Art: It’s My Nature

John W. Pinkerton

Art is important to me.  It has always been so.  Don’t ask why.  Like the fellow who when asked why he smoked dope replied simply, “It’s my nature.”  I’ve read a lot of biographies of artists, and, contrary to the popular perception, very few were nut cases.  In fact, generally I’ve found them to be pretty pleasant folks.


The first artist I admired, probably at the age of ten, was El Greco (1541–1614) who was a painter,   sculptor, and  architect of the Spanish Renaissance.  I was just a little kid when I first encountered El Greco’s paintings in a book.  The elongation of the figures I guess is what attracted me.  I was fascinated.  Yeah, it seems a little strange to me also that a ten year old would be interested in El Greco.  Although I’ve never seen one in person, I still find his paintings interesting: perhaps not as interesting as they were to the ten year old me, but interesting.

The second artist who caught my attention was Georges Rouault (1871–1958) who was a French Fauvist and Expressionist painter, and printmaker in lithography and etching. I was still in high school when I discovered him.  I suppose it was the looseness of his figures and the heavy blunt way the paint was applied.  I guess he is the anti-John: my paintings are usually very flat and controlled.   I try to be free when painting, but it ain’t easy for me.

An artist I discovered pretty early on was William Turner (1775-1851) who was an English Romantic landscape painter, watercolorist, and printmaker.  I guess the attraction for my young eyes was the apparent abstractness of his paintings, which when closely examined, revealed realistic scenes.  These paintings are real show stoppers.  I liked and still like the idea that what may appear to be just color and light is actually a realistic scene from life.

When I was in the service, there were two artists I discovered, Modigliani and Giacometti.  Giacometti (1901–1966) was a Swiss sculptor,  painter, draftsman, and printmaker; and Modigliani (1884 –1920) was an Italian artist  who worked mainly in France.  I discovered Giacometti at the Tate in London while on leave.  There they were---the elongated roughly hewn metal human figures.  Modigliani I discovered about the same time.  Again the elongation of the human figure and the eyes; the eyes are entrancing and difficult to reproduce as I’ve learned the hard way.

Rothko  I’ve discovered in the last thirty years.  Rothko expanded painting to pure emotional expression.  I have to admit that at times I lean toward Rothko’s style.   What I consider to be my best painting is reminiscent of Rothko.  It’s hanging in my studio without hope of ever selling, too simple.

My most recent discovery of an artist I admire is Hundertwasser (1928 –2000) who was an Austrian painter and architect. He was one of the best-known contemporary Austrian artists.  I discovered him by picking up an art book with a colorful cover at Half-Priced Books.  I just glanced inside briefly and took the book home.  Wow, once again, wow.  The vivid colors, the interesting forms, and a hint of the real world among the color.  I knew about the Austrians Klimt and Schiele and admired them.  Now I’ve added Hundertwasser to the list.  I have to admit I’ve imitated his style in some of my paintings.   Why I didn’t know about him until after his death is beyond me.

Finding interesting artists in museums or galleries or books or on the internet is one thing, but meeting professional artists in person is much more interesting.

The first professional artist I met was at a Somerville PTA meeting: Etta Grace Hulme, born in 1923 in Somerville.  She still maintains her family home here.  She grew up to become an editorial cartoonist. Her syndicated cartoons have appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1972. She won the National Cartoonist Society Editorial Cartoon Award for 1981 and 1998.  She was kind enough to make a presentation at a Somerville PTA meeting talking about and showing how she creates her cartoons.  I won a Yegua (local mascot) cartoon which hangs in my studio that she did for a local auction.  Of course political cartoons are serious undertakings, but they usually make their point with humor.  I see the value of humor in art, and when I discover it, I incorporate it.

