I have had the pleasure and honor of interviewing over 100 artists for this blog over the years. One thing I know for certain, everyone has a story and each one’s journey is unique and interesting. Still, it’s with some trepidation that I share some of my story with you, maybe because I fear you may not find it interesting, but more importantly that it will seem somewhat self-serving. I comfort myself and justify the decision to go ahead and share the story because I believe what I said above in the second sentence.
I’ve divided my story into four parts. The interview was conducted by Randall Cross for the Smith Public Library and The Wylie Historical Society as part of an oral history project. Since I write better than I speak, I have taken the liberty to edit, clarify, elaborate, even include images, in order to more fully respond to Randall’s questions.
I hope you find my story…well, you know. (Click images to enlarge)
From art major to Second Lieutenant
Back up just a little bit. When you decided to become an art major and get out of business when you were in college, how did your parents react? My parents were great. There were no voiced concerns from them, only acceptance and encouragement. It was a real blessing that they gave me that freedom. There weren’t expectations on me that I had to enter such and such a field; it was never about the ability to make a good living, or needing to pick a profession that would. That was never once mentioned. I had a lot of freedom and when one has that kind of freedom, it takes the pressure off to just explore and grow much more easily, I think, because I had their approval it made a big difference. They were pretty amazed with my art career, seeing where it began up to the time of their passing. That was a good feeling.
Tell me about your military service. You said you were stationed in California? Yes. I was glad I didn’t have to go to Vietnam. In fact, when I first got my orders I was actually supposed to go to a Strategic Air Command base, I think it was in North Dakota. In 1968, the year I graduated from college, it was an Olympic year. I had been competing in bicycle racing, the road type of racing like the Tour de France, and had gained a pretty good reputation. As I said earlier, the military had a special services division, one part of which supported their athletes…California being the location for many of their athletes. I spoke to the leaders of the ROTC program at Wichita State and told them about my athletic accomplishments. The president of the Amateur Bicycle League wrote my commander requesting that I be considered for the Air Forces’ special services program; they did, and my orders were changed from North Dakota to El Segundo, California. I was assigned to the Space and Missile Systems Organization. They were heavily involved with communication satellites, missile systems, and much more. A highlight for me was getting to witness a missile launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, north of El Segundo. My job was pretty much an office job, but as SAMSO’s Information Officer I was responsible for community relations, internal and public information, creating and publishing the base newspaper, and also being the supply officer for our department. Additionally, there were the responsibilities as a special services athlete. I was really blessed in that I was able to train every morning and devote the afternoons to accomplishing all the duties of an Information Officer…and then attending art school at night in Pasadena. This was pretty much my routine for four years. Unfortunately I missed making the Olympic team but left the Air Force four years later as a Captain.
So you were a cyclist, an information officer, and going to school still? Going to school at night at the Art Center College in Pasadena. My life was very busy, having little time for anything else.
Moving to Wylie
Tell me about what finally brought you to Wylie. Well, it was through cycling, again. When I left the Air Force in 1972, fulfilling my obligation, I knew I wanted to make a career as a freelance illustrator. Beginning an independent career like that in California, at the time, just felt overwhelming. It would have involved a lot of traveling to and from all the agencies to show my portfolio and working with clients. My parents had moved to Dallas while I was still in college, so I was familiar with the city and felt it was more manageable for a newbie like me. I was also married by that time and Dallas was closer to my wife’s family in Wichita. My cycling reputation sort of preceded me, so when we came to Texas, people in the cycling community already knew who I was. My thinking at the time was to put aside competitive cycling and get serious about developing my illustration career, but when arriving in Dallas, a sponsor stepped forward and offered to support me with all the equipment needed, if I wanted to continue racing. I accepted that offer and raced for two more years, winning many races. Anyway, through that association I met some people, one fellow in particular, who lived in the country just outside of downtown Wylie; there was additional land available in the area, so we purchased some in 1973 and eventually built a house in 1980. That’s how we came to live in this community.
Did it have that small town feel like where you grew up in Kansas? Oh, a lot smaller. Wylie was probably under five thousand people when we moved here. There was nothing around us. There were just a few trees out there. It was just a plot of land. Used to be cotton fields. We bought two and a half acres. The land was owned by Joe Taylor but after years of farming it, he decided to portion it off and sell it. We built a house on the land in 1980. That’s how we got here. I was still in illustration at the time, but I had an office in the Oak Lawn area in Dallas, so when we built the house I shut down the office and moved it to my studio in the house. I continued as a freelance illustrator for two years and then in ’82 I made the switch to fine art. I still have my studio in my house.
Principles of fine art painting
Could you elaborate a little bit on that, the principles that you believe are important as a fine art painter? For a painter like me, one of the first things to determine is the concept; what do I want to communicate. We, as artists, are visual communicators. By that I’m saying we have an audience. The other option is to paint for oneself and let no one see it. As soon as it goes out to the public, I believe we have a responsibility to communicate with our audience, so the concept is the number one thing. What do we want to communicate? That, of course, originates from within us. Being human, we have similar emotions, so what moves us needs to be clearly communicated; we do that through choice of subject, how it is drawn, composed, various techniques employed, lighting, and color choices. We use all the tools at our disposal to help the viewer appreciate and understand what we wish to communicate.
How long did it take you to find your signature, or your style of painting? Oh, my goodness, Randall. That has taken some time. I’ve done probably, if you think of all the studies and all the work I’ve put on the market, close to three thousand paintings so far. I like to compare finding one’s personal style with handwriting. When we start writing, I don’t know how you were trained in school to write, but I was first taught how to hold a pencil, then shown how to do all the little loop-de-loops and mark making exercises before learning to form the letters of the alphabet. It is rigorous, frustrating and unsteady at first, but eventually we get where it just flows naturally without much thought. The only way a unique signature is developed honestly is when we have signed our name many many time. Think about it, if we all had the same name, our signatures would all be uniquely different. Developing one’s style as a painter is just like that.
Who have been your influences in your style? I love the French painters: French painters of the second half of the 1800s. I always mention Camille Corot (Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot) who was my biggest inspiration even in college when studying art history. Of all the master painters we studied in art history class, it was Camille Corot. He was born in 1796 and died in the late 1800s. He was an influence back then. I was just drawn to his work. Why one is drawn to someone’s work like that, it is hard to put a finger on it. There was just some emotional connection there with him. So, I really appreciate him, along with his compatriots, Francois Daubigny (Charles-Francois Daubigny). and Jean Millet (Jean-Francois Millet). They were part of the Barbizon school, which was a group of painters that painted in the Barbizon forest in France. I like them and some of the early American painters as well, including Willard Metcalf, George Inness…there’s just so many. Camille Corot though, I’d put up there at the top. His work, along with his approach to painting…and his temperament…all seem to be in line with mine. Maybe that’s why there was an attraction. It’s hard to know for sure.
Do you feel like you’re still changing and developing? Yes, I believe so, because I’m constantly working, learning, and growing. An artist can only paint up to their level of understanding. So, the more understanding we have, we attempt and try new things. Things evolve. I know when I first started painting scenes in and around Wylie, a lot of things were different…the way I approached and painted a subject. Now, everything has been simplified. Early on, I was painting more intimate scenes…close-ups of things. Now I’m interested more in vistas, mood, atmosphere, and lighting…attempting to capture the essence of the scene, rather than every detail. So yes, I’d say my work has definitely evolved over the years.
Next week: Part 3…Painting Wylie
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