Spring 2001, Volume 18.3
Richard Van Wagoner
Richard Van Wagoner (M.F.A., U of Utah) is Professor Emeritus of painting and drawing at Weber State University, where he also served as chair of the Department of Visual Arts. He continues to paint and exhibit widely in Utah and the United States.
We are bombarded by the social problems of a complex world. Should the artist comment about the injustices in our society? It seems impossible to me that any artist, aware of the growing social issues of our time, could paint pretty landscapes. It is interesting that pretty landscapes remain the popular genre of our western society.
My heroes were discovered early in life. They were courageous, righteous, uncomplicated and magnificent. But the conservative environment of my youth repressed flexibility of thought and an investigative attitude into life. It is taking me a long time to become a citizen of the Twenty-first Century. Having been given all of the answers early, I feared asking questions—to investigate the mysteries was evil. Consequently, my ignorance has been (is) the greatest of evils. Much of my art reflected (perhaps reflects) the sanctity of my ignorance.
Experience and time have humbled me. Now, as an old man, light elucidates, not so much in solutions, but in query, wonder and amazement. Existence becomes more complex, but I revel in the questioning.
The traditional, academic training that I received earlier in life has provided the tools for developing the surreal, complex imagery of my recent work.
In making a painting, I start with an object from nature or from the man-made world. It may be from reality or from my imagination. Perhaps it has no relevance to anything that I have been thinking about. But it must be an object that interests me in ways that I may not recognize or that may be difficult to verbalize. Once painted, the illusion on the canvas causes me to react again in ways that may appear to be irrational. I continue to add images in this fashion until the painting is finished or beyond repair. Some works I keep, as partial answers to my questioning. Others I destroy. I can only hope that viewers become interested in the process and subject of my inquiry.
Richard Van Wagoner
Pleasant View, Utah