I manipulate metals and minerals and bonding solutions in order to provoke emotional responses from people I will usually never meet. That which happens in the process some people call art. My talent for creating icons and illusions turned into a lifetime of manipulations... in various pigments, bronze and steel, some quite large, which loom in museums, schools, collections and public places all over Texas. Here on this blog you can watch my creative actions and insights unfold...

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

My new stuff!

I have just completed over a dozen new paintings... here are some of the major works coming out of the Cushman studio these days.
30 x 40 "Texas Maple Trail" (McKittrick Canyon)

30 x 40  "Falls at Lost Maples"

36 x 48 "McKittrick Canyon Glory"
Prices on request

Friday, November 14, 2014

Encouragement- and a jolting Challenge


It comes in all kinds of packages.  As a fellow artist, my mother understood that I needed  it, as well as regular bubble popping, and she had a strange and wonderful way of weaving the two. Neither her praises or her admonishments ever came when I was "ready" for them.

I had this naive conviction that really good art did not need to be sold. That it sold itself. I did not want to stand in front of my work and sell it. If it did not sell itself, it was probably not very good and I should just get a job. This is what I based my future on.

And that idea had to go. I've been striving in the art business for over forty years now, and rarely has the art ever sold itself. Commissions have to be negotiated. Paintings have to be "placed." Sculptures have to be stored so as not to decay or hurt someone. They cannot sell themselves lurking in my dusty studio. When my art was hung in public places, it... most of the time it just hung there. Sometimes I would get an inquiry. "I saw your painting, I wonder, can you paint...???"

I hardly ever remember my art selling right off of the wall through a second party, (like a restaurant or business lobby show)  who was not actively interested  in the commissions they might earn.  No, my art did not sell itself. People said nice things, goggled at my prices, raised their eyebrows, sometimes even asked about what it might cost for that dream custom art they always wanted... but usually never ordered from anyone. My art sold when somebody, usually a gallery or an agent of some kind endorsed it, with conviction. Somebody had to provide the personal contact. Art, music, entertainment of any kind is very relational. 

Meanwhile I made a living mostly by selling a few works by word -of-mouth, in my own sphere, and doing commissions, teaching art, custom framing, commercial signs, and lots of odd jobs in-between.  Finally after years in the business, there was enough word of mouth that art jobs came in fairly regularly- but it was still very hand-to-mouth. 

These were always big projects for public art, as I proved myself capable of pleasing the expectations of schools, museums and businesses.  The works, mere concepts and yet to be done, could not possibly sell themselves. My previous accomplishments sold my work. Not only did my works not sell themselves, I had to communicate with my clientele and sell them on the work yet undone!

So what am I getting at? I have not been able to separate my art from personally promoting it. I HATE sales. I never wanted a job being a salesman, but it was either sell-  or Hell. (Hell in the modern Christian perspective is usually seen as the absence of God... total loss of  relevance, eternal nothingness)

An artist waiting for the positive re-enforcement that includes financial compensation, encouragement if you will, to launch their art career, will wait for a painfully long time.

A long, long time. Maybe forever. To be an artist, you have to be as passionate about it as President Obama's staff was that forged and forced "Obamacare" through to govern an unwitting society. Be willing to deceive, connive, manipulate, whatever, to make the art and push it  out the door like a cowbird on a mission- (Machiavellian, cowbirds commandeer other bird's nests and kick out their eggs and replace them with their  own). You have to be almost ruthless. It is survival of the fittest. 

And it is NOT because you are just a mediocre artist. It is because the world is distracted and does not have time for you. It never has. The artists of old ingratiated themselves with the ultra-rich and the church to carve out a living. It is a fairly recent idea that artists sell to the "common folk." It is still not really a viable concept either. Fine Art plays a very tiny part in our American economy. Check out the numbers (annually) of visitors to the Museum of Fine Arts, as compared to Reliant Stadium. There's your cultural dilemma. 

Having talent is only the beginning of your misery.  Harnessing and utilizing it for the common good (including yourself) is a totally separate issue. Most artists never even discover the common good, much less harvest their potential. They create their art in a vacuum and wait for somebody to discover their genius... clinging to that old adage: "Build a better mousetrap..."

And THAT was a damned lie. The world does not beat a pathway to your door. Except to leave dirty diapers. You have to either beat your own pathway, I'm talking with a big machete, or like my friend Leon Collins has done, set up shop on the world's highway... to find those folks you did not want to face and sell to them... face to face. 

I plan to do just that here in Navasota in the coming weeks. The City of Navasota is passing an ordinance to give us artists the opportunity to sell directly to the public downtown in Blues Alley (an alley adjacent to the store by the same name). 


