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...

Monday, November 9, 2015

MY FIRST ONE MAN SHOW... NOV 14th! In the Alley!

In many years.. Maybe ever... I have done several two-man shows.. lots of groups shows... Can't remember, whether one show in Conroe thirty years ago, was a one-man show or not...

First Blush of Autumn
Sommers Mill in Bell County

The point is that muralists and monument makers don't have very many "one-man-shows" for obvious reasons...  But I  am one of those rare characters who also paints easel art and sells in art galleries... until the galleries all but  disappeared. So the art is stacking up in my studio and prices have been adjusted according to the laws of supply and demand! 

There will be over twenty original oil paintings... lots of small works under $200.00... Landscapes of West Texas, the Texas Hill Country, New Mexico, Palo Duro Canyon, and some local bluebonnet scenes. Something for everyone...


I am proud to be coupling my event with some of my favorite local artists... Tubie and the Touchtones, who will be performing and introducing their new album, called One More Cup  Of Coffee; their best one ever. 

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

NEW WORK!

As my commercial art business has slacked off, I have used the time to produce what I believe to be the best body of work I have ever had on hand. Here is a sampler...

Lost Maples Fire 
18 x 24



 Deer Valley Dancer 
16 x 20

Pillars of Independence
Old Baylor Ruins, Independence, Tx
14 x 18

Ranchbonnets
12 x 24

The Way To Kinky's
18 x 24

 Christobol Glory
24 x 36

Bandera Stillness
16 x 20
Thanks for looking... I hope something grabbed you- or spoke to you about the magnificence of Creation!

And YES, ALL OF THESE ARE FOR SALE!

With frames- from $450.00 to $1,300.00.

For more information (or prices!) call my cell at (936) 825 8923.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Diversification... the key to our times

Times are hard but miraculously,  I have stayed busy... all those various art skills acquired over a lifetime have paid off and kept me always (so far) with something to do... Here are the highlights  of the past few months... some of these projects are the results of many months of negotiations and meetings... it was pointless to even tell you about until now...

 The Riverside Nature Center commission...
 I have been negotiating and then executing my part of this project for way over a year... This was the original design... since morphed and modified to fit the situation... Long story... but upshot of it is that the Riverside Nature Center of Kerrville, Texas is installing a water feature with a mural... and I have been asked to help design it.
 Proposal using Photography, Photoshop


The Mize commission- actually last spring...  The Mizes of Washington County asked me to help create a manikin which would be a sort of monument to their beloved gardener, (still very much alive) named Benigno, who is of average height. They provided a six-foot manikin and I gave it Benigno's face... so I called him "Magnigno."
Manikin, epoxy putty, acrylic paint...

The Williams commissions... Tracy and Leesa Williams of Huntsville, Texas asked me to look over their ranch aned find some suitable scenes for landscapes to decorate their new home there.
 "Noname Falls" Oil on canvas

This was the property which I made a video about ... the fabulous waterfall there (after the spring rains) and then made two paintings... 
"Swan Lake," Oil on canvas.


The First Baptist Church (Navasota) design - We made coffee cups to give away to visitors of First Baptist Church...  This design was made to greet them and remind them of their visit.
Photography- Photoshop


The Swank commission: Ben Swank IV asked me to compose this scene to commemorate the toil and memories of the Swanks over four generations. It was a real pleasure to do this as I knew his grandparents, looking proudly on in the background.

  "Can't Thirty," Oil on canvas.


 The Tubie commission- Recently local recording artist Tubie Pushee contacted me about doing his next album cover for Tubie and the Touchtones. Needless to say, it took little coaxing, as I am a fan of theirs and instantly had a concept for his title song... which he loved- it will be released soon!
 Photography, Photoshop
The summer is over (whew!) and I look forward to some travel and finishing the project in Kerrville. Right now I am working on SIX new canvases in my studio... for the Christmas season... (eternal optimist) I guess if they don't sell I will just give them away!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Find That Kept On Giving!

