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Interviews

Wes Hyde, Artist
For his art, see here.

Wes Hyde spent most of his childhood moving from town to town, living for short periods in Fairbanks, Alaska; Greenfield, Indiana; and Williamsburg, Virginia. “My dad had itchy feet,” he says, and then adds with a wink, “or he was a desperado running from justice.”

Wes apparently inherited his father's itchy feet; for the past three years he has traveled almost nonstop across the United States and Canada. This constant momentum and diversity have become an inspiration for his painting. His awards include Best of Show in the Parada del Sol art exhibition and an Honorable Mention from The Artist's Magazine, both for works in graphite, but Wes says his best award is the satisfaction of private collectors: one of his early works holds a place of prominence between original paintings by Frederick Remington and Joe Beeler. A private collector in the UK proudly displays three of his pieces.

Wes paints modern themes of western life, the period and place which are most attractive to him. “I want to make western art accessible to a new generation of collectors,” he says, “from those who have yet to experience the ‘new wild west' to the ranch hand grown up breaking in the rough stock.” He works daily in his studio, and keeps a road atlas handy… just in case.

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David: Wes, the paintings in this issue of Avatar Review depict what might be called “western” scenes. First, are you comfortable with this designation? I don't mean to sound limiting. Second, what drew you to this?

Wes: Yes, David, I'm comfortable with the designation of western. First, I'm a western artist by designation of location, and therefore my paintings are western, influenced by my western-ness, and of course, the theme in this particular group of paintings is western.

What first drew me to western art is hard to place. I like to say that I cut my teeth on an old Hank Williams album, which is not far from the truth. I grew up watching movies such as High Noon, and idolized the singular courage and independence portrayed, yet when I turned to art and began to pursue it, I decided against the romanticized west of the movies. I love the modern west, and wouldn't trade it for an idealized version of what is past. Personally, I enjoy the convenience of modern medicine, and I'm quite fond of the fact that I don't have to fight for my life against gun fighters and Indians, “noble savages” or not. However, I believe the spirit of that time is still alive and well in this day and age, and the scenes I choose to depict embody the same independence and individuality of human spirit. Russell and Remington depicted their time, and I depict mine.

D: A college professor of mine used to say that the western was America's first real contribution to epic art. That idea certainly seems applicable to cinema. Would it be a stretch to suggest that your western work seeks to achieve something similar for painting?

W: Well, I can't claim to be the first western artist, and certainly not the only one of my era. There are many fantastic artists out there who depict western themes. However, I am one of the few depicting modern western themes in oil paint. I like to imagine that I'm telling new stories, the stories of the men and women of my time.

D: We see these elements—man, horse, bull—repeated in the series. Besides being practical and historical, these are highly symbolic, emotionally-charged images. Archetypal, to borrow Jung's terminology. Do you feel that you're tapping into this?

W: I'm not exactly sure how to answer this question. I know nothing about Jung's philosophies. However, I assure you there is no practical reason to ride a bull. Horses are another story, and I believe the symmetry of man and horse, or more accurately, wild man, and wild horse, the two untamed beings, working in unison, is beautiful, like ballet, yet not as predictable. There's a saying that there ain't a horse that can't be rode or a man that can't be throwed. I rarely paint an outcome; it is the unison of the two that is interesting. As for bulls, they are much stronger than horses; their power is incredible, and the only reason to ride one is to say you did. When George Leigh Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest, he replied, “Because it's there.” The same reasoning applies to riding a bull. There is an affirmation of life in the thrill of risking that life, and the theme of independence and individuality recurs in this imagery, tying it to the paintings of the past.

D: Which painting in this issue of Avatar Review is your favorite? Can you explain for us why?

W: I can't really choose a favorite. I love each of these paintings for different reasons: “Out of the Chute” for its energy and color; “Remorse” because it tells the best story; “Breaking In the Rough Stock” for its honesty; the meshing of reality and dream in “The Hurricane Deck”; and in “Caballo Diablo,” the perspective. But “Twister” is a bit special to me because it was a frustration painting. I was in the middle of another painting that was taking quite a bit of time and just needed to vent a little angst. The result was what I call a slash and bash painting, where I hurriedly slap paint on canvas or board in bolder than normal strokes. I don't do this often, and it's even rarer for it to result in something I would keep. “Twister” was the result of about 45 minutes of venting, and later, another 45 minutes of touching up. At the same time, I feel it embodies almost all of the ideals I consciously try to capture in paint.

D: As a layman with a limited knowledge of painting, I'm struck by a couple of aspects of your work. First, I'm really awed by the vibrancy of the colors. How do you get them to look so bright? Second, there is what I'd describe as a “cinematic” look in some of the titles. How do you achieve this?