Monday, November 10, 2014

A Change in the Wind

Photo courtesy of Jim Rogers
Listen to this voice crying in the wilderness.  Yes it has been dry and fruitless, for a long time; a veritable drought in retail sales, especially in art.  I think perhaps the hugely successful Plein Air show out in San Angelo (see below!) signified the beginning of a significant change in the winds of the American art market. As the economic and political scene settles down, I foresee a remarkable recovery in the art market, at least in areas where it used to be good, and some of those places are the oil rich regions of Texas.

When the oil field is booming, it trickles down to every community in Texas. So if you are an artist, get to work, in a few months you will wish you had some whoppers on hand, as the wheels of commerce begin to grind again. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What makes an art town?

Fountains, Murals, Sculptures...

 Everywhere, beautiful, magnificent, lighted bridges,

A serene river winding through, parks and parks and more parks,

And San Angelo, Texas has it all. Check out  these various installations lurking in what they call "Art in Uncommon Places"...

Under the bridges...

A mosaic tribute to Van Gogh's Starry Night"

Junk vehicles transformed into mosaic masterworks.

Collections of fine art bolted to the embankments.

Sculptures throughout the city...

Because of the density of art, the critical mass of this enviable collection makes it the most beautiful city in Texas. And now San Angelo is the official host of the En Plein Air TEXAS art competition. So keep reading!

Thank You San Angelo

For one of the best weeks of my life. And thank you to the gracious hosts who took me in to their home as well, Dr. David Harvey and his wife Janet. What a treat to meet them and all the art lovers in this special, art loving town. My family once lived in San Angelo before I was born, and always spoke fondly of those days, and now I feel like I understand that warmth they felt. "Home is where the heart is," and for some of us, it is also "where the art is." San Angelo has captured both.

Photo courtesy of Jim Rogers
My goal as a landscape artist is to capture a memorable scene faithfully so that somebody can relive it for many years to come. This San Angelo scene stayed in San Angelo!


In an act of charity, generosity, or whatever, the judge did something he says has never done before and would not normally do... he disqualified the previous winners of the competition for awards in the quick draw, opening up the field for the rest.

Every cowboy and cowgirl is attracted to the quick draw, even in Plein Air painting. Some fifty or so contestants shot it out at the En Plein Air TEXAS Quick Draw competition Saturday in San Angelo, and I wanted to share some of the winners...

Me with my scrawny Ft. Concho sketch. Some of us felt fortunate to get Honorable Mentions, given the depth of the competition...Thanks to Jim Rogers for the great photo!

Not the judge's winners, you understand, but mine... Each artist had the two hours between cannon sound to produce his or her entry. Here are some of the best paintings turned in after the cannons shot off and we had to stop. Very few of them won Quick Draw awards, as they were done by most of the previous winners on Friday, and the judge decided to spread around the love... Thank you very much!

Another impeccable watercolor by David Csont...

Not one of the "29", Liz Bonham painted one of my favorites. I believe she did win a prize for this. The artists not involved in the En Plein Air TEXAS Competition were judged separately in their own category.

Jonathan Gaetke has a unique eye and a powerful knack for design- taking this otherwise mundane scene and painting a compelling city-scape.

It was Jason Sacran who earned the ultimate compliment from the judge, having painted an award winning painting which the judge "wished he had painted." But I liked his quick draw entry even better. The young painter smacks of the same genius we all admire in Sargent and Schmid.

John P. Lasater IV will always be one of the contenders wherever he goes. He relishes in architecture, rich hues, and sometimes complex designs like this one, which would buffalo your average plein air enthusiast... Why is it the leaning utility poles look so charming in his paintings, yet in real life I see them as eyesores? That is the "artist's touch" we always talk about.

Myra Knapp produced "Junk and Disorderly" for the quick draw, and it is anything but. With a more contemporary approach to design, this painting is evidence of true painting skill, especially use of temperature, and a great feel for the abstract qualities every painting should have underneath.

Tina Bohlman made this engaging watercolor out at Fort Concho. I painted it twice during my week at San Angelo- and always found it difficult to find a decent arrangement of buildings, where the artist can show depth and create a "sense of place" as Paul Strisik always strived for... and she did it here.

Once again Ray Hassard takes away the top honors... he always finds beauty in unexpected places. All week, while others were looking at the same alleys and trails, he was exploring the veritable wastelands of forgotten industrial discards. Saturday morning he saw the reflections in this grid-like tattoo shop window as a great quick draw subject... but it needed some reds. He  moved his car so that it was reflected in the glass...

Monday, November 3, 2014

San Angelo Makes Art History

And I got to be there!

After a solid week of painting and partying, and then SELLING, what's not to love?

I've been talking about this art show for months, and now that it is over, I will never shut up about it. And I especially want to thank all of those who help put on this event. San Angelo just hosted a major plein air event that will set the bar for future such shows all across the southwest. 

The first annual En Plein Air TEXAS invitational competition was a smashing success on all accounts. 29 juried artists from 12 states (and France!) converged on San Angelo for four days of intensive outdoor landscape painting, to turn in their best two plein air sketches and compete for $13,000.00 in cash awards, and then sold over $100,000.00 worth of their freshly produced art! This overwhelming success surprised even its most optimistic supporters.

