Artist in Me
Eileen Blyth is a Columbia artist known for her paintings, sculptures and installations of found objects
By Mary Ann Hutcheson
Eileen Blyth knew early in life that she wanted to be an artist.
“I always wanted to draw,” she remembers.
“When, as children, we sat at the table and colored, I wanted to draw my own pictures to color. Once, I drew my little sister in the playpen. My mother counted all the rails on the playpen and compared them to my drawing. They were an exact match. That impressed her, so she continued to nurture my interest.”
Inspired by the world around her, she believed that others saw life’s images as she did. Like many children when they discover they’re different, she began to wonder if something was wrong with her.
Later in life, she was diagnosed with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder.
In college, Blyth studied other artists. American painter, Georgia O'Keeffe, caught Eileen’s attention when she wrote that she saw things differently. Her techniques with light, shadow, and shape changed the outcome of her work. One of O’Keeffe’s more famous quotes seemed to embody Blyth’s feelings about her own art: “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way—things I had no words for,” O'Keeffe wrote.
Blyth says, “That’s when I acknowledged the artist in me. Not only can I paint something that looks like something; I realized that I can paint something that feels like something.”
The experience brought about a shift in how she thought about and embraced her own art.
Now she understands that she was making a spiritual connection with her work. In time, it led to her confidence and acceptance of who she was as an artist.
A Working Artist
In time, Blyth began selling her art in a small antique store in The Historic Charleston City Market. Intrigued customers purchased her drawings, hand-colored greeting cards, and paintings.
She later moved to Columbia, where she worked as typographer and graphic designer.
Eileen continued to work at developing her personal art. Sometimes, on weekends, she traveled to Charleston to visit family. She drove in silence, the interior of her small vehicle providing a private “church” for her reflections. Lost in the concrete structures, pieces of rubber tires, and contrasting lines that comprise our interstates, she found inspiration. Soon, she was creating art – designing and painting on the bits of tires she had collected. People were drawn to her unique creativity and started buying her finished work. She smiles, remembering how much of her inspiration came from those moments in the car.
Eileen still finds many of her art subjects while on the road. Ten-year-old objects might not find their way to a finished work until they find suitable objects with which to merge. When that happens, they become something special for her.
Visit Blyth’s website to view the interactive public art installations that she designs and fabricates with her business partner. The interactive drums engage children of all ages – passersby who want to give them a try.
Sometimes, Blyth likes to stand back and watch. Her stories of laughter or visitors relinquishing life’s stresses to her drums gives her great satisfaction.
“I am blessed to do what I want to do, then receive the confirmation that it makes people happy, she says.”
A mentor, a friend, a role model
In the early 1990s, Eileen had the good fortune to meet the late Laura Spong, a renowned Columbia-based painter, known for her abstract expressionist works.
Eileen and a small group of artists joined Spong for weekly meetings and began creating exhibits. Additionally, Spong and Blyth met once a week away from the studio to talk about their art.
Eileen says, “She gave me the privilege of being her ‘person.’ She was a mentor, a friend, a role model, and in a sense, a mother figure to me. It was an amazing relationship. She inspired me to be a role model as well.”
Pictured on her website, Blyth stands before a large painting that she did while working together with Spong. For over six weeks, in the then 808 Gallery on Lady Street, they painted, shared stories, and worked side-by-side to paint, on 50 feet of blank canvas, what they called, "The Big Paint Project."
“We connected on many different levels, as friends. She had a great sense of humor,” Blyth says, “and I miss her.”
Eileen’s solo exhibition, The Shadow Line, is running January 21-Feb 2
Opening reception is Wednesday, January 22, 2020 5-8pm
Stormwater Studio / Studio 11
413 Pendleton St • Columbia SC 29201