My father, a registered nurse, moved our family to Nashville in 1946, joining a clinic started by Dr. Oscar Carter. Dad brought me the yellow wrapping paper that Kodak x-ray film was shipped in, sheets that measured about 18” x 24” when unfolded. He also provided all the #2 pencils I wanted. So this “artist” started his career somewhere about the age of 4.
I graduated from Hillsboro High School in 1961 and Peabody College in 1965. My first job was in the L&C Tower as a board artist for McDonald, Saussy, where I worked under the benevolent eye of Creative Director John Sellers. Tupper Saussy, the legendary polymath, was responsible for one of the most popular ad campaigns of the era, Purity Dairy’s Cow and Kangaroo series. But just as I was sitting down at my desk, Uncle Sam invited me to join him in Vietnam.
Assigned as a combat artist aboard the USS Providence in the Tonkin Gulf, I met Larry Johnson, Mike Beckley and John Coté, artists and photographers from California, and John Roach from Up East. This talented team helped me develop as an illustrator. During my tour, I was assigned to prepare the cruise book for our deployment. This brought me to Dia Nippon Printing in Tokyo, where I learned the finer points of layout and design. Upon discharge, I attended Art Center College of Design in LA for a semester.
I returned to Nashville in 1970 and joined Bob Hitt’s Illustration Design Group. Bob and his crew provided the real “finishing school” I needed to become a competent professional commercial illustrator. Jeff Buntin hired me as an art director in 1977, but it did not take long for both of us to realize I should return to my career as an illustrator. I set up my own shop in 1979. From my office on Reidhurst Avenue, I could smell Mama Rotier cooking her world-class burgers. With the help of Gwen Ballard and Rainey Kirk, we serviced most of the local agencies, providing technical, airbrush and expository illustrations and design work for 20 years.
With the advent of computer technology, I lost one of the most enjoyable aspects of my routine. Back in the day of airbrush and illustration board, I would waltz into the client’s office, slip the completed illustration from my portfolio, whip back the cover sheet and bask in the glory of the astounded onlookers. Now all that work is done with a tablet and screen and sent as a file. But with the internet, I continued to expand my client base to include national and a few international clients, including Smithsonian Air & Space magazine, ForbesLife, Delta Faucet, LA Times, OgilvyOne, Crispin Porter, USG, Hamilton Beach, Scolastic, National Geographic and others.
After 35 years of commercial work, I returned to the parallel painting career I had worked intermittingly since the early 70s. In the late 80s, our family moved into my childhood home in West Nashville. I built a home studio by demolishing the north wall of the original garage and adding a solarium.
Most of my paintings have been realistic renderings of places and machines I’ve known, including Nashville natives like the Judge Hickman, the ferry that once crossed the Cumberland at the foot of Charlotte Avenue. I completed a series of watercolors of Cades Cove, a series of aircraft paintings for John Parrish for his “Parrish Patch” in Tullahoma, and a pair of oil paintings hanging at the Opryland Hotel. In addition, paintings of scenes and vehicles from my checkered past hang throughout my house, including an open hood view of an Aston Martin DB6 engine lovingly named “Odalisque”.
In late 2013, I completed a small abstract landscape I named “Southern Wild”. At first, I really didn’t know what to make of it. Executed in oil paint and worked with black line, it had a distinct graphic signature unlike anything I had seen before. I have always admired Ken Dallison’s unique line and watercolor style, as well as Paul Klee’s line and color sense, but this painting was different. I applied the technique to landscapes and pure abstractions, as well as deconstructed versions of both and found it was a perfect style for my sensibilities.
I have been painting steadily for three years developing a body of work derived from that first breakout piece but built on the inevitable education that comes from the daily painting experience. Sometimes the pen sketch comes first, defining design and balance. At other times, I’ll attack the canvas with color and let it suggest the ultimate composition. As it happens, naming the finished art seems to be the most perplexing task and requires the clear head and keen eye of my dear wordsmith wife, Colleen.
Justin and Audra Harvey have offered to host my work at their gallery, abrasiveMedia, 438 Houston Street, Suite 257 in October, 2016. In addition, through the Tennessee Art League, I am showing at the Hutton Hotel, 1808 West End Avenue.