "all of my careers coming together." A former public school art teacher, Irish focuses on a variety of classes in her new space — from beginning kids' painting to more advanced adult classes. Irish is also an artist, specializing in encaustic works — pieces created from wax-based paint.
Irish's artistic talents and political concerns were honed in her years of school, with degrees in interior design, art education, and curriculum integration. Originally from Massachusetts, Irish experienced a bit of culture shock upon her arrival in the Lowcountry. Needless to say, she didn’t initially see West Ashley as a bustling city bursting at its cultural seams. What she did see was an area, “on the verge.” Her decision to re-vamp the old building she eventually bought, located off of 61 on Wappoo Road and most recently a wine and design place, was cemented by her own willpower. “If you build it,” she says, “they will come.”
And they have. Since the August opening, Fabulon has hosted several art shows and a number of classes. Irish waves her arm across the expanse of the gallery, nodding at pieces of furniture both for sale and for use in furniture-painting classes, gently sloping wooden bowls, a case of hand-crafted jewelry, and a wall of portraits featured in December’s exhibit, A New Take on the Portrait. She points to the wall over the kitchen sink, located near the back of the building, where a local man, Ryan Siegmann serves as a kind of artist-in-residence, coming to Fabulon to paint since he doesn’t have space in his home — a sailboat.
Irish is eager to teach any and everyone in the Lowcountry how to paint — after years of putting paintbrushes in the hands of kids, she believes that every person has an inner artist. “You have to foster the idea that creativity comes from within,” she says. “I give them the tools so they can see ideas out in the world.” Irish sees creating art as speaking a language. “You can say, ‘Look what the paint can do, look what the lines can do.’”
Irish also cares about the average Jane and Joe coming into Fabulon just to look around. “I want it to feel like utopia,” she says. “I want it to be peoples’ happy place,” adding that she doesn’t want people to feel intimidated or pressured to buy anything.
Some people may be seeking an art space after Avondale’s SpaceCraft closed this past September. While SpaceCraft’s mission included more DIY and craft-based classes, it still served as an art hub for creatives west of the Ashley. Irish hopes to join forces with SpaceCraft’s owners one day, acknowledging that while these art space creators share similar interests, they also share similar struggles. “It’s a hard business to have,” she says.
Irish understands that being an artist is also a hard business to be in — and she really wants up-and-coming artists to use Fabulon as a launching point. Many new artists work so much on their art that they struggle with the whole “how do I get known” question. “I’ll take care of the other stuff,” she promises. Irish proves this point with January’s current exhibit, a display of bright floral pieces by local painter Julia Deckman, appropriately titled Garden Party.
Fabulon is located at 1017 Wappoo Road. Learn more at fabulonart.com.