How Cory McBee discovered her artistic style  

By Holly Fisher  

Cory McBee wasn’t always an abstract painter. Her artistic style has evolved, shaped by life experiences and a desire to push her artistic boundaries. While her style may have changed over time, art itself is core to who she is.  

Cory says she was a typical creative child, drawn to art and less so to math and science. Art came easily to her, so it made sense to major in art, she says. Having grown up in a suburb of Philadelphia, Cory headed South for college and a change of scenery.  

“The moment I stepped on the College of Charleston campus, I knew it was where I wanted to be,” she says. “It was the perfect school for me at the time. It was what I needed.” 

Once she graduated, Cory’s parents – who had always been supportive – wondered exactly how their daughter would support herself with an art degree. A job in graphic design seemed like a good way to combine her artistic skill with the security of a regular paycheck, she says.  

But after 15 years, Cory says she decided she didn’t want to work as a full-time graphic designer anymore. She would keep her job teaching graphic design at North Charleston High School, giving her more flexibility and the chance to pick up a paintbrush again.  

Back in the proverbial artistic saddle, Cory’s style began to take shape as an abstract artist. It was a stark departure from her college days as a realist painter.  

“I spent hours studying Michelangelo, and I wanted to paint like da Vinci. I wanted to master hyper-realism,” says Cory, who lives in Summerville with her husband and 8-year-old daughter. “I was good at it, but it was devoid of emotion. It was well done, but it wasn’t challenging enough for me. When I started painting again, I wanted to push myself as an abstract artist. I wanted to prove to myself and the world I could be an abstract painter.” 

For Cory, working in abstracts runs the gamut from fun to frustrating. Some paintings take one day, others take two weeks. Sometimes she needs a dance party in her paint-splattered home studio to get out of her head.  

Over the last year, Cory says she began to draw on her graphic design background, figuring out ways to combine graphic illustrations and art. Her newest body of work – part of a current show at Trager Contemporary gallery – is the culmination of how Cory blended those two styles.  

“I’m constantly pushing myself to explore and evolve the way I handle brush strokes, color or introducing new media into the work,” she says. “It keeps it interesting for me.”  

Her exhibit at Trager Contemporary is deeply personal, a reflection of Cory’s mood and feelings at the time she created the work. Art buyers may glean pieces of Cory’s story from her abstract work or they may connect to the piece in a way that’s all their own. 

“A lot of times people want to make sense of what they’re seeing, and with an abstract, you can’t,” she says. “With abstracts, it’s harder to find a way to make a personal connection. You have to look at it and have that moment when you say, ‘This speaks to me and I could stare at it for hours.’ Buying an abstract piece of artwork is a completely personal experience.”  

Cory realizes a smaller number of people are interested in abstract paintings. Not everyone wants a neon green and hot pink abstract in their living room. But she’s OK with that because she knows someone out there will want it. Someone will find her hidden message. 

“You write on the canvas and send it out into the world. It’s kind of like a message in a bottle,” she said. “It goes into the world and has its own journey.”  

See Cory McBee’s work at Trager Contemporary gallery, 577 King St. in Charleston, as part of a special show through Oct. 5. Meet Cory at a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 7. To see more of Cory’s work, visit her website at modernsouthstudio.com. 

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