 Back when Linda used to enjoy my adventures (close to 40 years ago!) we used to go “pickin” (as in American Picker) up around Denton County where we lived at the time. One time I got permission to rummage in a time-capsuled estate after a Saturday morning yard sale. We had a blast going through a long-abandoned pre-war doctor's residence on the outskirts of Denton, finding some real treasures which I still have today. I found a pristine NuGrape bottle from the 1920's, just laying on top the ground. Linda found some human remains... We were digging around the base of an old collapsed out-building and it popped up out of the dirt.. she says sweetly, proud of her college knowledge..."I know what that is.. that's a human mandible!" 

No wonder she lost her enthusiasm for picking! It was that kind of once-in-a-lifetime pristine, bones-in-the-closet opportunity. Among our finds from the very same pile was a large stack of 1905-1915 Delineator magazines. We spent countless hours later in our little cottage going through them and discarding the buggy, raggedy parts. We set back a few nice old color magazine ads to do something with them “some day.” 


 We especially liked the old Post Toasties ads. And my favorite was a southwestern scene... A Navajo Indian tying down a huge crate of Kellogg's Corn Flakes on his pack burro. I really loved that thing, and we had it framed later. Sadly it was destroyed in one of our moves over the years... later I saw that the same advertisement had been used to decorate a collector's tin. It was a classic piece of Americana.




 In a bizarre twist, cereal magnate and the major competitor of Kellogg's, C. W. Post purchased the painting and not surprisingly had the artist paint over the offensive Kellogg's logo... You can't make this stuff up! Post was reportedly quite fond of the painting from then on...
 

So when I was asked to appraise a southwestern painting a year or so ago I did so with particular interest... since nowadays I have established myself somewhat as a southwestern artist... An elderly couple was getting rid of “stuff” and needed to know values... I loved the painting but it was by an unfamiliar artist and was in bad need of restoration. That is something that “I used to do,” but since then have grown more respect for the restoration  profession and gladly deferred to them.

Unfortunately, the couple did not choose to take my advice and have it restored... and I ended up purchasing it myself recently at a local consignment shop. I had looked up the painting before but nothing had rung a bell... had even sent photos to galleries in New Mexico where the name might mean something. The artist was New York born Harold Betts, a member of a family of accomplished artists.

 Harold Betts and his brother Edwin did the illustrations for a novel about the Aztecs called Prince Izon.

 
Harold Betts was born in New York City in 1881, into a family of artists. His father Edwin Daniel Betts Sr. was an accomplished painter, as were several of Harold's siblings, the most famous being Louis Betts. But Harold was the one drawn to the American West, beginning annual pilgrimages in 1906. He often left his home in Chicago to search for inspiration in New Mexico and Arizona, being a regular visitor at the Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado, Arizona around 1909 when the painting in question was executed. His works found a proud home in private collections at the Hubbell Trading Post, the Smithsonian and not surprisingly, the Santa Fe Railroad bought up most of his works.
Still, with all that pedigree, there were no responses to my solicitations. But then, the thing was in pretty bad shape...

Feeling something nagging about the painting, I went ahead and bought it... and after I purchased the painting I decided to bring it back to life... what could it hurt? Here is the result...

STUNNING! Another  version of "Santo Domingo Trading Post " by Harold Betts, now restored.

After I worked on it several days, replacing the tiny flecks that had been lost to time, I once again looked up the artist... I knew he was H. Betts- Harold H. Betts from the Midwest and he was a transient member of the Taos School around the turn of the last century. And after much more searching on the Internet I found that he was the artist of... that ad I had loved in the 1910 Delineator Magazine! In fact the artist had also been published by the Harvey House restaurant franchise and Betts had seen his work sent out on countless Post Cards emanating from the American Southwest. 

