Back to Oil

A few weeks ago, Fred used his prize money from the Piedmont Park Arts Festival to purchase a slew of oil paints. He'd painted exclusively in oils up through 2001 -- but that year, things changed.

It started when the company where he worked became a victim to the dot-com bust. During its last days, as employees with little to do were sitting out the time waiting for their final paychecks, Fred decided to stretch out a large canvas in his office and paint a "Last Judgment." Concerned that the smell of oils would be too much for a group of the soon-to-be-unemployed, Fred turned to acrylic paint.

That was the beginning of a long relationship. Acrylics allowed Fred to work more quickly and in a wider range of spaces, like the Decatur studio he shared with several other artists. It helped him to develop techniques that would let him approximate the feel of oil. It allowed him to build layers and layers of paint, which has become characteristic of his work.

But lately, with a much larger and well-ventilated studio, Fred has become intrigued by oils again. The prize money was just the excuse he needed to buy a bigger easel, larger canvases, and many, many tubes of paint -- all of which proceeded to sit in his studio, untouched, for about two weeks.

Last Saturday, though, he extracted himself from under the cat, put on an old shirt, and declared, "I'm going to the studio." I said nothing - I do not disturb genius unless I need it to empty the dishwasher - then tiptoed downstaires to snap a few photos. I wanted to make sure we had a record of his first stroke of oil on canvas in about 10 years.

About four hours later, he came back upstairs. "I'm done," he said.

I nearly fell off my chair. Fred rarely finished a painting in less than a week. He usually had to leave it for a day or two, let ideas percolate, go back in, then repeat the process six or seven more times.

"Really?" I squeaked. Skeptical, I went downstairs. I gasped. It was beautiful, still wet. The brushstrokes were like silk. The colors sang. I had to restrain myself from touching it.

"I love it!"

Fred smiled. "I just had to knock that first one out," he said. "It' great, isn't it?"

We are looking forward to many more.

Jami Moss Wise