How A South Carolina Artist’s Gestural Paintings Channel Feminine Sensuality And Strength


Woman wearing half apron, leaning against door frame, paintings on wall and folding table in foreground

The artist is captured among a framed collection of her figurative paintings at her breezy art studio on the South Carolina coast.

Sandy feet feel just right to Anne Darby Parker. As soon as the weather warms up, she moves her easel outside of her Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, studio and paints in the sand and sun. “That’s where I do my best work,” says the Lowcountry native, who grew up on neighboring Isle of Palms, summered on Kiawah Island and has lived most of her life surrounded by water. Here, the tidal rhythms, gentle sea breeze and laughing gulls are constants that anchor her artistic sensibilities.

Studies of figurative paintings in small notebooks, a collection of paintbrushes, a makeshift palette topped with mixed pigments

Parker's sketchbooks showcase her concepts and in-progress works.

Bench with figurative painting on the paneled wall above it

Capturing a posed model in-studio brings energy and sensuality to South Carolina artist Anne Darby Parker’s paintings.

Charcoal drawing with paint brushes and color wheel

“I always obey the color wheel,” says Parker.

Brushstrokes on a partially painted canvas

Lately, she likes to paint with graphite and acrylic before adding final “lushness” with oils.

Woman standing and painting, easel with artworks to left and table in foreground

The artist’s sunlit Sullivan’s Island studio is a safe harbor for her expressive style.

Despite a background in plein air painting, Parker’s landscapes are emotional, not representational, and her work is focused on the body and, more specifically, the gestural female form. “For a while I was combining plein air and figurative together, but there’s something about the live model that I respond to,” Parker says. “I’m absorbing and translating her information and energy; it’s like entering a meditative space, a sort of flow.” Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that Parker’s semiabstract works are an ode to a feminine strength and sensuality—qualities she links to the warmth and tenacity of her area’s wind-swept barrier islands.

Although Parker took up knitting as her original artistic pursuit at age 3, it wasn’t until her husband’s studies at Harvard brought them to Boston that she finally entered the creative field—as a professional black-and-white portrait photographer. Before long, though, she was painting atop her photos, cutting them up and collaging. “I was just fighting the urge to paint,” admits the mother of three, who is currently represented at Charleston Artist Collective, Birmingham’s Gallery 1930 and Bee Street Gallery in Dallas. 

Fifteen years later, she’s finding freedom in experimenting with mixed media on larger canvases, beginning with acrylic and graphite before adding final “lushness” with oil. In a recent series, she embraced nonclassical hues like hot pink. Likewise, her instinct for art placement in the context of interiors is on full view within the turn-of-the-century cottage she shares with her husband, Scott Parker, an urban planner and landscape architect at Charleston-based DesignWorks.

“One of my favorite things is taking a car-load of paintings to someone’s home and helping them see what I see. I believe bathrooms and kitchens should have great art; forgotten little corners with the right light should have just the right piece,” she says. “I have this sense of where paintings would look really good—it thrills me.”