Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Encounter: Walt Gonske

Taos artist Walt Gonske is one of my favorite artists. I met him briefly a few years ago, and I also had an opportunity to include him in the book I wrote on Ann Templeton, A Step Beyond. Ann considers Walt to be one of her mentors.

In 1972, Walt left a successful career in New York as an illustrator to seek his fortune as a landscape painter. With only $4000 to his name, he settled in Taos. Today, he is one of the most collected artists in the U.S. He's won several important awards, including three medals from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, and his work is in the permanent collection of the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa.

Yesterday, Walt invited Trina and me to his studio gallery. Walt is famous for his "paintmobile," a truck camper outfitted with everything he needs to spend days painting around northern New Mexico. I'd gotten a tour of it before, but now I wanted to see his studio. His home is his studio - or rather, his studio is his home. His bed, for instance, occupies a small corner of his showroom. This is a painter who lives, breathes and sleeps art.

In the hour we spent with him, we talked about art technique. One thing I was curious to know was how, as an alla prima painter, he manages to get a dry brush effect. If you look closely at his snow paintings, you'll often see a fence post rendered as a single stroke played against the snow. The stroke "breaks" as if the paint describing the snow had already dried. He explained that he uses Ampersand Claybord, which has an absorbent surface. By the time he gets to putting in the fence posts, the snow has had enough oil sucked out of it by the clay that he can get the broken effect.

I could write a full-length article on Walt's techniques, but I'll save that for a magazine. Here's an example from his web site of one of his pieces, "El Prado Farm" (18x24, $7,500):

Walt's website is www.waltgonske.com.

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