TAMARA GARVEY: Best Local Visual Artist




I meet Tamara Garvey in her sunny, whitewashed brick City Market studio, directly above Vinnie Van GoGo’s. 

After three years of working full-time from home, the upbeat Garvey took a leap of faith in March to lease the light-filled, airy corner space for a year. 

“It was a very spur of the moment decision. I’m pretty introverted, and it hit me that I really have too much alone-time.”

Despite describing herself as an introvert, Garvey has a friendly, broad smile and a warm and supportive regard for her fellow Savannah creatives; Last July she did not hesitate to take over Rob Hessler’s WRUU 107.5FM radio broadcast “Art on the Air.” 

Garvey has broadened Hessler’s original reach to include not only artists, but also musicians and authors (hence the new name, “Art(s) on the Air”). You can catch her live broadcasts on the first and third Wednesdays of the month or stream all podcasts on Spotify or Apple. 

click to enlarge TAMARA GARVEY: Best Local Visual Artist
“Wormsloe, Live Oaks Avenue” contains the messages “Trunks were used to make ships” and “There are over 400 Live Oaks, 1.5 miles long.”

“Even if it’s someone you already know a little bit, everybody says something profound or interesting,” she says, “You learn a lot.”

Garvey was born in Albany, Georgia, and grew up both there and in Maryland, outside of DC. She earned a degree in biology 

“I thought maybe I was going to be a doctor...” from the University of Mary Washington in VA.

 “Then I had a couple of years of working in the post-911 economy before deciding to go back to school. I was taking a weekend Saturday art class in DC and hating my fulltime job, so I put everything on pause and enrolled in SCAD.”

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Garvey in her studio. A painting from her popular old-time burglar series is over her left shoulder).

She graduated SCAD in 2008 with a BFA in Illustration, and quickly started selling her “quirky, cheerful, and whimsical” pen and ink art and illustrations of people, pets, and Savannah scenes. 

“At the time, the Telfair still had their Art Fair on the square in the fall. I did that for a couple of years, sold some pieces, and won an Honorable Mention award. That really gave me the confidence to move to New York and try to make a living as an artist.” 

She lived in NYC from 2010 to 2017, had a full-time job for the first three years, but subsequently supported herself by selling work at the many weekend craft fairs throughout the city, mostly on the Lower East Side.

“I did have this amazing experience where one day I was selling on the street in SoHo and Adam Sandler came up. He was wearing a baseball cap  and going for coffee and bagels. He stopped at my table, and he bought a bunch of prints. I was so nervous, my hands were shaking when I ran his credit card, and then we chatted about Savannah because he’d recently been here filming. I didn’t get a photo with him, so you’ll just have to take my word for it!”

click to enlarge TAMARA GARVEY: Best Local Visual Artist
Cherry Blossoms

Garvey continues, “I always intended to come back to Savannah. I loved it here, but I just wanted a bigger city experience for a while. When I moved back I was 37 and just at that point where you realize that if you’re not super-wealthy in a big city, it’s extremely hard. I moved back in 2017 and bought a condo and now I’m real dug-in.”

We talk about her receiving a 2020 COVID-relief grant from Georgia’s prestigious Judith Alexander Foundation, and about the wonderful post-pandemic show she organized at ARTS Southeast’s Sulfur Studios in October of 2021, when she  reunited with fellow SCAD graduates Matt Hebermehl, Katherine Agurcia and Lee Ashburn for the first time since they were all waiting tables at Lady & Sons…

“We had a show together in 2008 in the space above B. Matthews. Each of us had a room, it was boiling hot, so much fun, and the recently deceased Keith Kozel DJ’d.”

The 2021 reunion exhibition, cleverly named “4 Top,” highlighted Garvey’s florals inspired by walks taken during lockdown. 

Much larger in size than her previous works on paper, she says, “during COVID  we were encouraged to be in nature, and I started a series of different flowers which all have lines of poetry or factoids buried in them.” Each piece is named after a poet and was inspired by how nature resurged during the pandemic when there was so little car traffic and pollution. The individual flowers are delicate and transitory, but nature rejuvenates every year and can’t be smited.”

The floral paintings reference both the resiliency of our planet and of the artist in the face of COVID and incorporate her love of linework mixed with abstract washes. She uses the three mediums employed in her smaller works on paper and in her notecards: ink, that she dips into with “an old-fashioned pen,” acrylic paint, and “gold leaf for fun.”

COVID was not only responsible for Garvey’s new floral paintings, but  also for increased online sales. 

“I would sell at least one original painting a month through my website which NEVER happened before that.” She adds, with a laugh, “The only  inquiries prior to COVID were clearly spam like, ‘Hello kind sir, my wife is looking for an art.’”

Along with fellow Savannah artists Jose Ray (see my Sept.,2021 column) and Stacie Jean Albano (see my April, 2022 column), her paintings of daffodils, cherry blossoms, azaleas and other blooms will be featured in a floral show at the Grand Bohemian Gallery in Charleston. Curated by Katie Stanton Melendez, former assistant to Carmen Aguirre, director of the former Grand Bohemian Gallery at the Mansion on Forsyth, work hangs through the end of June with an opening reception on Friday, May 12.

 “The other thing I’ll have this summer is a solo show at The Gallery Espresso [234 Bull Street] during July and August.”

Two days a month Garvey can be found at Gallery 209 (winner of Best Art Gallery!) at 209 East River St., where she is a partner. And she is a regular vendor at arts and crafts fairs in Savannah (such as the Isle of Hope Art Fair in October) and around the State (I chatted with her at Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden at last September’s Finster Fest). 

Of course, you can find her working most days between 10 - 3 pm (except Tuesdays and Saturdays) at her City Market studio, and you can view her work anytime at TamaraGarvey.com, and on Instagram @tamgarv. 

Her notecards are sold in numerous stores throughout Savannah, including E. Shaver Booksellers and at Wormsloe Historic Site.