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Arts Profile: Painter Rachel Nerney creates colorful spreads with her food-inspired murals and smaller works

Arts Profile: Painter Rachel Nerney creates colorful spreads with her food-inspired murals and smaller works
February 2023

Look for her latest collection to be released through The Miller Gallery website this month

Crisp red peppers, sliced oranges and grapefruits, oysters on the half shell, and deviled eggs served alongside cocktails: the bright and colorful fare depicted in artist Rachael Nerney’s whimsical murals and smaller paintings is intended to impart the feeling of connection that enjoying a meal together can bring.

A Savannah College of Art and Design graduate with a bachelor’s in fine arts in illustration, Nerney fell in love with painting a bounty of food from farmers markets while on a study-abroad sojourn in the Provence region of France. After graduation, she worked as an in-house artist and sign maker at a Whole Foods Market in the Boston area for four years. 

Rachael Nerney has made a name for herself installing murals, including a wall at Matchstick Social marketing firm’s office.

Since moving to Charleston about five years ago, this multidisciplinary artist has made a name for herself in one of the most prominent dining destinations in the country. She was selected as the 2020 poster artist for the Charleston Farmers Market. Her work is represented by The Miller Gallery and The Gallery at Sweetgrass in Charleston, as well as Art and Light Gallery in Greenville. And her vibrant murals adorn the walls of multiple restaurants (Park & Grove, The Tippling House, and Rancho Lewis), community buildings (Bees Ferry Library and the R.L. Jones Center in Mount Pleasant), and businesses (The Miller Gallery and Matchstick Social) Late this month, her latest collection with the Miller Gallery will be released online.

The side of Park & Grove restaurant, where she painted a design by SDCO Partners.

The artist’s attraction to pretty produce goes more than skin deep. Here, Nerney shares how she believes food—and her artistic renderings of it—can create joy and bring people together.

Building Community: Food allows for deep connections. It fuels us and fills us. It’s kept my family in touch because it’s a love language for us. It can be hard to talk about  [serious] things sometimes, but you can always talk about food. It’s also important for creating community. For example, my boyfriend and I go to the Pour House farmers market every weekend to see what Spade & Clover has, and we look forward to talking to the farmer and his partner. We get excited about the varietals and the possibilities. This is a person-to-person transaction over a shared love.

Food Equality: Charleston is one of the top destinations for food, but there are people that were here before tourism that once had access to the bustling, bursting agriculture, and now they don’t. There’s a huge gap. We have to take care of our farmers and community. Everyone deserves access to food that’s grown here, not just what’s in the store around the corner that’s been put there by a corporation.

(Left) Azalea (gouache and acrylic on canvas, 30 x 24 inches, 2022), artist Rachael Nerney aims to bring joy and encourage connection with others; (Right) Nerney paints a seascape mural at the R.L. Jones Center in Mount Pleasant.

Large-Scale Works: Murals are methodical; that’s what I love about them. I create a thumbnail sketch, then a refined drawing. Then I digitize it. I’ll play around, imposing it on a wall so I can figure out the steps needed for installation. After the design work, I become a construction worker and show up with my tools and ladders. Taking something that was once a tiny drawing in a sketchbook and seeing it 20-feet wide is fun and rewarding.

Setting an Intention: I love the impact of a mural; it’s a spark of joy, a spark of life. People aren’t expecting to walk [by] a giant artwork; that’s the return for me. I want to convey that food isn’t just about eating; it’s also about growing, gathering, cooking, and sharing. My heart is in this—I want all of my projects to have that depth of connection.

Watch artist Rachael Nerney paint a seascape mural at the R.L. Jones Center in Mount Pleasant: