An Interview in the Studio with Robert Blackcloud Eicher
Blackcloud at work in his studio, working from a watercolor study located just to the right of the oil in progress. Surrounded by brushes, the scent of linseed and his custom palette, Robert flourishes in his element.
Q. When did you first discover your love of art?
A. "I must've been around eight or nine. My first oil at around that age [chuckle] was of a reclining nude. In typical nine year old fashion, I endowed her remarkably well. I remember showing it to my father. After studying it for a while, he said, "Paint what you know, son." That was the one and only piece of artistic criticism he ever offered, but it's definitely stuck with me!" [laughs]
Q. What about art has inspired you to continue from that early age?
A. "In school - when I was there - I drew a lot of stuff, but I really got into art when I began studying the plants and critters in the wild. At first, I just wanted to commemorate a tree or a leaf or a bug, by trying to get it as accurate as I could. But, eventually I developed a similar interest in the bigger picture. As I developed an appreciation of how everything in the wild worked together to sustain me, I kept working to express my impression of that on paper and later on canvas. My confidence grew from these early efforts to eventually embrace all kinds of subjects - anything which captivated my interest. Surviving and thriving alone in the wild is magnificent. that makes everything that contributes to that state of being magnificent also."
Q. What kinds of medium have you worked in?
A. "Just about everything, except stone and bronze, which I'd love to do when I get some time. I've worked in watercolor, oil, pencil, pastel, clay, silver and gold smithing, leather. In fact, I make most everything I wear - moccasins, shirt, knife..
Q. Do you have a favorite medium, and why?
A. "I have to have diversity, and different mediums offer differing perspectives of a subject. I enjoy pencil because it is fast and free-moving. The same holds with watercolor. Within minutes or hours, you produce something which you were reaching for - hopefully. And, it's a great medium for initial study. I usually produce several pencil sketches and watercolors of a subject before I commit it to canvas. It's a slow process which can sometimes take years to evolve exactly like I want it. Oils take much much longer to complete because of all the color layers in my technique and the required drying time. I love oil as a medium because not only is it forgiving - drawing out my best over time, but it requires patience.. something I am sometimes short on, but appreciate greatly. The work is a product of that evolution."
Q. What has changed about your style since you began painting?
A. "My older work was much more impressionistic and loosely defined. Over time, I've incorporated greater detail into my compositions, and color - I have always strived for a full and complimentary spectrum. In nature, I'm captivated by the aura of perfection. To even attempt to reproduce those qualities in a painting takes time and attention to surface, shape and the play of light and shadow. I don't strive to duplicate what I see in nature, I strive to reproduce the effect. That feeling that leaves you in awe of how it all just seamlessly flows. My current work attempts to combine this intensity with more realism. I still create impressionistic composition for fun, though."
Q. Where have you studied art and with whom, and where have you taught?
A. "throughout my life, I've been fortunate to have had the chance to study different art forms all over the world. Asian painting techniques made a huge impression on my evolving style. In Japan, for instance, an artist will use one brush and create an incredibly diverse piece from it. This taught me valuable lessons about making the most of one's tools and exploring technique. It also imparted an appreciation of minimalistic subject portrayals. Most of my form has been self-taught, leaving no opportunity to discover uncovered. Domestically and formally, though, I've studied with Gene Doreghty when he was teaching at Northern Oklahoma College. He taught me ways to recognize color, work with various tools and we shared a common vision of what art is and can be. I messed around with formal studies at Oklahoma State University, but found the curriculum to be stilted and shallow, so I lost interest quickly. As Arts and Crafts Director in Northern Oklahoma thirty years ago, I found myself with a unique opportunity to teach in a number of different mediums, which was at times very stressful, but also equally rewarding. I've since taught subjects as varied as jewelry design to freehand drawing and interior design, off and on, in a number of different venues."
Q. Is there a reason you particularly enjoy depicting wildlife and western subjects?
A. "I enjoy painting many subjects, but I guess my greatest drive in painting the west and wildlife subjects comes from the recognition that if things keep going the way they're going, everything I love about the wild will be lost, destroyed. I want my great great grandchildren to have the opportunity to see some of the same things I've been lucky enough to see."
Q. What is your favorite aspect of painting?
A. "All of it.. It's never boring. It's an extreme challenge from the minute you pick up a pencil to your finished painting."
Q. What is the greatest reward you get from painting?
A. "It's a very tough challenge to try and convey what you have felt and continue to see in your mind's eye through a canvas. When done well, to work an impression into a finished composition which embodies your vision, your sense of beauty and emotion and to be able to evoke that in another is very gratifying. I continually strive to be true to that sense of emotion - revisiting it constantly throughout the creating process - commemorating essentially an illusion and hoping to stir some someone emotionally."
Q. Describe how the process begins - when you feel inspired. What do you go through getting it from inspiration to the canvas?
A. "I am initially captivated by a scene or an event. It all starts with a spark, and I begin to think about how it might look portrayed a certain way, in a certain light, using certain colors, textures, a certain medium. I might sketch it or just keep it in my head for a while. I may produce a watercolor study or a number of them as the idea evolves over time. This process can take years, and it's actually the longest part of the process, usually. Once I have it set in my mind's eye - painting it is the end step."
Q. Your paintings, over time, have become more and more luminous and colorful. The effect can be stunning. Talk about color..
A. "I can step into the forest and look at a tree. Some would see brown and green. One shade of each. When I look at a tree, I see a full spectrum of color reflected on the sheen of outer bark, the underside of a leaf, the shadowed side of a vein in that leaf. The rainbow of visible light is within everything we look upon. Every color evokes a distinct emotion. And it is supremely challenging to create a blend of color which supports the vision I have of the painting - including the subject and how I'd like the viewer to react."
Q. Because of the subtle hues and shades you recognize, do you have difficulty in selecting commercially prepared pigment?
A. "Not only have I, like many artists, experimented in creating paints with various ingredients, I began mixing my own colors years and years ago. Using a handful of standard colors like cadmium red, yellow and blue, plus aquamarine and cobalt, paynes grey, titanium white, and a couple of ochres and umbers, every color in one of my paintings has been custom blended. This is uniquely satisfying, but can also be a little frustrating in duplicating it for an area when I've underestimated the amount of coverage I need!"
Q. You mentioned developing an appreciation for your tools and materials.. what tools do you find you rely upon the most?
A. "I have about eight brushes that I use till I wear them totally out. Then I replace them. I work with a knife some - usually to achieve an under texture. And a giant palette. With all the colors I work with, a standard palette is just inadequate. The one I built is about two and a half feet square."
Q. What techniques do you employ the most in your newer paintings?
A. "I do a lot of under-painting and glazing. I've found the most successful way to portray the combined sense of light and color is to gradually layer each on top of the other. This process takes much longer than other techniques - but the effect is well worth it."
Q. What artists have inspired you the most?
A. "Rodin, DaVinci, Van Gogh, Russel and Remington. I appreciate the work of these masters, but contemporary artists as well - and also my students. I always learn something from everyone I work with or study."
Q. What do you wish to convey with your work?
A. "Emotion. It's a great feeling to know that through your work, you've inspired an emotion in someone - regardless of what the emotion is. To know that something you've created has evoked a response in a viewer is very powerful. Art is unique in its ability to do that. Whether we love it or hate it, it reminds us that we are alive."
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