Saturday, June 19, 2021

Difficult Paths Often Lead to Beautiful Destinations

Russell Belue concludes, “I have something I would like to add, perhaps advice for those wanting to become artists. You can have everything, including talent, and still get nowhere, or a person could be born with nothing and become an accomplished artist. I am speaking from experience. I have found myself saying or thinking, if only I had a bigger studio, more time, better lighting and art supplies, or if a decent gallery would give me the time of day. It is never going to be easy to be an artist whether one has everything laid out on a silver platter or not and there will always be excuses wanting to get in your way. Being an artist is a difficult path, but I think it has been worth it. At least that is what I keep telling myself.

By Derrick White

“School is good. Residencies are good too, but the things I have learned while actually painting are where the education really is,” states local artist Russell Belue. He continues, “I started making art around the time I could pick up a pencil or a crayon. Later, I took after school art classes and art classes in high school which turned me on to the idea, I might want to do this forever. I went to art school after graduation at the Savannah College of Art and Design and after 3 years, I moved out west. I ended up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I have been painting ever since.” Belue now lives in Mixon, Texas just south of Tyler, here with us, behind the pine curtain.

Russell’s paintings span a wide assortment and they burst with colors, textures, and surfaces leading your eye rapidly around the composition again and again and they vary in subject matter from purely non-objective to satisfying, bulbous figurative forms. He explains, “My style is about the paint. It ranges from abstract expressionism and mostly non-objective to more detailed paintings of figures and portraits. My style has involved, over the years, being in the moment. I try to capture the light in a landscape or when painting from a model, capturing the ever-changing expressions and feelings transpiring during the sitting. I have tried hard, over the years, to not allow my art to get too formulated in its approach. I want every individual work of art to be treated as a completely new beginning, if possible.” Russell creates mostly with oil paint and watercolor. Belue describes, “I have been painting with watercolors for about 30 years. Watercolor is about light and transparency. Also, it is my favorite medium to take traveling for practical purposes. Oil paint, more recently, has been the paint for a series of abstract paintings. These works focus on the surfaces and textures on the canvas. I want the surface to feel like an open wound.” 

Perhaps Belue has always used art, as many of us do, to help heal trauma or to treat open wounds. Russell states, “As a teenager, I needed an outlet to express myself, and a world to escape to. It has always been easier to communicate via painting than by other means. I had more anger to deal with at the time as well. I let it out in the form of art-making. The process of art has helped open my mind to ideas and ways of being. It has given me a skill set I am glad to know and have. It has challenged me to become a better problem solver and has certainly strengthened my abilities of observation. I see things the way I see them and I wonder, sometimes, if I would see them in that light had I never taken up painting.”

There are difficulties for most artists along the way. As Russell affirms, “The fact few people really care about art can be frustrating. Art takes up one’s entire life, if they are serious about it, but the amount of money it brings in does not always compensate. Also, I think artists must deal with self-doubt and it is hard. I can look at my friends and all their material wealth and I think to myself I made a mistake by spending so much of my life pursuing something often not providing. Also, I think wanting or needing others to understand what you are doing can be frustrating when they do not seem to get it.” 

When asked about other visual artists he finds interesting or draws inspiration from Russell answers, “My favorite artists change often. These days I am nowhere near a museum physically, but we have the internet. Nothing compares to seeing art in person, but Instagram and other sources allow me to see what artists are doing all over the planet, which is fantastic. There are some brilliant things going on in the world of art, and I am into it. My favorite artists when I am landscape painting are the impressionists like Monet (Claude Monet, a French artist, and creator of French Impressionist painting), but some of the best watercolor landscapes I have seen are by Andrew Wyeth (Wyeth was primarily a realist painter, depicting rural and small-town Midwest America). I love Marsden Hartley’s (American modernist Cubist-inspired painter) and Arthur Dove’s (modernist, often considered one of the first American abstract painters) colors and compositions. Georgia O’Keeffe (American artist known for her paintings of enlarged flowers, skyscrapers, and New Mexico landscapes) paints a flower-like no-one else. Some of my favorite figure and portrait painters are Alice Neel (American artist, known for portraits of friends, family, lovers, poets, artists, and strangers), Lucian Freud (British painter specializing in figurative paintings and the grandson of Sigmund Freud), John Singer Sargent (American valued as the leading portrait painter of his generation) and many more. I think Jenny Saville (large-scale painted depictions of nude women) is getting her due respect and she is one of the best living figurative painters. I love looking at the painters you know are all about the surface of the paint. Wayne Thiebaud (American-known for his colorful works depicting pedestrian pies, ice cream cones, and pastries), I get hungry when I look at those desserts. There is a whole plethora of young up and coming artists who are just great. I am glad I can watch their progress, if only on Instagram.”

Russell Belue concludes, “I have something I would like to add, perhaps advice for those wanting to become artists. You can have everything, including talent, and still get nowhere, or a person could be born with nothing and become an accomplished artist. I am speaking from experience. I have found myself saying or thinking, if only I had a bigger studio, more time, better lighting and art supplies, or if a decent gallery would give me the time of day. It is never going to be easy to be an artist whether one has everything laid out on a silver platter or not and there will always be excuses wanting to get in your way. Being an artist is a difficult path, but I think it has been worth it. At least that is what I keep telling myself.”

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