I met George Rodrigue a few years ago.  I saw some of his prints while attending the Worlds Fair in New Orleans in 1984.  I was interested enough in his work to inquire in a gallery in Baton Rouge how I might contact him.  Armed with a telephone number, Linda called, spoke with his wife, and we were invited to his home/gallery in Lafayette.  Viewing his gallery and visiting with his auburn-haired wife was very pleasant.  A year or so later, we stopped by there again: this time George was home.  George is a regular guy.  We had a wonderful conversation about his art, and we bought a couple of his Cajun prints.  On a pool table in the gallery, I noticed a stack of prints of Ronald Reagan on horseback, “An American Hero.”  George had done an oil painting of Ronald Reagan which was made into prints which were to be gifts to Republican Eagles, big contributors to the Republican party.  George seemed to be quite excited about the project.  At the time, George was still known as the Cajun artist.  His paintings of Cajuns set against a background of dark oaks of Southern Louisiana were wildly popular in Louisiana, East Texas, and California (go figure).  He told me he was looking for new subjects and was toying with the idea of Indian art.  That was a pretty limited endeavor.  The Blue Dog was ultimately what he found for a new subject.  George has painted the Blue Dog in just about every setting one can imagine.  The Blue Dog led to Rodrigue galleries in New Orleans, California, Tokyo, and Berlin.  Oh, yeah, the Ronald Reagan painting: when Linda and I got to our car after visiting with George, I told Linda I had a feeling I needed to purchase one of the Reagan prints.  I knocked on his door and told him I was interested in purchasing one.  He said they were $250.  I replied that I didn’t know that they were that expensive and was sorry I had bothered him.  He chuckled and said I could have one for $25.00.  He signed it “artist proof” with his signature.  Cool moment.

The third professional artist I met was Mr. Travis Keese.  He was born in 1932 in Lyons and went to school in Somerville.  He’s been a professional artist all of his life.  He’s developed into  a grand wild life artist.  I met Mr. Keese a few years ago when we went to Kerrville to visit the Cowboy Artists of America Museum, Museum of Western Art.  If you’re ever out that way, don’t miss the wonderful art displayed there.  After the visit, we sought out Mr. Keese.  We found him and his wife at their gallery.  We chatted for a while.  I couldn’t afford any of the wonderful wildlife paintings, but I could afford a print.  I told Mr. Keese that I was thinking of pursuing art more fervently.  He drew on a scrap of paper an easel that he thought I might be able to build.  Thanks, Mr. Keese.  I’ve talked with him on a couple of other occasions, and he’s always been very kind.

My most surprising personal encounter with a renowned artist occurred when I didn’t even know it.  Ron Shuebrook and I were in the service together in Germany in the same six-man section.  I knew that Ron had gone to art school, and he even gave me a woodblock print he did while we were in Germany.  We happened to fly back to the states to be discharged at the same time.  While we were waiting for discharge from Fort Dix, Ron invited me to visit with his parents in Pennsylvania.  It was a great visit with his folks, and I much appreciated the invitation.  I recall that before we parted company, I asked him what he thought he would do.  He replied that he might go to work for Hallmark Cards. 

Years passed and I began trying to find old friends by using the internet.  I had pretty good success in finding them, but it was a lot of work.  I found a few old high school friends and an old army buddy.  When I thought of looking for Ron, all I knew was his name, that he was an artist, and that his parents had lived in Pennsylvania.  I began as I usually do with a general search on the net just using his name.  Wow!  My screen lit up with finds for Ron Shuebrook.  Could this be the right guy?  There was even a video of Ron at an art opening.  It had been over 40 years since I last saw Ron, so the video wasn’t much help.  In spite of the fact that he had recently retired as the President of the Ontario School of Art and Design, I couldn’t find an email address for him.  I found a gallery that was featuring his work and sent them an email explaining who I was and asking them to pass the message on to Ron.  A few days later I received an email from Ron.  Yeah, this was the guy who thought he might go to work for Hallmark.  Ron moved to Canada and maintains dual citizenship.  He and I have maintained correspondence ever since.  By the way, Ron not only is a well-respected artist, but his writing skills are first rate.  This makes for great correspondence.  

I always find it exciting to find an artist who is producing or has produced works which look unique to me. I occasionally find an artist that I find interesting in a book I’ve purchased or on the internet.  Now that I have my toe in the waters of the art world, I occasionally meet  a real live artist.  I don’t consider myself a professional artist, maybe semipro: if I were dependent on my art sales for a living, I would surely starve to death.  I have the greatest respect for folks who make a living by pursuing their art.  Thanks, guys.


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