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The perfect landscape

Acclaimed artist makes most of his time spent in the Lowcountry.

Story by Carolyn Grant + Photography by Mike Ritterbeck

Artist Joseph Orr paints landscapes of places he likes to visit.

One of those places is Hilton Head Island, where Orr appreciates the natural beauty of the area, especially parts untouched by development or city ordinances.

For 18 years, he has been coming to the island to capture Lowcountry scenes that have become the inspiration for some of his paintings. “When we came out here to visit the first time, Rita (his artist wife) and I fell in love with the place and came close to moving here, but our roots are in the Midwest. We get out here at least once or twice a year,” said Orr, who was recently on the island for the opening of his new show at the Red Piano Gallery.

During his visits, Orr explores the area looking for perfect landscapes that will become the subjects of his work — the marshes, Gullah houses, the culture, small farms and sunsets.

Artist Joseph Orr’s “Landscapes of America” series are scenes from his travels.

“I make the most of my time out here, Orr said. “I’ve got a sketch book and camera and go everywhere around here. All of the different parks and little back roads. I can’t tell you what the names of the roads are, but I’ve been there and visited with a lot of locals to get an idea of the local flavor. It’s a great area. We just absolutely love it.

Orr’s work has garnered worthy recognition through the years. His paintings have been included in “Arts for the Parks” Top 100 competition in Jackson, Wyo., six times – most recently in 2006. His work also has been the subject of several articles focusing on acrylic painting styles and landscapes.

Orr’s style, creating beautiful landscape paintings that capture the essence of a scene, fit with gallery owners Ben and Lyn Whiteside’s vision of bringing in artists with a national presence. “Orr is the first nationally-known landscape artist that we could talk into coming here,” Ben Whiteside said.

Orr’s newest collection on display captures serene Lowcountry views. His paintings convey a sense of solitude and serenity that Orr said is sometimes missing from peoples’ busy lives today. “People have forgotten how to be loners. There are times when you have to get off by yourself, get a boat and go watch the sunrise,” he said. He hopes his paintings help people recognize the peacefulness and beauty of their surroundings. “Well, it gives them a vehicle or way to say there’s something great out there besides TV,” Orr said.

At his Midwest studio in Osage Beach, Mo., Orr pieces together a multitude of his sketches and his photos to create a composite of his painting. “I reflect on that scene and try to get the mood. I’m more about mood creation than I am about an exact replica of a scene,” said Orr. His attention to detail, light and color sets his work apart. To that end, you may see added elements in his work, like in a drawing of a house in his painting titled “Eggs for Sale.”

“The building I saw was just the place. It wasn’t much of a place until I added the chickens,” Orr said. In other paintings, he has added more colors than what may have been seen by the naked eye, or birds soaring above marshes.

Orr creates 35 to 40 paintings a year, with 10 to 12 showcased at the Red Piano Gallery.