In 2003 his mentor, friend and agent advised him to establish a niche, which he did by creating pieces that are unique in the art world. The key was his choice of material.
Roofing tin is an interesting surface to paint on, and the technique Giltner developed took full advantage of its rustic charm. By allowing the dark, rusty tin to remain in the richest shadows, he let the image reveal itself in the highlights. He used only white paint with minimal strokes for the gray tones and heavier ones to capture the brightest light. This required a high degree of mastery, as there is no room for error when working with negative space. At the time, Giltner was using scrap house paint for economy, but he later transitioned to acrylic.
Back in the year 2000, Giltner was asked to participate in an art event in Columbia, S.C. At the time he couldn't afford canvas to paint on, so he utilized wood and tin from derelict tenant houses located around Chester County where he grew up. After asking permission to salvage, he dismantled the structures piece by piece and procured his "canvasses" to paint on.
BLUFFTON TODAY by Gwyneth Saunders
Choppy water, cold air, wet feet, sore hands, bent back. It’s not easy being an oysterman working the tides. The effort is backbreaking, the hours long, the nights all too short. And the culture is fading faster than winter daylight.
Such images are starkly depicted by Bluffton artist D. Pierce Giltner in his latest collection called "Drack: Oysterman of the Lowcountry," a series of paintings about a May River oysterman by the same name who has followed generations of his family who work the oyster beds.
The portraits are more suggestive silhouettes than precision paintings. For those who know of life on the waters, one can sense the roughness of those who make a hard-scrabble living from it. Yet even without prior knowledge of a waterman's life, there’s a feeling of sympathy the artist has given the subject.
You can feel that Giltner has more art inside him. The unique surface on which he paints and the manner in which he portrays his subjects make his work truly original while preserving both materials and a fading heritage.
Between 2009 and 2022, Giltner depicted Drack in 40 pieces with various mediums. The first body of work was painted in acrylic on roofing tin reclaimed from a derelict tenant house. In many of the pieces Giltner used only white paint, utilizing negative space to create a stunning and evocative contrast.
Shortly thereafter, Giltner was commissioned by J. Banks Design Group to create two 18" x 22" paintings of Drack. It was the biggest commission of his career and had to be executed in oil on canvas, materials he had little experience with. Yet he knew this was a precious opportunity for his art career to be reborn.
In 2009, Pierce did a solo show featuring fifteen 24" x 36" paintings of Drack. Other shows followed as the popularity of the series increased.
In 2018 Giltner experienced personal hardship and hit rock bottom with his art career. During this time, one of his friends bought some very nice oil brushes at a yard sale, then gave them to Giltner and encouraged him to start painting again. The act of kindness inspired him so much that he asked another friend for $100 to buy a piece of canvas so he could rekindle his love of art.
Giltner turned his living room into an atelier and began studying the fundamentals of oil painting. He spent one month honing his skills and two months completing the commission. This marked his transition from acrylics on salvaged materials to oils on canvas and art board.
With the fee from those two paintings, Giltner was able to finance a solo show for which he created another six pieces ranging in size from 18" x 22" to 48" x 48".
In 2020, Giltner leased a warehouse to create a private studio and gallery where he produced more commissions of Drack.
In October 2021 he participated in Bluffton’s Arts and Seafood Festival, a juried event. The majority of the artwork sold and he continued to produce pieces for display at Four Corners Art Gallery in Bluffton. Today only four renderings and a single oil painting of Drack remain for sale.
After 13 years, 40 paintings, 6 solo shows, and five juried art competitions, Giltner has formed a remarkable bond with Drack. But the vision for this historically important project extends much further. The last remaining oystermen will retire from beds that have been ravaged by environmental degradation, and who will remember this way of life? It is left to creatives like Giltner to preserve our cultural heritage.
Not many artists get to establish such a close, long-term relationship with their subjects, then document it through creative talent. I've done hard labor my entire life, so when I met Drack I immediately identified with him. I respect what he does. I got extremely attached to the subject and obsessed with creating the art because I knew I had a niche, a very rare one, and I wanted to show the world the reality of an oysterman.
My goal now is to create a series of larger-than-life paintings that will immortalize Drack and pay homage to all those who have pursued life on the river. I plan to execute ten to twenty 4' x 8' pieces that depict the beauty and hardships of oystering, then arrange a traveling exhibition throughout major cities and towns along the Southeastern coast. The most imperative aspect of the project will be to bring Drack on tour with the show, that way he can tell his story in his own words.
In order to realize something of this magnitude, I need to find investors who share my passion. Drack and I are at a crossroads: we want to extend our reach beyond the local market and share what we've created with art lovers and cultural enthusiasts throughout the region, but facilitation is required. With the right sponsor who can finance our time and materials, we will at last see this project reach the epic dimensions it deserves.