Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tubac Arts Festival & Jean-Claude Quilici

This week I am in the process of finishing a large 30 x 40 inch canvas of Taos Pueblo. This appealing symphony of ochre colors always serves as a reminder of what a challenge it is to paint a Pueblo structure and do it well. Many artists like to depict single Pueblo structures or homes of that style - I attempt, much like my mentor Jean-Claude Quilici, to capture the largesse of Taos and Acoma, and to pay proper homage to their beauty and uniqueness.

At this point in the exhibit season, many of us Southern Arizona artists turn our attention to the Tubac Arts festival. This year's festival runs February 6-10, and it features countless interesting attractions and artistic displays in historic Tubac, AZ. I will have paintings on display at Cobalt Fine Arts Gallery at 5 Camino Otero, so I encourage everyone to stop by. On display at Cobalt Fine Arts are some of the last remaining unsold pieces from a large group exhibited this past November - notably "Arizona The Beautiful" and "Saguaros Under a Monsoon Sky."

This week I had an interesting discussion with a musician friend of mine, and we were thinking about the issue of originality. I believe now, more than ever, true originality is urgently necessary for any kind of real creative success. With more than 6 billion people on planet earth , it is getting harder and harder to arrive at an idea that is truly new and invigorating - especially in the art world. Yet there are many cases in art history where painters actually drifted together, because they found they came to similar styles while working separately. Braque and Picasso realized that their own experiments in painting were leading them to analytical cubism - so they decided to collaborate. Monet and Renoir often placed their easels side by side in front of the subject, and came out with canvases that were in a similar spirit, but subtly different. The post-impressionists like Van Gogh and Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec drifted together as a sort of natural extension in deciding where to pick up from the impressionists. But I have never been a part of any group of artists, and in some sense I am happy for that. Working alone I feel I have managed to create something distinct - paintings that are not to be confused with any other Southern Arizona artist. And I have always been hyper-aware of how often I've walked in galleries in the west and seen a blur of indistinguishable paintings. It was sometimes as if the signatures on the paintings could have been inter-changed and nobody would notice.

That does not mean I have not had my own inspirations and my own master. From the very early days, around 1992 when I did my first oil paintings, I was always attracted to bright colored paint and the thick application of it. This occurred with no prompting, just a confirmation of instincts. And in about 1994 I had the pleasure of learning about contemporary French artist Jean-Claude Quilici. Quilici happened to be the cousin of one of my great friends, the French professor Dr. Augustin Quilici, from Lenoir-Rhyne College. Dr Quilici showed me Jean-Claude's work, and I was enthralled. This was it! This was the place to start.

Jean-Claude Quilici has garnered many accomplishments in his years of painting - for me, he offered regular friendship and encouragement, copies of books and of his works, as well as posters with full color reproductions. He was wise enough to offer encouragement and advice, but we never studied together and he never directed me to do this or that with my work. He did what a great artist should do, offer himself as an example if needed - but leave the student to find his or her own direction. I think Jean-Claude also knew that the discoveries that really matter are those we make alone in the studio, or in front of the subject - not something rambled over in a loud, raucous discussion of artists.

To this day, I can honestly admit that few things make me happier than seeing examples of Jean-Claude's work that I have not seen before. We've met twice, and we still keep in touch by mail. His work continues to soar in excellence and vibrancy - and I openly consider him my "maitre" and friend.

I do encourage everyone to make themselves familiar with the work of Jean-Claude Quilici, and by doing so, those of you with an interest in my work will see the seeds of inspiration that have given rise to my very own paintings.

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