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Rick Wilson Honorary Brown Countian

~story and photo by Rachel Berenson Perry

It hardly seems fair, but some people have talent and skill in more than one creative endeavor. Rick Wilson, now known for his accomplished landscape paintings, has been a respected bluegrass musician for many years. His father, a bluegrass instrumentalist, moved in the early 1950s from Kentucky to Edinburgh, Indiana, to work at Camp Atterbury military post. He encouraged Rick, the second of five sons and one daughter, to play guitar at an early age.

Rick joined the Harden brothers’ Brown County Boys in 1970. Ten years later the band became Pine Mountain. Frequenting area bluegrass festivals, Rick met notable artist and banjo player C. W. Mundy long before they both realized their common interest in creating paintings. As Rick tells it:

“We’d jammed all night at a bluegrass festival in Westfield in the early ‘90s. The sun was coming up and we were both dog tired, so we sat in my car and talked for a while. C. W. and Rebecca were going to France. I said, ‘Sounds like a fun vacation.’ He said, ‘No, it’s for work.’ I asked, ‘What do you do?’ and he told me, ‘I’m an oil painter.’ ‘No kidding,’ I said. ‘So am I.’”

In 2003, when Rick was laid off after thirty years at Kawneer Aluminum (architectural materials) in Franklin, he decided to pursue fine art professionally. C. W. called and said, “Hey, I hear you’re gonna be an artist. Well, it’s one thing to start a career and something else to maintain it.” He invited Rick to his studio for the next few weeks and then mentored him through his early vocational change. “I owe my career to C. W.,” Rick said.

Although his paintings sell well and the list of prizes in juried exhibitions is impressive (numerous merit and purchase awards in Hoosier Salon and Richmond Art Museum annual exhibits), Rick continues to work as a self-employed draftsman, producing architectural blueprints at Miller Architects in Nashville. He learned CAD (computer aided design) during his career at Kawneer.

Rick’s current day job and former musical associations aren’t his only Brown County affiliations. While still in high school he lived with the Harden family during the summer, working with their dad at Associated Engineering. “So, I guess I’m an honorary Brown Countian,” he ventured.

His training and ability to visualize in 3-D is no doubt helpful with his rendering of realistic structures as well as land and seascapes. Though Rick enjoys the challenges of painting crashing waves, the rocky coast, and small fishing villages in Maine, he has explored all the back roads in Brown County looking for ideal scenes. “Indiana is my home,” he declared. “And I love all the geographical regions here. There’s a never-ending array of things to paint.”

Rick considers his works tonalist in style, emphasizing mood and softness of form. Tonalism is derived from the French Barbizon school. “My paintings are a little tighter [than a lot of current landscape artists’],” he said. “The Barbizon school was a precursor to Impressionism.

They loved painting from life, replicating light bouncing off objects. Coming from an academic world, their works were tighter, concerned with brushstrokes and learning about landscape in the early-to-mid-1800s. Barbizon paintings are the ones I seek out when I go to a museum. I drool over them until a guard warns me away,” he laughed. “I don’t want to copy them but capture that mood.” To achieve this, he uses umber colors in his underpainting, which affects the hues of the final image. Compared with bright impressionistic colors, Rick’s landscapes appear more muted.

“I love to plein air paint (on location) and be outdoors,” Rick said. “But I don’t use my plein air pieces for reference when doing studio paintings. Once I’ve painted something, I don’t want to do it again. I can create a 12” X 16” plein air painting in a few hours, and it will be a similar degree of finished as a studio piece.”

"The Long View."

"The Long View."

Balancing his architectural work with his professional painting practice limits Rick’s outdoor painting time, so his newly built backyard studio is a necessity. “I can now paint on weekends and in evenings,” he said. “Before, I was in a storefront in Edinburgh for eighteen years.”

In addition to his other occupations, Rick is on the staff of Plein Air Magazine. He helps with the twice-yearly Publisher’s Invitational Artist Retreats located in the Adirondacks and other locales. Assisting with registration, he also coordinates the evening entertainment. Encouraging artists to bring their instruments for musical jam sessions, he effectively combines his two creative passions—art and music. His accomplishments in both enterprises would make any Brown Countian proud.

"Evening Thunderhead."

"Evening Thunderhead."

Rick Wilson’s paintings can be seen at the Brown County Art Guild, the Indiana Heritage Art room at the Brown County Art Gallery, and at <www.rickwilsongallery.com>. Call 812-371-1699 for studio appointments.