In Painting the Southern Coast, a monograph about West Fraser, he declares: “I am a son of the lowcountry. … Since childhood my passion has been to capture, in paint, a portrait of this place I call ‘my country.’” In his portrayals of coastal marshes, as well as his views of Charleston, his primary concerns have been light and atmosphere.

At the time of the artist’s birth, the Fraser family was living in picturesque Hinesville, in rural Liberty County, Georgia. The nearest hospital was in Savannah, hence his birthplace of record. At age nine he settled in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, where his father was assisting his uncle with the development of Sea Pines Plantation. It was an idyllic childhood; Fraser and his brothers roamed the countryside, hiking, hunting, and fishing. He attended Savannah Country Day School, studied at both Clemson University and the College of Charleston, before earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Georgia in 1979 with a specialty in illustration. Following graduation he was an illustrator in Savannah with an agent in New York City. 

For four years, 1980 to 1984, Fraser lived on three hundred acres and painted watercolors in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where several impressionistic painters had located. He traveled extensively, along the coast painting meticulous watercolors of maritime scenery, often working indoors from photographs. “Painting from photographs is fine; I did it for years. The problem is, it will hinder your ability to observe. You don’t make note of how the shade on the sunny side is different from the shade on the shady side, how the tints are different. Photographs don’t register that.”

Fraser moved to Charleston, South Carolina, and after hurricane Hugo in 1989, he changed direction and transitioned to working en plein air. Basically teaching himself to use oils, he explained, “My new approach to painting allowed me to find a deeper and more spiritual connection with and understanding of my subject and craft.” The use of oil complements Fraser’s fascination with vegetation, clouds, and reflections. Because these natural elements tend to have shapes with soft edges, they inspire him to generalize in a way that makes them more convincing. Like the French Impressionists before him he sometimes finishes the paintings in his studio.

While Charleston is his base, Fraser has traveled extensively, often exploring the coast in a boat he salvaged after the hurricane. He has also gone further afield, to Maine and the Caribbean, as well as Tuscany, and places in Sweden. But he is best known for his streetscapes of Charleston and his coastal scenes where from the time he was a child he has personally witnessed development of resorts and high-end housing subdivisions. He is somewhat conflicted about some of the dramatic alterations, but he has also benefited from them. Several resort complexes have commissioned major work, such as the four- by five-foot mural he completed for The Cloister at Sea Island, Georgia. Somewhat pointedly he included an extinct species, the Carolina parakeet, in his composition. Nature, too, has wrought changes to his beloved coast, and Fraser is well aware of the dangers of climate change. “I have painted the transition zone from salt water to land all of my life, so I have seen firsthand some of the changes in water level and its affect on the landscape as well as the effects of pollution from coastal development. It is very subtle, but also alarming.”

Fraser is sincere in his concern about the future. He has partnered with the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry to establish, in honor of his parents, The Joseph Bacon and Carolyn Bexley Fraser Sustainable Seafood Harvest Fund which provides support for the conservation of healthy ecosystems near Hilton Head Island. He has also contributed his services to the arts: from 2003 until 2012 he served on the South Carolina Arts Commission.