W: Brightness of color is achieved through color selection and not being afraid to use color. I use cadmium red and yellow mixed into a lot of my other colors to brighten them, and balance the spectrum with duller colors such as buff titanium. The juxtaposition of bright and dull gives an overall effect of reality, but fit into a much narrower scope than would be seen with the eye in real life, giving the impression of vibrancy. It's there in life, but our focus is too broad to generally notice it. In “Caballo Diablo” I selected the colors of the cowboys' shirts based on color compliments; I placed the blue and orange sleeves close together because they're my favorite colors and they have the highest vibrancy, and I wanted that corner of the painting to be a lead-in to the motion of the horse that follows through up to its head, and the green and red slightly separated to harmonize. Because there are a lot of yellow tones throughout the painting, I chose purple for the remaining shirt that separates the green and red ones, and in portions of the background. This all helps the overall harmony of the painting and adds to the perception of vibrancy.

I use a camera for much of my reference, but a camera is imperfect in several aspects. One problem with a camera is the color; a camera will take a shadow and wash out the spectrum of colors, most particularly from reflection, and leave single color, flat areas that often look black. This brings us back to vibrancy—the shadows in my paintings are filled with color in most instances, but they are too subtle for the camera to pick up in most cases, so what you're seeing here in print doesn't show the real painting. Another problem with using the camera for reference is getting the right pose in action. I've never perfected getting the horse and rider to stop at exactly the right moment to allow me to get exactly the shot I want. So imagination comes into play, and a knowledge of my subject. If a horse's hind leg is going to look better stretched out kicking for my painting, chances are the horse had it only half stretched; the muscle tension changes and therefore the shadows change in these different positions. Oddly, the thing I change most is the rider's expression. It's rare to get a shot of a cowboy's face in concentration that doesn't look a bit strange. The rider in “Out of the Chute” looked a bit like a Munchkin from Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory.

Framing an image is another problem, but one that's easily solved: take a wider angle. Then I can crop to whatever strikes my fancy. In “Out of the Chute” I decided to cut off the back end of the bronc so that it is coming into the frame, and therefore, you expect at any moment for it to continue on out of the frame on the other side. This lends to the kinetic motion of the piece, where if I had kept the entire animal in the painting, it would just be frozen in space.

D: Do you paint everyday? What's a typical day in the studio like? What steps are involved in the process of converting a blank canvas into a work of art?

W: I paint almost every day, though I can't say there is actually a typical day to describe. Some days I'll paint for 14 hours without a break, realizing I'm hungry by the time I'm not sure which I want more, food or sleep. Other days I paint a bit, stop and watch a movie, make a few phone calls, whatever. But all days contain one similar element: music. I usually select the music I listen to in order to subconsciously influence what I'm painting. I rarely hear any of it once I get into a painting, so I just hit “repeat all” on the CD play selection so I won't have to stop in the middle of what I'm doing.

Regardless of what my day is like or how many breaks I take, the process is pretty much the same. First I get an idea, so I spend a lot of time sitting and thinking, formulating color patterns and composition. Then I decide on what size I want to constrain the painting to. Usually I do an under drawing and I tone the canvas with a thin layer of some neutral color of paint, such as raw sienna. Then I spend more time visualizing what the painting should look like when I'm done and what brush strokes I think will have the best effect in achieving that goal. Once the paint starts to go on it's usually a fairly quick process, depending on the level of detail and size of a painting.

D: From your bio I gather you're a man of varied tastes. What other themes and subject matter interest you? What's next?

W: I'm glad you asked this question, David. A friend of mine recently told me to “follow my bliss.” Taking his advice, I plan on painting the female figure, but not in the immediate future. I feel that it is just as important, if not more, to follow your heart. I'm about to embark on a series of paintings depicting the Nokota horse, a variety of wild horse the National Park Service has pushed off their last native range in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. The last surviving Nokota horses are on a ranch in Linton, North Dakota, owned by the Kuntz brothers; please read about these horses on the Nokota Horse Conservancy site: http://www.nokotahorse.org/. Later this year I will be donating a painting for the conservancy to auction. The proceeds will go toward the cost of maintaining these horses. I believe that it is important for us to preserve our western heritage, and the wild horse is a symbol of this heritage. Your donations will be very much appreciated, and if you get a chance, stop out at the ranch for a visit.

D: Wes, I've avoided this word intentionally to this point, but now I'm going to say it: cowboys. What would you like for people to understand about cowboys, after seeing your work? What would you like for people to understand about Wes Hyde?

W: A cowboy is a hard working, rugged individualist with a work ethic second to none. He does his job for love, adventure and the satisfaction of knowing he owns himself and has no master. If you can read that list and fit into it, no matter whether you work playing nursemaid to a bunch of cows and mending fence, or if you work in a 24th floor office on Wall Street, then you're a cowboy, and that's who I am.

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