This kind of competition, on this scale, with these kinds of results is absolutely unprecedented. Not to mention that it was the most fun I have had in a long time. Here are some highlights of this event which made Texas art history!

Event judge Stephen Doherty (left), editor of Plein Air Magazine, visits with several artists at a catered luncheon on Thursday, hosted by Dr. & Mrs. David Harvey. Ray Hassard (far right) of Cincinati, Ohio, was to win the first place $3000.00 award.

Ray Hassard poses with the Judge and one of the show patrons

The artists were directed to sites all around the San Angelo area, including ranches, a winery, downtown San Angelo, and historic Fort Concho. Some painted as many as three or four paintings per day, searching for the winning composition. On Wednesday David Csont of Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania and I found this charming creek scene far in the outback of Tom Green County.

David Csont does his plein air landscapes in watercolor.

I waded across and painted about a hundred yards downstream , looking back at David...

Photo courtesy of Jim Rogers

Occasionally the artists would throw together impromptu exhibits wherever they were...

Notice all the different styles of paint boxes.

Transplanted Texan Melissa Arthur came all the way from Colorado to compete. She puts the finishing touches on the painting which would later earn her the coveted Artists Choice award.

Melissa smartly found refuge out of the wind and sun behind this truck brought by another artist. Plein air paintings are usually small, around 8 x 10 inches to 11 x 14 inches. The absolute limit in the competition is 20 x 24.

Ray Hassard loves to paint hay... hay in Ohio, hay in Texas... but he especially loves industrial subjects. He works in pastels, and achieves very intense hues and values with them.

Each artist brought not only luggage to cover a week of activities, in any kind of weather, but art supplies and frames for the paintings to be done. My Tahoe was packed to the ceiling.

Led by visionary Barbara Rallo, an amazing team of devoted volunteers made this event a golden moment for the participants. They made the highly unlikely seem routine. San Angelo has great people, great weather, and a great diversity of rich and inspiring subjects. Rallo and her sidekick Treva Boyd made it all come together.

Jimmy Longacre of Dripping Springs, Texas was one of around a dozen artists from the Lone Star State.

Joan Mertz was another cash award winner, and one of several local San Angelo artists invited to compete in the event. She is also the go-to girl for any question about local San Angelo history.

Floridian Karen Ann Hitt here uses an underpainting much like the old masters, as she starts a canvas depicting the cypress-lined creek that runs through the gorgeous Christoval Winery. 

 I managed to win an honorable mention at the "Quick Draw" on Saturday, saving my pride somewhat, but I felt lucky to just get into such a show. Another Texas artist confided in me that they felt pretty good about themselves until they saw the incredible competition... and the confidence turned into shame... It was humbling to see the fierce competition, some of the most talented painters in the country, cranking out fabulous art every few hours, as we got our artistic butts kicked. But we cannot ever get where they are until we face the challenge. This show made that happen. Many of us who were left in the San Angelo dust just raised the bar of our ambitions several notches. It was an enlightening experience, and that is a good thing.

Numerous bridges cross the Concho River while it meanders through San Angelo and provide infinite artistic opportunities. There is a stunning collection of public art along this corridor, which makes the search fun and inspiring.

The sights along this beautiful  little river have been barely explored...

Most of the artists at the show promised to return. San Angelo has a new goal: To be the Plein Air Capital of Texas!

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Best Project of My Career.

I always recount how everything I have ever done has been preparation for what I am about to do. That's how God works in my life. My lifelong interest in history, my love for music, and my ability as a mural artist have all come together in my latest project on the outside wall of Blues Alley in Navasota.

My friend Bert Miller wanted a mural that celebrated our local history,and especially the music legends spawned here. As soon as he mentioned it, I knew what needed to be on that wall...

But being almost "out of gas" so to speak, I needed someone talented and energetic who could help me conquer what promised to be a considerable physical challenge. Luke Graham, an art student at Sam Houston State University, proved to be that person. He met the challenge wholeheartedly and saw the experience as a learning opportunity. With that commitment I agreed to attack the wall... and the results have been stunning, even to me. 

Thank you Luke, better known to your art professors as Frank, for helping make an important tribute to achievement, and an artistic monument that will educate many people for many years.

I have made a blog (surprise!) just about this mural at Blues Alley, where you can see the mural in detail and learn a lot you did not now about Brazos Valley music history. Click on the following LINK: http://navasotamusicmural.blogspot.com/

All of these musicians have left their mark on this town in some way. Many of them had been forgotten for the most part. I do not understand why or how people ignore or forget human achievement, because we all draw inspiration from it. We all get a lift knowing that our neighbors did well, made a name, made the world a little bit better place. 

It will be a hard thing for Navasota to forget, with this mural reminding them every time they pass through town. That is the power of art.