Local artist, author and Claflin alumnus Floyd Gordon will release his book, “The Unique Art of Floyd Gordon,” during a book signing from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15, at the Orangeburg Country Club.
The event, hosted by the law firm of Johnson, Toal and Battiste, will include an exhibition of Gordon’s art and a book and art sale. To attend, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 803-536-9610 or 803-539-1782.
“Sixty years of my artworks – nearly 500 watercolor and acrylic paintings – are faithfully reproduced in the first of two books I plan to publish,” Gordon said. “This book was three years in the making, and I enjoyed each moment reflecting back through my life.
“I think you will agree that my art celebrates the unforgettable heritage, history and culture that we have all experienced.”
Sunday’s exhibit will feature 50 of Gordon’s framed works, as well as brief remarks by the artist and those individuals associated with the book.
“The Unique Art of Floyd Gordon” is itself a work of art. It contains 368 richly illustrated pages with gilded edges and an eight-page gatefold that reveals several nearly 2-foot-long paintings. The large, leather-bound volume – published by Cecil Williams Photography/Publishing of Orangeburg – includes a protective slipcase.
To accompany the vivid reproductions of his works throughout the book, Gordon has included commentary about the inspirations for many of his paintings. “The Unique Art of Floyd Gordon” is a limited-edition publication.
For six decades, Gordon has captured the customs, culture, history and traditions of people largely of the South. While he pays homage to farmers and crop growers in many of his works, Gordon equally lifts up musicians and performing artists in his Jazz Series.
Gordon grew up in Rowesville, S.C., the son of a sharecropper and one of 13 children. With his penchant for hard work, love of the land and devotion to detail, Gordon would almost certainly have been a successful farmer. But his talent for telling stories and detailing those stories in brilliant-colored pictures took him down a different path.
“I’ve always been fascinated by colors,” Gordon said. “The first time I really remember applying my fascination was when I started school, and the teacher gave me crayons and a coloring book. I was so fascinated by the colors and the pictures that I colored every page. I didn’t have another coloring book, so I drew pictures to color, and took my book to the teacher.”
By the time he was in second grade, Gordon was using his skills to produce signs, work boards and other teaching aids for his teachers.
“Back then, they didn’t call it art. They called it drawing,” he laughed.
“I remember working as a young boy to save money to buy my first set of paints. It cost me $3.60,” Gordon continued. “Then I saved up more money to buy a three-legged wooden easel, which cost me $3.39.
“When you work hard to buy things important to you, you remember those things. You tend to hold on to those things. I still have the easel I bought nearly 60 years ago.”
Gordon sold his first painting when he was in the seventh grade. That same year, his principal cleared the lunchroom and set up a gallery for the budding artist to display his works.
Sixty years and thousands of paintings later, Gordon said that was his first real break as an artist. Gordon also gives much credit for his artistic abilities to his collegiate experience at Claflin University.
“From day one, it was always hands-on, from the president down to the custodians,” he said. “Everyone cared and played a personal role in my development.”
He first visited Claflin in the eighth grade, when his first art teacher, James McFadden (’54), introduced him to Arthur Rose, the University’s art chair. Rose would go on to teach Gordon how to wield a paint brush and capture life on canvas.
While at Claflin, Gordon was drafted by the U.S. Army and stationed in Germany. Gordon said he remembers being inspired by the bright lights of the German city of Nuremberg as he descended from the darkness of night in a plane. “It was so striking at the time,” he said.
He returned home in 1969, but didn’t re-enroll at Claflin. Gordon worked various jobs, including at the U.S. Postal Service, and owned an art gallery in Hollis, N.Y.
He rekindled the desire to fully delve into his art upon returning to South Carolina in 1978, but times were tough, and Gordon wound up working at a gas station in Orangeburg.
It was at that station, by chance, that Gordon saw Claflin’s sixth president, the late H.V. Manning. Manning encouraged Gordon to return to Claflin to pursue his art degree.
“He lit a fire under me that I needed to finish what I started,” Gordon said. “Claflin has always been my extended family.”
After finishing Claflin, Gordon’s career catapulted. He traveled across the nation for art shows, and opened Unique Gallery and Frame Shop in Orangeburg to sell his works.
Over the years, his artwork has been collected by not only the rich and famous, but by the plain and ordinary, as well. And that’s the way Gordon likes it.
“I want my paintings to have meaning to all people who see them and enjoy them,” he said.
His gallery is as much a museum of Southern culture as it is a building that houses Gordon’s paintings. Among his current works is a large canvas filled with brilliant reds and oranges. At first glance, it appears to be a young woman hanging out laundry and dreaming of her life. However, a more detailed inspection reveals that the young woman is admiring two quilts that tell a detailed story of changes in the rural South.
Gordon says to paint a picture, he has to visualize it.
“I keep adding colors and details until it looks good to me,” he said. “If it’s not right to me, it won’t be right to anyone else. I paint pictures that I like, and if I do them right, other people will like them, too.”
In addition to Sunday’s event, Gordon’s book and art will be featured in an exhibit Jan. 13-Feb. 9, 2014, at the Columbia Museum of Art. And from Feb. 1-28, the Avery Cultural Center at the College of Charleston will exhibit some of his works.