“Being a child of the 60’s space age, I gravitated to math and science in high school and didn’t take any art classes. In 1965 I enrolled in the School of Engineering at the University of Illinois, but transferred to Architecture after 2 semesters, where I completed 5 semesters before withdrawing from the school. In 1976 I enrolled in Jackson’s painting classes in the School of Art.”
This is where artist David Gregory “came from.” A central Illinois native who has since traveled the world and captured a good, lovely bit of it in his artwork. I conversed with Gregory about his work as a precursor to his upcoming exhibition at Indi Go gallery in Champaign.
Smile Politely: At what age did you begin painting, and what were your first subjects?
David Gregory: I have been interested in art since childhood. My mother said she only needed to give me crayons and paper to keep me occupied for hours. In elementary school, I liked to paint images I saw in art books and magazines—mostly nature scenes. However, I didn’t seriously begin painting until my late 20’s when I enrolled in the University of Illinois School of Art.
SP: Your paintings of Italy and California are really lovely — for the most part bright, radiating warmth and sunlight. (Although I especially like “Nocturne, Venice” — see below.) But I found myself most taken with your depictions of the Midwest. I wonder if it’s because people don’t often associate the Midwest with beauty. It’s flat, the winters are harsh, etc. What speaks to you about this area?
Gregory: Interesting that you should ask this question, because I grew up in central Illinois, but never considered farmland art-worthy until I saw an exhibit of landscapes by U of Illinois art professor Billy Morrow Jackson (deceased) that “opened my eyes” to the beauty of the flatlands around Champaign-Urbana. That exhibition ignited a desire to study painting, with Jackson as my mentor. I enrolled in Jackson’s classes and then continued to receive private critiques from him after I withdrew from the University. I find the predominate skies and changing agricultural seasons of rural Illinois to be fascinating subjects, especially after living on a farm with my wife, Renée, for two years. There, I could closely observe and paint details of weathered barns, the harvesting of corn and beans (we hired this done), laundry drying on clotheslines, etc. I wanted to record elements of family farm life that are slowly disappearing in this era of huge, consolidated farms. Two of the paintings in this exhibit are scenes from our property.
SP: The bio on your website speaks of painting journeys to places literally all over the world. (Incuding Hawaii, see right.) I know each place must hold its own beauty and evoke its own set of feelings for both the artist and the viewer, so I won’t ask you to describe each place. If I could pick a couple, though, how does painting a scene in London differ from painting a scene in Singapore?
Gregory: When I am travelling, I am most attracted to the things that are unique to the location and that give it a certain universally recognizable character. For example, in London it was the buzz and commotion of city life around places like Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus: double-decker buses, fog and rain, classic statues and architecture. Singapore features hawker food stalls, colorful clothing and umbrellas for shade, constant heat and humidity, strange tropical plants, and Chinese signage. Both are vibrant cities, but each has its iconic appeal.
SP: You recreate places you have seen, places where you’ve lived… Are there any locales you have not yet painted but feel you should?
Gregory: In 2006 I rode a bicycle from San Francisco to Louisville, Kentucky (see boomersonbikes.com) and did some painting along the way. I wish I had spent more time exploring and painting landscapes that especially appealed to me, like the Sierra Nevada foothills, the Utah desert, and the Colorado Mountains. I’d like to return to those places someday, though not by bicycle! Also, I’d love to hike and paint the Cinque Terre coast of Italy.
Gregory’s exhibit will open September 25th and run through October 1st. There will be an opening reception on September 28 from 1-3 p.m.
Oh, and, by the by — the Midwest image titled “Corn Stubble” (my personal favorite, seen left) is a scene from Gregory’s farm and is included in the exhibit.
All images courtesy of David Gregory’s website. (Do go there now and see even more fantastic work.)