Erin Eckman is having a spring cleaning. In her front room, a stack of work dating back to her high school days leans against the couch. In the living room, her daughter's watching Saturday morning cartoons. The clutter, which she apologetically dismisses as a "minor disaster," gives her house a busy, lived-in feel. But the high school work is a set of imaginative paintings, and instead of family photos, contemporary artwork adorns the walls, with more displayed on tables and bookcases. All of it is for sale.
Eckman's James Island home doubles as an ersatz gallery with viewing by appointment only. While she's willing to pay a commission to commercial galleries for mainstream shows, she usually cuts out the middle man by inviting collectors into her crib.
"People have to get adventurous to come out here," says Eckman, admitting it's sometimes hard to coax clients away from the more prominent downtown galleries. Once the coaxing's done, however, visitors find the expedition worthwhile. Eckman describes herself as, "somewhere between abstract and realism, with expressionist tendencies." She paints emotions as effectively as she does figures and landscapes, with a preference for acrylics and an unusual experimental edge.
"Sometimes I get very, very funky," she says, pointing out her human/stuffed-animal hybrid in "My Favorite Game." Other times she evokes heightened sensations with confident colors; "The Static in the Void" captures a "déjà vu meets vertigo" feeling. Eckman is often inspired by her environment — an old bike in the garage, a shaft of light through the bedroom door, or cracks in the bathroom tiles are all jumping-off points for playful works of art.
She also shows pieces by other artists, including a few by Sherry Browne. While she'll continue to contribute to group shows and plans a solo exhibit at Browne's Folly Beach Studio Open gallery later this year, it's the home gallery that allows her to build a rapport with collectors, discovering what appeals to them. "Sometimes they just have a large wall to fill," she smiles.
Eckman is one of a smattering of local artists who circumvent the gallery-only route, from inventive, classically-trained realist painter J. Douglas Balentine to Ravenel-based Arnold Edmondson, who's filled his garden with sculptures and transformed his trailer home into an artwork by giving it a full, unorthodox paint job.
Other artists have had their fill of physical galleries altogether, turning instead to a strong web presence. The Tiemaker's Gallery site (www.tiemakersgallery.com) promises "art with soul" that's "slightly off the beaten track," with examples of photography by David Edwards and painting by Emily Edwards and Matt Overend.
"We closed our gallery on Spring Street after five years," says David Edwards, who also runs a photography studio. "We wanted to simplify our lives, but we keep the website open." Edwards and his wife Emily found that the best reason for having a gallery was to motivate them to produce: "There's nothing like having your own gallery to make you work." The worst aspect, though, was the time-consuming, day-to-day running of the place. "It takes a lot of energy to promote and have shows. But we had some good, successful ones."
The artists also found their client base limited by their location. "We never had any grand illusions about competing with the very small, cliquish group of galleries in the historical district," Edwards says. Lesson learned, the artists shut up shop and displayed their wares on the web. Simple, visually effective, and slightly odd, the site's a good reflection of the contributors and their work.
So should artists stick with commercial galleries that take a commission, or show their work themselves? Edwards believes they should do whatever it takes to get their output in front of eyeballs. "If you have space or someone willing to give you a space, you should definitely go for it."