This interview is with Bob Beck, an accomplished Manitowoc, Wisconsin artist. This year Bob was an invited artist to the Door County Plein Air Festival and although I missed seeing him paint, seeing his name and examples of work on the festival website reminded me of a cold fall morning in 2011. Both Bob and I were painting in the Plymouth, Wis., “Paint the Town, En Plein Air” event. After all of the competitors finished painting, artists sat in front of the Plymouth Arts Center and waited for the judging.
For more than an hour, all of us talked about a variety of subjects, drank coffee, and enjoyed the warming morning. This year Bob, again at the Plymouth event, took first place in the show. Bob’s work can be seen at bobbeckart.com and further contact information is available on his site. I hope you enjoy the interview with this successful and accomplished “local” artist.
Randy Rasmussen (RR): Bob, where were you born and raised?
Bob Beck (BB): I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania but raised in multiple areas. I have spent the last 40 years living and working in Manitowoc.
RR: I noticed from your extensive curriculum vitae your success seemed to start in the late ‘80s. When did you start to take painting seriously?
BB: I think I was serious the first time I picked up a brush. I started painting a bit in high school and in college I took Watercolor 101. My major at that time was Physical Education but my instructor saw promise in my work and told me I should think of changing my major. Taking more classes made me realize how important art, specifically painting, was and how much I enjoyed the process. I received my BFA from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire emphasizing painting.
RR: I remember meeting you four years ago on a cold morning in Plymouth as we painted in the “Paint the Town” event. Hardy soul that you are, do you remember the cold or just painting that day?
BB: I remember painting, the cold not so much. I do remember talking in front of the arts center waiting for the judging.
RR: You are known for your wonderful work but also for painting in all types of weather. How do you handle the Wisconsin winters?
BB: I paint in all weather. In the cold I dress warmly, especially with a good hat and go back and forth from painting to my vehicle. I am a great believer in using the heat packs and keeping the car warm. I will paint for half an hour and then warm up in the vehicle for 15 minutes. The heat packs in my gloves and then warming up makes it possible to work and complete paintings in Wisconsin winters even when it is 20 degrees below zero.
RR: Your work is distinctive. How did you evolve into your style?
BB: I was in Vail, Colorado and saw an incredible exhibition of Russian Impressionist paintings. Up until this time, maybe seven years ago, my work was “tight” but something clicked. Fyodor Zakharov became one of my favorite artists and I think his work and other Russian painters have had a positive effect on my work.
RR: Can you give some characteristics of Russian Impressionism for our readers?
BB: The keyword is bold; bold color, bold brushstrokes. The painters use brushstrokes to lead the viewer into the focal point of the work.
RR: Is there a specific palette you use?
BB: My palette is extensive and changes from year to year. I mix my greens and I am not afraid to experiment with color.
RR: I know brushwork is important in your paintings. Are there specific brushes you use?
BB: My standard brush is a synthetic 1-1/2 inch flat. I like to keep several very good and not too old brushes so I can obtain a nice sharp edge but old brushes are also good to have to achieve “broken” edges.
RR: I know you were an invited artist to this year’s Door County Plein Air Festival. What do you enjoy about painting in Door County?
BB: Door County has it all – boats, barns, farms, the lake, the bay, everything an artist could want. It is a wonderful place to paint.
RR: Your Manitowoc framing business must make demands on your time. How many days a week do you paint?
BB: In the last few years it works out for me to frame two days a week and paint four days a week.
RR: Thank you.