He may be a Northerner by birth—one who roamed Europe in his early adulthood before moving to New York City, then the Hudson River Valley—but over the last 22 years, Karl Beckwith Smith has left a lasting artistic mark on the Lowcountry. Ever relaxed in The Spa at Belmond Charleston Place? Those are his 14-foot-tall murals on canvas surrounding the Jacuzzi. Stepped into a house South of Broad? It might be one of about 50 adorned by his brush. A self-taught artist who was one of the first at Princeton to paint for his thesis, the co-owner of downtown’s Halcyon Place Gallery is today kept busy with commissioned works, thanks to clients who keep coming back for his decorative details and storytelling strokes.
Journey to Charleston: I spent 10 years in New York in a Tribeca loft (I was sort of a pioneer in that neighborhood then) before living in the Hudson River Valley for some time. After that, I was ready for a big change. I moved with my husband, Hal Truesdale, to his hometown of Columbia in 1991, and a year later, we made our way to Charleston.
Getting to work: When I first meet with clients, I try to help them zero in on what they’re looking for, then we move to sketches and a color palette, and then I create the painting on canvas in my studio. The process can take up to six months from conception to installation—we do that with a strippable adhesive that makes the work independent from the walls.
Biggest piece yet: A 110-foot-long plantation mural in a house on the Cooper River. I studied and painted the buildings and ecology of the plantation, did different habitats, and got very specific about winter ducks versus summer ducks.
Most unusual client: Recently, a decorator hired me to paint the interior of an elaborate iguana cage. It’s hard to say if the lizard liked it—I didn’t meet him.
Living in color: My home is painted top to bottom—walls and ceilings with classical trompe l’oeil, a tropical mural in one bedroom, a bathroom full of glittering stars.
Recreational art: I’ve been experimenting a lot more with broad forms of color and a more simplified and abstracted way of viewing reality. I show my work at Halcyon Place Gallery, which Hal and I have had for 20 years.
The family business: I’d seen the name “Duyckinck” in our family Bible, and in 1988, I learned my Dutch ancestor, Gerardus Duyckinck, and two others in his family were among the earliest painters in the United States. At the time, I was trying to figure out whether I could become a full-time artist—that revelation may have pushed me over the edge.
Favorite getaway: Every summer, Hal and I stay in an 1895 oriental-style Victorian house we’ve had in the Adirondack Mountains for 36 years. It was the golf clubhouse for a famous resort hotel that burned down in the 1950s. I canoe, hike, swim, commune with nature, and eat blueberries like mad.
See more: Visit Halcyon Place Gallery by appointment at 48 Wentworth St. by calling (843) 860-5157. See more of Smith’s work at www.halcyonplacegallery.com.