A Passion to Paint

Sometimes it makes sense to follow your Muse

By Scott D. Elinburg

Rick Reinert did not paint for 25 years. Then, one day, he started again.

“I painted on the side in my early teens, and then I moved to Canada where I had a textile business,” he says. “Then I sold it and started a cosmetic business down here in Charleston. But I got hit with some tariffs because of a big banana war with Europe. My story actually made it to the cover of Time magazine because I fought the government.” he says with a laugh. “After I went out of business, because they were charging me a 100% tariff on my product, I had to do something. Then I started painting all night every night, and would go to work in the day. A year and a half ago I found I could paint full time.”

Reinert’s story seems too extraordinary to be true. But he is nonchalant about it. “Everything happens for a reason, you know?” he says. “I wouldn’t be painting now if I still had the cosmetic business.”

Kevin LePrince, a native Charlestonian, has a similar tale, though it’s a bit more personal. “I used to paint a draw a lot when I was little but I got away from it.” he says. Then LePrince reveals he was a former Vice President of Investments at a major company and that he basically left a lucrative career to become a painter. “All the money in the world is not worth it if I can’t get up every day and feel good about who I am and what I do.” he says.

“I remember sitting in an interview with another company and just thinking, “I don’t want to do this.” I came back to work and went into my boss’s office and he told me to take some time off to figure out what I wanted to do. When I hadn’t come into the office in about two months, my boss called to ask if we were still working together.” he says. “That allowed me to ease into painting. But money is not the reason I paint. I do it because I can’t count the number of days I’ve started painting and looked up and seen the sun coming up and thought, “Wow, I need to go to sleep!”

Reinert and LePrince’s art is characterized by thick expressionistic brush strokes and intense use of color. LePrince’s art is centered on majestic animals such as foxes, horses, and a variety of birds, while Reinert is given to painting highly expressionistic landscapes.

“I like to do the most I can with the least amount of strokes,” Reinert says. “I try to achieve vibrancy; I think that what motivates me is sunlight and how it affects different things. But, the main thing I want is [for] passion to show through.”

LePrince’s philosophy is similar to Reinert’s. “I feel like it is not a photo, it’s paint-let’s not be afraid to let people know,” he says in explaining his use of thick brush strokes.

Hume Killian, manager and owner of Wells Gallery, manages and displays the art of Reinert and LePrince. He appears genuinely delighted that they are part of the gallery. “What all my artists do is maintain the passion and enthusiasm for their art.” he says. “They’re the ones that have drive; they have to paint.”

Killian appears amiable and completely relaxed in his pristine gallery, which has an exquisite hardwood floor and arched doorways. The walls of the gallery are painted in beige and cream tones that allow the art to stand out.

There’s an ample amount of paintings and styles on display at the Wells Gallery. “I like variety,” Killian says. He explains that the individuals in his stable of 16 or 17 artists stand out on their own, but also “complement each other well.”

Killian has a gentlemanly Southern charm, most likely culled from growing up in Asheville, N.C. He earned two degrees at Wofford College-in Business Economics and Art History-and arrived in Charleston after spending a few years “bouncing around” places like Wyoming where he learned about the Western and Southwestern markets.

He was drawn to Charleston in 1999 as a place where he could work on an MBA at the Citadel and still “keep his foot” in the art market. Ten years later, he oversees three galleries: Smith-Killian Fine Art, Wells Gallery in Historic Charleston, and Wells Gallery on Kiawah Island.

“Charleston has been good to me,” he says. “I can do something I love and make a living at it. It’s been 10 years now and I get to work with artists and meet collectors and clients from all over the world.”

LePrince and Reinert are encouraged by Killian’s presence in their careers. “Of all the other gallery owners I had talked to,” LePrince says, “no one wanted to come out and look at my work. But Hume, he started looking at the work and I could tell that he really appreciated it. Hume is great because he also pushes my career. He’ll send me images and say, ‘Look at this, I think this is great,’ and ‘Your career is early; you need to keep pushing it.’ He wants us to be better artists and I’ve always appreciated that.”

Killian seems most animated when he explains his love of art. “For me, everyday an artist brings paintings in, it’s like Christmas morning. Everything’s unwrapped, and you never know what you’re going to get,” he says. “I’m always excited, I’m always thrilled, and it’s always different. For an artist to share with me how they see the world, it’s just brilliant!"