"Santo Domingo Trading Post" by H. Betts

And in fact one such painting they published was a close sister to mine... painted the same year- 1909, and helps me know the location of my painting... . Except mine is far more beautiful! So TWICE the work of an obscure artist crossed my path... caught my eye... and came home with me... There are few people today who know or care about Harold Betts besides art appraisers... but now in my collection his legacy will be told for future generations... I guess I should never have touched it... maybe I ruined the value and... it won't matter then if I just keep it! 

But something tells me that someday I will not be able to afford to turn down what this thing is worth...

A painting by H. Betts...

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Been Pretty Busy This Summer...

Several Commissions and a waterfall project at the Riverside Nature Center in Kerrville have kept me out of trouble the past few months... 

Here is one of my latest works, a commission for Ben Swank... ALL OF THEM!  That little toddler is Ben Swank Jr... (Judge Ben Swank and Ida Mae Swank watching in the background) in the family cotton patch at "Retreat" near Whitehall.  It was the brainchild of, and commissioned by his son, also Ben Swank.

"Can't-thirty"

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Spring Crop

It has been a busy spring and summer, with several commissions and more in progress!

Here are some highlights- 

 40 x 50 commission for Tracy and Leesa Williams. This fabulous waterfall is on their ranch! There are sunfish and a woodpecker in there somewhere!

18 x 24  Lost Maples Twilight- Nothing more beautiful than Texas maples in a lonesome canyon. $750.00


24 x 36  Thirsty Land- The sky gives back to the mountains near Ft Davis. $1200.00

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Not at a theater near you... but on YOU TUBE!



 One of my favorite memories... (in spite of a serious back injury!) showing my newly installed sculpture to my 95 year-old grandmother who was blind at the time... finally she could experience what I had been doing. She counted every toe like it was a new grandbaby.

Just put my new video on You Tube... already has had over 100 visits in the first 24 hours!  And thanks for all of the positive feedback. It is the story of how I ended up spending two decades doing public art... Hope you find it inspiring!

Just click on the LINK!
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLtQ1Pa33PQ

Saturday, March 21, 2015

My Culture Clash at TCU and North Texas State - 1974 - 1975


When I enrolled to study art at Texas Christian University in 1973, I never dreamed of the formidable forces of opposition I would soon face from my various art professors. Fresh out of High School, I had studied art privately for almost seven years, and was already consigning my work at 2719 Gallery in Dallas. They had sold one of my large canvases to the Mars Candy Company in Waco. I was a budding professional artist, or so I thought. The only male in most of my college art classes, I made good grades, and my instructors could not deny that I did my work and turned it in on time. And I did it well. But I represented something repugnant to them and my instructors seemed eager to find every way they could to challenge and humiliate me. 
 
After forty years, I still am amazed at the wall I ran into just trying to study art.

I had old-fashioned values, but I drew and painted well, and leaned towards representational art. This was opposite of everything college art professors of that era were trying to achieve in modern art. In some ways, their success depended on effectively discrediting the art of the past... and me. This persistent challenging on such an intellectual level made me a little arrogant, as I stood my ground, and eventually I became tired of it and disillusioned, and so by the end of my first year of study I began to look for someplace else to get my education.

I transferred out, walking away from the Dean’s List at TCU and a sweet financial aid package, hoping to find a more tolerant atmosphere at a state supported college; North Texas State University in Denton. This only shows how little I understood my plight.

North Texas had a “state of the art” art department. I soon naively relished in my art history and figure drawing classes, and looking around at my peers whom were considerably more serious than at TCU, I still felt my talent could win me an art scholarship. Since Linda my sweetheart (and future wife!) had moved to Denton that year and I was in my element, my happiness quotient may have been at an all-time high. 
 
At the end of my Sophomore year, I was required like everyone else to go through a “Sophomore portfolio review” before I could take Junior level courses. I considered this something perfunctory, in my case, and to be a mere formality. I was agreeable that North Texas State planned to tell any art student who lacked the stuff to be an artist, that they were wasting their time, to give them time to change their major to something else. I went into my portfolio review with three NTSU faculty members expecting a warm and collegiate reception.

