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Painter Honor Marks praises the earth with intricate nature studies
In 2004, Honor Marks received a call from a Washington, D.C., gentleman who had seen her work while vacationing in Charleston. “He wanted me to paint these lotus blossoms from the national park where he worked,” says the artist, who’s known for her light-filled yet mysterious oils of Southeastern wildflowers. “He told me the flowers had bloomed from 960-year-old seeds found on an archeological dig in China.”
Though not a botanical expert, Marks has always been enchanted by stories like this. As a girl sloshing through local marshes behind her father, she developed an eye for the unusual and profound. “I remember the first rare wildflower I found with my dad—a beautiful pink orchid,” she muses. “I’ve been fascinated ever since.”
Marks fostered her artistic talent at Sewanee, where she studied classic painting technique. Lured home to Charleston in 1997 by a design job, she now paints full-time, devoting each brush stroke to the aesthetic beauty and metaphorical intricacies that she finds within her subjects. “Nature simply occurs,” she remarks when asked about her inspiration. “God, or the Divine, or the Creator—call it whatever you will—made these incredibly complicated and beautiful things. My paintings celebrate such miracles.”
As does the painter herself. Every surface of her sun-drenched home studio is laden with natural treasures—dried beetles found on the King Street sidewalk, crabs washed up on Sullivan’s Island, shells collected by a friend’s daughter, stingray egg sacs from her childhood—but the only wildflowers in sight bloom on canvases. A self-proclaimed conservationist, Marks explains that she would never cut living wildflowers. Instead, she relies on photographs and field sketches when painting their stories.
“I think conservation is a struggle in Charleston,” she explains. “Our city is so beautiful that everyone wants to live here. People seem open to protecting our wildlife, but at the same time, more condos are being built and wetlands destroyed.” With environmental protection in mind, Marks has expanded her collections to include hauntingly luminous portrayals of indigenous wildlife, such as the downy woodpecker, the horseshoe crab, and the whelk shell. And her upcoming exhibition at The Real Estate Studio will showcase new works, including depictions of wildflowers and a specially requested luna moth.
“Conservation is a message I always try to portray, but in the end it comes down to painting my soul,” she explains. “Each work begins with something I’m interested in, then becomes a greater piece of who I am.” Just as Marks illuminates mortality in her painting of the Chinese lotuses that bloomed nearly one millennium late, her artistic message is one of eternal hope for a creation worth protecting.