By June Mathews
As Alabama celebrates 200 years of statehood, the Beverly McNeil Gallery in Birmingham’s Lakeview District will be marking the occasion with an exhibition featuring the works of some of the state’s most talented artists.
“State of the Art: Celebrating the Bicentennial with Our Alabama Artists” will run Sept. 13-30. The public is invited.
“We have always been proud of the home state artists we represent, and this celebration was the perfect reason to curate an exhibition featuring those artists and inspired by Alabama’s natural beauty, rich history and diverse people,” said gallery director Brittany Barnes. “This is a great opportunity to see a variety of artwork in terms of subjects, mediums and styles.”
More than a dozen artists will be participating in the show. Among them is Perry Austin, a Sylacauga native known for his renderings of rural Alabama from The Shoals area to the Gulf Coast, as well as for his colorful, almost dreamlike Birmingham city scenes.
Represented by the McNeil gallery since it opened and its predecessor, the Loretta Goodwin Gallery, before that, Austin has a long history with the Birmingham art scene. That connection, along with his captivating paintings of Alabama, made him a natural choice for the Bicentennial exhibition.
“I am pleased to paint Alabama as often as possible,” he said. “Art has allowed me to travel in every state except Hawaii and Rhode Island – and I mean driving through, soaking up the scenery and speaking to people. Alabama is just as beautiful and compelling as any other, and I love our state.”
Born into an artistic family, the now 76-year-old Austin began painting at about the age of 13 with a set of oil paints bought for him by his mother. He also has three brothers who have all painted at some point, putting the four in the position of serving as one another’s most candid sources of feedback.
“We would all go out to paint outside, and it’s amazing how differently we each saw the same subject,” he said. “It was a great help to me because criticism flowed freely, and it was always constructive. We were always best friends and still are, and we also have other things in common, like fly fishing, golf and hunting.”
In 1998, the brother artists were featured in “Southwest Art” magazine in an article titled “Family Connections.” Soon afterward, Austin began his full-time pursuit of fine art. Before that, he’d made his living in other art-related ways while continuing to paint outside office hours.
There’s Nothing Like Fine Art
Austin’s first experience as a professional artist was in the aerospace industry as a technical illustrator for companies as far away as California and as close to home as Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. He later became vice president of marketing and sales for an international process equipment company, a position in which his artistic tendencies continued to serve him well. That’s where he was working when he decided to take the plunge into full-time painting.
“I’ve done advertising design and a lot of marketing and illustration,” he said. “But none of it has been as much fun as fine art.”
Known as an observant and inventive painter, Austin’s overall style is what he describes as suggestive realism.
“It’s not too loose or too tight. It is representative of the scene, not a copy. I try to use the subject to create an attractive piece, never to just try and copy,” he said. “I love the challenge of painting to see if I can illustrate my feeling for a particular subject.”
Instead of waning with the passing of time, his enthusiasm for his art continues.
“It’s been rewarding and fun,” he said. “I get excited every day about painting.”
For more on Austin’s art, visit perryaustinfineart.com.
Other Alabama artists in the “State of the Art” exhibition include Dirk Walker, John Lonergan, Janet Lucas Back and Nan Cunningham, to name a few. All the art and participating artists may be viewed through the Exhibitions link at beverlymcneilgallery.com.
The Beverly McNeil Gallery is at 605 28th St. South, Birmingham.