But this was the day that I learned the ruthless and ferocious temperament of Academia.

Quickly I realized that I had come way under-prepared to face what was an adversarial confrontation. The professors barely looked at my work or did so with blank expressions. Time seemed to drag as they made small talk among themselves, rarely engaging with me, but looking at each other, as if to ask, who is going to tell him? There was only one professor whom I knew, and he was my figure drawing instructor, Mike Cunningham. This made me feel some comfort, because he usually gave me good grades, and we had very little conversation during the semester, good or bad, because he was rarely present in the class. He took the back seat however and bowed in deference to the haughty young woman on the team, who began to grill me, as if I was somehow a thorn in her side…

 “Why are you here?” she asked. When I looked at her incredulously, and explained I wanted to earn an art degree, she got more specific.
 
You know, why do you create art… why do you paint?” She wore a pained and condescending smile, like she had just gotten a mouthful of bad fish.

Suddenly I knew what this inquisition was all about. I was “straight,” a wholesome, all- American kid with short hair, and drew things you could recognize… and did it pretty well. I rarely missed a class. I made A’s and B’s in my art classes. My developed talent was respected by my peers. But I did not fit in. I was ... CONSERVATIVE.  

It was like that Twilight Zone segment when the beautiful girl has to have plastic surgery to make her distorted and ugly so as to conform to the others... or else.

I was Opie Taylor all grown up, I was the epitome of the bright and shining conservative adversary they wanted to rub out of existence. My skills only enhanced the fact that engaging, beautiful art was possible. My approach and style might be attractive, even seductive to the other students, and if allowed to continue, would certainly ruin their designs to reinvent art. Her question was a loaded one, and I gave her the loaded answer. But I unflinchingly told her the truth:

Ever since I was around 11 years old,” I waxed, “I have painted to glorify God and His creation.” When I became a Christian at age 11, I promised God that if He would rescue me from my miserable life, one that I had wanted to end, I would, in trade, paint to glorify Him and His creation for the rest of my life. Now my female interrogator was incredulous.

That’s why you paint?”

The three professors looked at one another with veiled contempt. It seems that about right now was when one of them, the Dean I think, excused himself. Perhaps he did not have the stomach for the dirty work of cleaning up the art department... That was fine with me. The female interrogator continued. My answers did not satisfy her. I was beginning to realize that this was no friendly intellectual debate. In this 1970’s college art department, it was not America, with every person free to believe and create what he wanted, with reasons of his own choosing. 
 
We have discussed this, and we are sure... you will not be happy here. 

You are an anachronism. You and your style are part of the past. You are not part of what we are doing here. And your mindset here tells us you are not going to change.”

Are you telling me that I am not welcome to study here? That I cannot major in art at North Texas?” There was silence.

We are telling you that you will not be happy here, and you need to go someplace else to study what you do, which is illustration.”

I argued that I thought illustration, if that was indeed what I did, was certainly as valid an art form as the pornographic ceramics I saw produced in the sculpture department, as honorable as stained glass or pottery or any high craft taught in the art school.

They made it clear that my arguments were pointless and they did not want me there. I was stupefied. I tried to reason with them. “This is all backwards. I am your customer. I am here to earn a degree. I need it and you need me to pay your salary. It’s your job to educate me, even if you don’t like me!” This did not go over well. So I begged for sympathy…

So I’ve been painting all of my life, all I ever wanted to be was an artist. I’ve sold professionally since I was twelve or thirteen. Now you tell me I am not an artist! Where am I supposed to go? What am I supposed to study?” I finally had changed gears to indignation.

It has been forty years since that day, and I could be imagining this, But I seem to remember her saying flatly, "We don't care!"

They coldly recommended that I find another school, any school, or change my major… to perhaps advertising, where my gift of illustration might be of some use. I looked at Professor Cunningham to see if this was all a joke, or that the female faculty member was overstating it a bit. He did not crack a smile.

