Andy Gambrell has lived in New York City, Paris, Miami, Atlanta, and most recently in Hong Kong, so it’s surprising to find an artist of his stature painting in a small studio he built behind his house in West Pelzer, South Carolina. Yet coming back to his rural hometown has always been part of this artist’s journey. “My lifelong plan,” Gambrell says, “has been to acquire the skills, experience, and credibility to return to the Upstate to paint full-time in a studio that I own in the place where I am most inspired, West Pelzer.”
That creative journey began at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts & Humanities and continued at Furman University. While at Furman, a trip to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC proved life-changing. “Coming from a blue-collar background, Modernist art struck me as a sort of game, a conspiracy where people were making money on nonsense,” he concedes. “But when I saw Vir Heroicus Sublimis by Barnett Newman and Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist) by Jackson Pollack, I was thunderstruck by them. I was absolutely shaken to my core.”
After graduating with a double major in studio art and art history, Andy turned down a scholarship to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn to pursue his MFA in painting at the University of Miami. There he studied with Modernist masters—including Darby Bannard, a key figure in the Color Field movement.
Gambrell, who taught art for 13 years, is now concentrating full-time on his own painting practice. His large canvases exert a gripping presence with their bold acrylic colors and geometric angularity—a stellar geometry that derives from his love of stargazing. The subject matter comes from the natural world around him. It’s an alchemy that he has spent more than 20 years cultivating.
“I see my work as part of a dialogue with art history,” says the artist, “but in a more immediate way, the work is a response to my visual environment in South Carolina. I try to simplify nature to the point where it looks monumental. I boil out all the extraneous details and put in as few pieces as necessary to have as much impact as possible.”
Currently, he’s building a body of work and talking with galleries regionally and abroad in order to assert his paintings into the market. As he prepares for the next chapter in his career, Andy feels a sense of cultural responsibility to the area he calls home. In addition to mentoring up-and-coming young artists and helping connect the dots for them to the international art world, he fosters the arts in his own community.
“West Pelzer is a really exciting place to be right now,” Gambrell observes. “I’ve worked to turn around communities in Miami and Atlanta, and I really want to do that here. Quite literally, I want to paint West Pelzer into being.”