The City Magazine Since 1975

Painting the Town

Painting the Town
May 2013
Carl Palazzolo’s annual sojourn to a Charleston garden inspires watercolor works

Memory and loss have always been central elements of painter Carl Palazzolo’s work, but the theme took on added poignancy when his friend and fellow artist, Stephen Mueller, passed away from lung cancer in 2011. For two decades, the pair made an annual pilgrimage to Spoleto, as guests of David Rawle, and later his wife, Carol. Their Italianate garden provided the perfect setting for the duo to each produce a prolific body of watercolors. At this month’s festival, a collection of their work will share the walls at the Gibbes Museum, celebrating Mueller’s life and the ongoing love affair that Palazzolo—who splits his time between Maine and Texas—has with Charleston.

A first visit to town: I went for a walk after dinner around the Battery. Among lovely houses with the sounds of dinner dishes being cleared and children in the midst of piano practice, I felt overwhelmed by the gentleness and profound graciousness of Charleston.

Holy City funk: Watching the intelligent growth of Charleston has been impressive. When I first arrived, I was struck by how derelict King Street was (it did have a kind of charm). I love every aspect of this place, funk and all. There should be a movement to “Save the Funk,” because in my mind, it all adds up—the funk, the haute—to someplace you want to be.

Chosen mediums: My work is primarily oil on canvas, but I also paint watercolors that are devoted to a specific place and time, such as Charleston during Spoleto.

Garden party: The watercolors became the byproduct of the beauty, languor, and stimulation. Warm days in the garden with the scent of blooming roses and jasmine, coupled with David’s arrival with tickets for some spectacular dance performance—it was a duality. Stephen once remarked that making a watercolor required total calm and peace. “You have to feel like a little prince.” And we did.

Memory and loss: I think of my work as “notes” to myself about future ideas and attitudes. Using flower petals began as a metaphor for loss and morphed into a clue as to where I was working (a ravishing Charleston garden).

2013 Spoleto highlights: I’m looking forward to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I’m intrigued by the pair of operas at the Dock Street Theatre. And I hear the exhibition at the Gibbes will be stunning… sorry, I’ll contain myself.  

A cathartic exhibit: The Gibbes show is a very difficult undertaking, emotionally. Stephen’s death still feels rather abstract to me, but because of the work, he feels present. The catalogue is something I can hold in my hands and say, “We were here. We did this.”