I had never given these people an ounce of trouble. But Professor Cunningham had once reprimanded me for naively helping other students when they were struggling with their drawings when he was not present. They had come to me more than once and asked for help, as he was often not present in the class. And he rarely taught anything when he was there. I had never suspected how jealous or threatened he must have been, or how expendable I was. 
 
After a brutal, heated discussion, I felt their resolve, and I knew that they were right. I was NEVER going to be happy there, because I made them unhappy. By the end of the “perfunctory” sophomore portfolio review, I was nearly in tears. Rejection, especially from your peers and especially your mentors, is HELL. I picked up my stuff and walked out of the building in a daze. I could not believe what I had just heard. It had been a grueling, life-changing half hour.

And supposedly, according to my mentors, I was no longer an artist. I went home to look up the word anachronism.

So you say, Russ, you seem to be having a pity party. Maybe I am. Injustice has always pissed me off, and especially when it changed the course of my life. 
 
I thought it would be amusing, with an art career now firmly established under my belt… to revisit North Texas State of Yesteryear… (now University of North Texas) And I did so, a few years ago, and I was in the area and went and asked to visit with the Dean of the Art Department. Poor guy. He was an acting Dean… it was a quiet summer day, he had obviously not prepared for anyone like me to walk in the door.

I told him who and what I was. I briefed him on a few of my accomplishments. He was polite and listened, I’m sure wondering what he was supposed to do. So he finally asked me what brought me there today, the point of my visit. I just had one question… as I have had many young people over the years look to me for guidance in pursuing an art career.

Would you do the same thing to them today, that you did to me then?” 
 
The gracious acting Dean was quick to say… 
 
You have to understand, that was the 70’s… there were a lot of standards being challenged then. Everybody was reinventing something. The pendulum has shifted somewhat. We’ve since realized that our primary job is to educate, regardless of a person’s color or creed.”

The dean made all of the right reactions and said all the right words to make me feel appeased, and I walked out with a tiny sense of vindication… I wondered what ever happened to those art instructors who so effectively booted me out of art school, and what kind of artists they turned out to be…

I'm sure even now, they would  not be proud of my legacy in the Brazos Valley. And I wonder what theirs is, in the final analysis of things. But I am sure that they were the big losers then and now. As were the thousands of students under their prejudiced influence.

 Amazingly, we are still insisting that kids get a college education as a prerequisite for success... We are the living illustration for insanity.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Naked Truth About NTSU & Art School

 The staff of the North Texas Daily in 1975, as pictured in the college annual... the LAST college annual from NTSU...
 
 So I thought it would be fun now to revisit this whole ‘70’s college scene. I even went and bought an old college annual from that year when I transferred to North Texas. I am not in it, but that wild, anarchic world is very much in evidence. I know you are going to find all of this incredible, even now!

North Texas was an old and yet progressive state teachers college, a Liberal Arts school with a capital L. It was striving to join the coveted Southwest Football Conference. The highly admired Hayden Fry had been hired to coach the dream team that would win respect and ultimately entrance into the big leagues of college football. The home of “Mean” Joe Green, North Texas was full of itself. Of course, as a Fine Arts student, I did not really care much about all of that.

The fad of streaking had emerged the year before when I was at TCU. Streaking was popular on campuses all over the country for a year or so… then went away. Nobody ever explained why they started or why they quit. North Texas had streakers too. That is another blog… But somebody came out with a funny song about it, and everybody laughed it off and went back to business. The streakers were not the problem.

The “problems”were the various college administrations who could not handle the extremely clever and devious students everywhere who seemed to know how to get under their skin and make them act foolishly. That even included me. The art/journalism folks had especially made themselves public enemy number one. 

It was an intellectual struggle, and it was a fight to the finish. The student-generated North Texas Daily never missed an opportunity to embarrass and chastise the powers that be, so the university administration did the only reasonable thing, it began to defund certain irritating student-led institutions who had abused their First Amendment Rights, and especially those who could finagle a well-timed last word on various subjects. The old tradition of the college annual was killed outright.

