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Landscape painter Mickey Williams stages a comeback, returning to his Broad Street gallery

Landscape painter Mickey Williams stages a comeback, returning to his Broad Street gallery
April 2023
PHOTOGRAPHER: 

Willams hosts the first exhibit in the Broad Street space on April 7



Artist Mickey Williams is hosting an exhibit on April 7 called “Along the Broken Coast: Fall through Winter Landscapes” at the 54½ Broad Street studio where he worked in the ’90s.

Mickey Williams is well acquainted with 54½ Broad, a sparse yet elegant space soon to become a second home to his moody landscape paintings. But the artist has no intention of parting with his work’s place of origin—the cozy art studio on Sullivan’s Island, where he often sends out reports from “Mayberry by the Sea” on his Instagram feed. “There’s something magical and healing about the ocean,” he muses. 

Williams, who grew up on Isle of Palms, did not always aspire to create. He initially wanted to be a fighter pilot, but one of his third-grade teachers—“a hippie with a handlebar mustache”—saw something special in Williams, a troublemaker at the time. Specifically, the teacher predicted he would become an artist and, to encourage him, offered slide shows on art history and the opportunity to express himself with paint. “He was ahead of his time and was my first early influence,” Williams notes.

Decades later, after becoming a protégé of large-scale artist John Carroll Doyle, Williams rented gallery space at the top of the same building on Broad, where Doyle rented the first floor. The young artist made a name for himself, taking the top prize at Piccolo Spoleto two years in a row in the early ’90s and painting works that have been displayed in prominent corporate collections and the homes of governors and ambassadors. 

Along the Way (oil on canvas, 24 x 26 inches, 2023)

This month, he’s staging something of a comeback, holding a show in the building in the courtyard, his first on Broad Street since 2007. “I had to give up the second floor, but now I have this floor back,” he notes. “The universe always puts me in places I’ve been most creative.” Here, he shares how art helped him overcome a tough time in his life and his plans for the future.

On John Doyle’s Influence: There was a restaurant called The Colony House; it was one of the nice restaurants when I was growing up. They let me hang a few paintings there, and I thought I had absolutely arrived. This was in 1990. I’d been selling small paintings for $50 or $75 around that time. One day, John Doyle came into Magnolia’s, where I was working the door. I introduced myself and said, ‘I want to be just like you. I’m Mickey Williams.’ He replied, ‘Where can I see your work?’ He went to see and came back 30 minutes later full of encouragement, inviting me to visit his studio. From there, we bonded. 

Carolina Moon (oil on canvas, 48 x 60 inches, 2023)

Staying Focused: I left this space [his Broad Street studio] in 2008 during the [recession]. That was when life unraveled—my marriage, my business—and I went into a deep spiral. Next thing I knew, I was living in my studio, roughing it with outdoor showers and no heat. I went from selling every painting to barely eking out a living. I had the romantic notion I would get back to where I was—just had to hit rock bottom first. I would go to the beach, set daily goals, and watch the sunrise, which I felt was symbolic. I walked the beach three times daily and started reconnecting with people. I noticed my mood improving. And I got back to work, refocusing on painting. I would stop to walk and reflect at sunset. It was a discipline, and it was better than any therapy or pill.

Williams said he wanted to convey what he thinks heaven is and that it exists in this world through his painting, Heaven (oil on canvas, 48 x 72 inches, 2022).

Returning to Broad Street: For the first show, I’m considering ocean paintings. I’ve had such a crazy journey, but being along that coastline has been healing for me. On the beach, seeing the ocean and the stars, you feel like your insurmountable problems are insignificant. I’m going to try to do a few shows here every year.

Creative Process: Once I start a painting, it becomes like a road trip. You go with the flow of the detours. It doesn’t matter—you’re going to get there. And that’s how painting is. I start with a plan in my head, but from there it turns into this organic being that moves on its own.