Artists Chicken Man, Ment Nelson, Sean McGuinness Represent SC


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Ernest Lee is a popular artist who has been painting the “Chicken Man” from the corners of Columbia Street for over 20 years.

Soon the Chicken Man, Ernest Lee, will be just off Columbia’s Gervais Street in his shabby, paint-covered Santa Claus costume, dabbing scraps of wood with color to create one of the most joyful arts in the world. Caroline from the south.

While South Carolinians stuff their turkeys, make all kinds of mayonnaise and fruit salads, and argue over politics and whether sweet potato or pumpkin pie is better – it’s sweet potato – we can all be grateful to the artists of Palmetto State.

Lee’s folk art renderings of dancing chickens and saw palmetto trees have become a symbol for South Carolina. Beyond his well-known motifs, he has also positioned himself as an artistic chronicler of some of South Carolina’s defining moments over the past decade. He painted a tribute at Mother Emanuel AME Church, where a gunman killed nine worshipers in 2015, and as the Confederate flag left the State House grounds.

Ernest Lee is a popular artist who has been painting the “Chicken Man” from the corners of Columbia Street for over 20 years. He is self-taught, drawing inspiration early in his career from the famous South Carolina artist, Jim Harrison. Tracy Glantz

The way Lee infused his work with a South Carolina essence by devoting himself to simple impressions of state iconography makes him one of my favorite local artists.

Another favorite of mine is Sean McGuinness, the Godzilla-loving artist who creates a variety of works under the Neo Monster Island banner. Like Lee, McGuinness uses symbols of South Carolina as the basis for some of his works, but distorts these images by inserting his favorite big green monster.

“The Morning After” by Sean McGuinness Provided

It’s a simple formula for McGuinness – take a symbol or scene from South Carolina and put Godzilla in it. McGuinness imposed Godzilla on the flag of South Carolina, dominating a jam-packed Williams-Brice Stadium and images of a destroyed Columbia during the Civil War.

If that sounds absurd to you, that’s exactly the strength of the art. Absurdity provokes an emotional reaction in me. It makes me laugh. It makes me happy. It makes me think. What is the South Carolina monster causing the state to self-destruct?

Ment Nelson renders South Carolina vividly in his art. His paintings, photographs and documentaries depict scenes from his experiences in Palmetto State and his Lowcountry home.

Lies Nelson
Lies Nelson. Provided to the state

One of his prints that I own shows a man on an old red tractor in a frame, and the same man on a horse near the sort of squat white-colored church that houses a small but faithful congregation.

“During the week, two things the Reverend enjoys most are farming and horseback riding, Carla,” reads the bottom.

Nelson’s work touches the soul of everyday moments that set the South and South Carolina apart.

Each of these artists portrays South Carolina in a different way, but all embody what it means to be part of the Palmetto State.

Having their art in my home reminds me of the beauty this state can create, and I’m grateful for that.

This story was originally published November 23, 2022 1:34 p.m.

David Travis Bland is the editorial writer for The State. In his previous position as a journalist, he was named the 2020 South Carolina Journalist of the Year by the SC Press Association. He graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2010.
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