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Indian Summer eastern washington country rural farm ranch painting steve henderson

Beauty, Hope, and Joy — The Paintings of Steve Henderson

Indian Summer eastern washington country rural farm ranch beauty painting steve henderson

Indian Summer, original oil painting by Dayton, WA, artist Steve Henderson. “I find much beauty in the patterns of fields cut through by country roads,” Henderson says of why he paints local, Eastern Washington landscapes.

It’s easy to point out what’s wrong with the world. We all do this, although only a few are paid well to impose their opinions on others.

It is far more difficult to see and identify beauty, truth, goodness, joy, peace, and love, and even more challenging to impart these elements in two dimensional form on canvas. But for oil painter Steve Henderson of Dayton, this is what he does every day.

moon rising southwest tucson arizona desert beauty indian woman blanket steve henderson painting art

Moon Rising, original oil painting by Steve Henderson. “The Southwest — its canyons are so deep, so profound, its land is so ancient and yet so quiet and peaceful.”

“I paint in what is called the ‘representational’ style — the world around us that we all see,” Henderson says. “But oftentimes it takes an artist to help us ‘really see’ it. And while items I paint are easily identifiable — that’s a tree; that’s Santa Claus; that’s the Grand Canyon —  each one of these subjects is interpreted by the artist to convey its deeper levels behind the lighting, the shadows, the turn of a face, the brush strokes that make up the form.

“The canvas becomes a stage upon which the artist presents the character actors — color, texture, form, design, value. On that stage, I choose to invite beauty, reminiscence, nostalgia, feelings of serenity, peace, tranquility — those emotions.”

A Tale of Beauty

Henderson’s scope of subject matter reads a bit like the opening lines to Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities: He paints the Pacific Northwest forests; he paints the Southwest canyons. He paints the ocean; he paints the desert. He paints very young children; he paints adult women. What he does not paint is ugliness, despair, angst, fear or hatred: not because those elements don’t exist, but because they do, in too much quantity. It is far too easy, Henderson believes, to spark an emotional response by negativism, and it becomes a cheap, easy way to achieve a reaction.

Although Henderson has always wanted to be an artist — drawing his first three-masted sailboat at the age of five and attracting teachers’ attention throughout his schooldays because of his rendering skill — he almost quit, simply because what he was taught in his university art studies was so opposite to what he believes is commonsense, truth, beauty, and common good.

tea for two party santa claus little girl christmas eve wood stove fire steve henderson art holidays

Tea for Two, original oil painting by Steve Henderson. “Children can teach us so much — they remind us to look at the world with fresh eyes,” Henderson says, adding that there is great beauty in innocence.

“At the end of four years, I was more confused than ever,” he recalls. “One moment, the professors instructed us not to listen to a thing they said, but to simply follow our muse; another moment they insisted that we essentially copy the latest post-modernist fads emanating from New York City. I found myself painting gritty purple abstract cityscapes, which my professors assured me was expressing what was deep inside me.”

Seeking Beauty, Truth, and Skill

For awhile, Henderson walked away from fine art into the illustration and graphic design industry that his professors declared would destroy him as an artist. Instead, his time in the publishing field further honed his skills as Henderson worked in a wide variety of media, creating everything from cartoon drawings to medical illustrations.

Time, life, and raising a family instilled in Henderson the confidence he needed to eschew the teachings of his fallible professors, and he resumed studying art his own way: one by one, he amassed a library of artists through the ages, and spent uncounted hours poring over their work, analyzing thousands of paintings and the varying techniques and styles of their painters. In the studio, he practiced. He knew what he wanted to achieve — skill, mastery, and the ability to convey beauty and truth — and he also knew that simply relying upon “the Muse,” or the “soul of an artist” was insufficient to do so.

sea breeze oregon coast ocean beach sand steve henderson coastal art painting

Sea Breeze, original oil painting by Steve Henderson. “I find the ocean to be a central place for clear thoughts and meditation.”

“We all acknowledge that the piano player requires years of intense practice — his performance is proof of his obvious skill, or lack of it,” Henderson says.

“But in visual arts — both two and three dimensional — we glibly refer to anything as ‘art,’ and anyone as an ‘artist.’ I believe an artist should learn, train, and study as seriously as any orchestral musician.”

The World Needs Art, and Beauty

This learning, he adds, never ends, and there is no pinnacle ledge at which the artist arrives, shouts out Hallelujah, and quits learning, seeing, and experimenting. An artist’s education continues for as long as the artist is breathing, and the beauty that the artist (skillfully) paints gives life and hope to the world in which the artist lives.

“The world needs art.

“It sounds trite, but I believe it deeply.

“It has always been so, but especially today with our corporate, cubicle world and its emphasis on cold scientific facts, we need something more than ever before that speaks of beauty and something deeper that those cold facts.

“We need something that speaks to the soul, the heart, the inner working of our being.”

Wenaha GallerySteve Henderson is the Pacific Northwest Art Event artist from Monday, November 19 through Saturday, December 15, 2018. He will be at the gallery in person during the Christmas Kickoff Holiday Art Show Friday, November 23, from 2 to 6 p.m., joined by Joseph, OR folk art gourd sculptor Sheryl Parsons. Also at the show will be holiday music, artisan treats, a drawing for 3 holiday gift baskets, and up to 25% off purchases of $250 or more made on November 23 and/or 24.

Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail art@wenaha.com. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.

colombia church charcoal drawing Jordan Henderson Wenaha Gallery

Colombia Churches and Cows — The Charcoal Drawings of Jordan Henderson

colombia church charcoal drawing Jordan Henderson Wenaha Gallery

Church Near the Hills, charcoal drawing of Colombia by Jordan Henderson

 

The best time to hear of your adult children’s adventures — the really exciting ones that make good stories — is after they are home and —  your parent’s heart says — safe. When my son Jordan Henderson announced to his dad, Steve, and me that he wanted to visit Colombia, where we had bicycled through 30 years before, we tried to be laudably cool, calm, and chill.

Colombia cows walking country road charcoal drawing

Cows in the llanos of Colombia are fascinating drawing fodder, artist Jordan Henderson says

After all, when we put our own parents through this, there were no cell phones or social media, so any worries they had weren’t allayed for weeks. Steve and I experienced relief — or anxiety, depending upon the story — instantly.

“Learning a second language and traveling abroad is something I always wanted to do,” Jordan says, mirroring our own reasons for traveling. That’s great, we nodded. Immersion is the best method. For Jordan, whose Spanish at that time would generously be called embryonic, this meant flying to Medellín, a city of 2.4 million that in our younger days was known as the drug cartel capital of the world.

“It’s improved,” he reassured us beforehand. At least he would be staying with our friends of 30 years before, Héli and Ana, who Facebook messaged us on Jordan’s arrival, “We opened the door, and thought we were seeing Steve.”

Learning Language and Doing Art in Colombia

On the month-long trip to Colombia in 2015 and a second, three-month journey in 2016-17, Jordan immersed himself in both the Spanish language and the culture. An artist like his father, he set up his easel in public parks (when he was in cities) and along pathways (in the country), attracting genial attention from passersby who felt free to comment upon his art and growing language skills.

Iguana charcoal drawing colombia medellin city park

The Iguana in the city park, artfully posing for Jordan Henderson during his trip to Colombia

“In Pamplona, a town of 60,000 with beautiful churches and cathedrals throughout, people seemed genuinely pleased to see that I admired and was drawing the church that they themselves attended,” Jordan says.

“One time, a nun in full, traditional habit came running down the steps from the church I was drawing to see what I was doing — she had a very energetic personality. I simply did not expect someone in such a somber dress to come running across the street like that. The next day, when I returned to finish the drawing, she brought a group of other nuns. They liked my rendition of their church.”

Traveling by Bus through Colombia

For a month, Jordan spent three hours a day intensely studying Spanish with Juan Carlos, who 30 years ago was a slender young man just out of high school, and now, mysteriously like Steve and me, was in his 50s. One on one teaching from Juan Carlos’s universal language institute catapulted Jordan’s Spanish to new competency, and we didn’t worry (as much) when he announced plans to travel by bus through the country, staying with new friends along the way.

Colombia lowland grassland llanos charcoal drawing

A view of the llanos, or lowland grasslands, of Colombia. Charcoal drawing by Jordan Henderson

“I visited Tauramena, Medellín, Bucaramanga, Yopal, Riohacha, Barranquilla, and Cartagena,” Jordan says, listing out cities and towns of Colombia that range from metropolitan centers to small hamlets in the llanos, flat grasslands that are the equivalent of America’s Wild West.

“The people I stayed with are what made this such a fantastic trip — they generously showed me around the towns where they lived, and I ate meals with my hosts, allowing me a lot of conversation with some great people.”

Loving the Lowing of Colombia Cows

In the llanos, Jordan encountered distinctive cattle of Colombia that are a mixture of European and Indian breeds. He was enthralled, snapping reference photos and doing plein air studies in the field.

“Cows are a fantastic drawing subject,” he enthuses. “Sometimes they regard you with great suspicion; other times they barely manage to give you an uninterested gaze before they return to their grazing, as if you are the most boring thing in the world.

colombia church humilladero pamplona colombia charcoal drawing

Humilladero Church in Pamplona, Colombia, one of the principal architectural designs of the city. Charcoal drawing by Jordan Henderson

“Once I had a cow walk alongside me as far as her fence allowed, all the while looking straight at me as if I were a very curious sight.”

In the botanical gardens of Medellín, he met a different sort of animal, an iguana.

“It was sitting in the middle of the path and politely posed for me while I took some photos, before deciding it had had enough, when it calmly walked away.”

Attracting Attention

As in Pamplona while drawing churches, Jordan attracted attention wherever he went, the lanky, long-haired foreigner who looked like he could be Dutch or American, and always carried a sketchbook. Visiting a village school near Cúcuta, on the border of Venezuela and Colombia, Jordan found himself invited by his host’s father to a small radio station, where he was interviewed as “the visiting foreigner.” In Medellín, he was “the jogging foreigner,” and regulars at the city parks, some of whom a mother would classify as less than savory, assessed his accent and affably corrected grammar.

“I am drawn by the opportunity to be completely surrounded by another language, culture, and way of thinking that is different from what I am used to,” Jordan says, explaining that future plans include further travel, as well as concerted drawing, painting, and artistic pursuits.

“I am fortunate to have a highly skilled, talented artist as my father, and I will make the most of the opportunity to learn from him.

“Ultimately, my long-range goal is to work as a full-time artist so that I can dedicate the lion’s share of my time to something of such great interest to me.”

He’s his father’s son all right.

Wenaha Gallery

Jordan Henderson is the Featured Pacific Northwest Artist at Wenaha Gallery from Monday, July 3 through Saturday, July 29, 2017. There will be a special Art Show Saturday, July 15, over Alumni Weekend. Meet and greet Jordan, see his art, and ask about his adventures from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the gallery. Free refreshments provided.

Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail art@wenaha.com. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.

 

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