Unique Artist Seizes an Opportunity
By Linda Roberts
Head down and all four hooves off the ground, the wildly bucking bronco twists in the air—riderless. A lone western boot sails off in the air toward the right side of the canvas. Artist J Douglas (“There’s no ‘a,’ ‘y,’ or period in J,” he said.), who created the painting, was asked what happened to the other boot and its cowboy owner. With a wry grin, Douglas said he didn’t know, but suspected the rider was on his way to the hospital. Douglas’ artwork has stretched far and wide, and around the world, from his small studio tucked in a mountain setting near the Shenandoah River in Warren County. His quick wit and engaging personality connect Douglas instantaneously to his clients and the customers he serves. When he’s not painting, he’s working at Salamander Resort in Middleburg.
He likens Salamander’s owner, Sheila Johnson, to a fairy godmother who launched his art career in directions he never could have traveled solo.
“She gave me opportunities to be successful and I ran with them,” said Douglas. He now has an exhibition of his work mounted in the Salamander stables’ conference room, a large 5’x7’ oil hanging in the resort and prints for sale in the gift shop. Douglas paints some Saturdays in the resort’s lobby to the delight of visitors, and he’s working on illustrations for a book Johnson has commissioned about the resort’s mascot, Cupcake, a miniature horse.
In addition to his life as a full-time fine artist, Douglas serves and bartends at Salamander. He’s met people from all over the world and has sold some of his oil paintings internationally.
“I love to make people feel good,” said Douglas, “and I have met some very interesting people at Salamander.”
Mounted on a plaque in his studio, the black belts hang next to paintings in various stages of development. “No one starts as a black belt,” Douglas said. “I look at art the same way…as climbing a mountain. You have to start at the base.”
Growing up in Dallas, Douglas said he’s “a lifetime student of the arts” who followed the pathway of a graphic artist in college and afterwards when he relocated to Northern Virginia. Along the way, martial arts entered the picture when Douglas opened his own school of Tae Kwon Do in Leesburg and became a 6 th degree black belt in the practice.
Graphic arts bolstered Douglas’ career as he designed a Jimmy Buffett-inspired license plate for Virginia and had his photo taken with Buffett. His friendship with Virgin Islands Winter Olympian Anne Abernathy led to creation of an illustration for her luge as well as drawings for other members of the Virgin Islands luge team.
The influence of artist Henry Asencio, whose work blends classical ideas of figurative paintings with a unique contemporary style, launched Douglas’ interest in oil painting some years ago. Portraiture is Douglas’ passion and browsing through his website, his work comes alive while evoking a mood and connecting the viewer powerfully to the eye of his subject.
“I love eyes,” he said. “That is what it’s all about. The eye must be right.”
Horses, running, jumping and standing quietly, are interspersed with his human portraits. Douglas’s wife,Cindy Battino, a life coach in Middleburg and a long-time equestrian, urged him to paint horses and Douglas initially resisted.
“I wasn’t going to paint horses just because I was in horse country,” he quipped, adding that he “had done human portraits for 30 some years before painting horses.” However, a few horses led to more and now horse portraits are an ongoing part of his work.
Named an Emerging Artist of the Year in 2019, Douglas’ work was featured in an international juried art show sponsored by Art Comes Alive. He’s also a member of the Portrait Society of America, Artists in Middleburg (AiM) and the American Academy of Equine Art.
While grateful for the stage he is with his art, Douglas constantly works on improvement, studying and taking workshops.
“People say they wish they could paint like me,” he said. “And I say I wish I could paint now like I will in five years.”