So in its farewell publication, the discontinued annual staff created one hellova document… to forever embarrass and chastise. They must have spent a great deal of time thinking it through… and they had nothing to lose. It may have been the only Playboy themed college annual ever published. 



The North Texas Daily staff posed nude under the bedcovers, all of them together… a la “Bob & Ted & Carol & Alice.” The staff artist placed Playboy nymphs on many pages, spritely frolicking bare-chested amongst the photos of classmates. There was even a chapter entitled “Playmates.”

What is most stunning to me though, as I thumb through this wonderful time capsule, are the excellent articles, on concerns of the day; The dismal job market. It was terrible. So bad, folks were gladly prolonging graduation or going for their Masters degrees to just stay in school; The growing misuse of “student service fees,” usually for athletics; Student drinking; Women’s Rights; Corruption in Government at the highest levels. Nixon and most of his cabinet had finally stepped down. Good riddance, but what kind of country had we inherited, anyway? An unexplainable ENERGY CRISIS and outrageous gas prices; The desperate need for racial tolerance and understanding; The need for Freedom of Speech and the Freedom of the Press, no matter how uncomfortable it made certain parties…

Things have not changed a bit in forty years.

And the headlines of campus excitement, like the issues of today, were very similar to those of today… High profile football games, Willie Nelson singing on the campus… Troublemakers getting in trouble after making trouble for the administration…It’s all the same after 40 years! (Willie just played with his son at Texas A & M a few months ago...)

 Yes, absolutely, I took Life Drawing... TWICE... in fact that was where I found my purpose in life... and got myself uninvited to the art program at NTSU...

So this was the toxic bed of intolerance and discontent I walked into expecting to be treated fairly. There was so much negativity behind the scenes it is a wonder there was not more of a physical revolution emerging than a few dudes and chicks running around naked. And if you were in any of my life drawing classes, that was not a very big deal.

That was the seventies… which were pretty much like the eighties… and so on…

The only difference seems to be the technology employed. Now today’s youths run around naked on the Internet. And the means of debasement is the only development in the system. Those elusive desirable jobs are even more scarce, but now you can apply for the job you are not going to get online. You can save yourself the humiliation of knocking on doors… And the government is even more corrupt, but now they can employ all kinds of technologies to rob us, violate our rights and invade our lives, via Internet surveillance. Energy is still a wild economic roller coaster,  but we can know instantly what the price of crude is in Saudi Arabia, which we can never control or beat or compete with in a million years.

All of those educated fools in all of those colleges with all of those degrees, and we still have not solved any of the challenges of the Twentieth Century. And we are fifteen years into the Twenty-first. Makes me glad I did not invest my life in Economics, or Science, or Humanities, since they have learned and solved nothing in a half-century. At least in art school, I was told I was NOT going to be happy AND TO GET OUT OF HERE and I was a pathetic ANACHRONISM on a good day. This was all very sound advice. Those caring folks tried to save me a lot of time and money.
It seems any kind of art was considered art at NTSU, which had a very respectable art program in 1975. Any kind except mine of course.

I went back to school later at Sam Houston State and finished my degree. In the end I was absolutely sure my professors at NTS were correct. I was a throwback to the past, and I did not fit this era I am living in. Thank God! It turns out neither did they. 

So I have spent the last forty years being an anachronism. I’m a proud, lifelong ANACHRONIST, repelled out of art school by artist-anarchists. I was told by educated experts that I was not an artist… I’ve spent my whole career not even sure how to professionally define myself.

Pardon me for this observation, but after a life in art, or something akin to it, fifty years of painting and sculpting, PROFESSIONALLY, I have to call what I encountered at North Texas as a hostile hub of lies and revolution… something akin to THE SPIRIT OF THE ANTI- CHRIST.

I think I will stick with my brand… I could have done a lot worse.