Portrait of an Artist

“Portrait of Self”, 8 1/2” W x 11” H, colored pencil on paper © 2017 by Chas Wyatt

Those weathered eyes, that stoic expression; what do they reveal about me? I looked stoic up in the dictionary and it said n. a person who suffers hardship without showing his or her feelings. It seems to fit that portrait and oft times it does fit me, although I also have a lighter side. Life hasn’t been a bed of roses for me, but, there are many that have fared worse in what life shelled out, toiling endlessly, as day became night.

I was born in the generation that reflected on the inner turmoil and the existential crisis of the self, as was penned by the rock band, “The Who”, in their iconic banner song that posed the question, “Who Are You?”.

I had a happy childhood, being raised in rural Oregon with two older siblings; the eldest being my sister, followed shortly by my brother. I was born six years after my brother. My father served in the army as a cook during World War II on the front lines during the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ in Europe. My mother was born in New Mexico, of Irish descent and they were married in Ashland, Oregon, where much later in life, I would attend college. While attending college in Southern Oregon, I also worked as an Archival Assistant for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Growing up, my father was employed at a sawmill working long hours every day to support his family. But, he was always a baker at heart and worked at several bakeries in California, besides being a cook in the army. His dream was to have his own bakery, so that is what he set out to do. He had a local carpenter with a wooden leg build a small building, (I think it was only about 12’ x 20’ at the most), in front of our house to be the storefront, while he had a shop in the back of the house where the oven, donut fryer, proof box, mixers and kneading table were housed. He would work long hours at the sawmill during the day and then come home and bake all night to fill his roadside bakery that my mother would attend to during the day. He would only get a few hours of sleep every night. Many in our neighborhood scoffed at his seedling enterprise, but, eventually he was able to leave the sawmill and devote his full time to the bakery. At one point, he had the original building moved to the side of the house and an addition was added. We were never more than a lower-class working family, but, we always had clothes on our backs and had something to eat. My parents had kind hearts and were empathetic to those whose fortunes were even less than our own.

“… O that you

could turn your eyes toward the napes of your necks,

and make but an interior survey of your good selves!

O that you could!”

~ William Shakespeare, Coriolanus, c. 1607 [II, 1, Menenius Agrippa]

It is not easy to describe one’s self without it being colored by one’s ego, but I will give it my best attempt. That is why it is helpful to describe the family environment in which I grew up in. From an early age, I was always drawn to art and it was my favorite subject in school. Later on music, literature and poetry would add layers of color to my life, but, I was always first, and foremost a very visual person. It is telling, however, that “Rubber Soul”, by The Beatles was the first LP I ever owned.

It is only in looking back that I now realize that perhaps an early influence was the next-door neighbor lady who used to have paint-by-number oil painting sets and would paint to calm her nerves. She was in an abusive relationship, married to an alcoholic who would come home drunk and beat her up. Eventually, he was killed in a wreck, driving off the side of the road. Thankfully, nobody else was hurt.

I didn’t actually use oil paint until I was Seventeen. My first oil painting was a copy of William Keith’s “Kings River Canyon, 1878”.

When I started the painting an acquaintance appeared sceptical of my ability to pull it off. I must say, however, that it turned out looking very much like a replica of the original. Years later that acquaintance revealed to me that she was very impressed with the painting. I gave the painting to some friends known as ‘The Dog Creek Family’, to hang in their hand-built A-Frame. It sat in a small canyon next to the creek from whence they derived their moniker. Unfortunately, the sauna that was next to the A-Frame on the creek caught fire one night, burning the A-Frame to the ground and sending my first oil painting into the ethers.

In the late 1980’s I was subscribed to several art magazines and all the featured artists had some sort of art degree, or another. I became convinced that in order to become a successful artist and make it into galleries and shows, that I also had to have an art degree. So, off to the diploma mill I went. Part of my reasoning was to improve my skill as an artist, not realizing that the institutions of higher education embraced the philosophy of a ‘well-rounded education’ deeming it nesessary to spend countless hours studying other subjects.

While attending a small public college in Southern Oregon I ran into conflict with one of the instructors and the Art Department Head. I was basically kicked out of the Fine Art Degree program, even though I had fulfilled and matched every requirement with flying colors. Not wishing to continue filling the coffers of this institution, I transferred to a private school in northern Oregon at a far greater expense. It was a much more serious institution, however, with smaller class sizes and more one on one interaction with the faculty. I received my B.F.A. Degree in 1996 from Marylhurst College. They would change their moniker to ‘University’ a couple of years later. In 2018, the institution’s Board of Directors would vote to close the doors permanently. I am working at a fortune 500 company to support myself, although I am on the very bottom rung of corporate America. Meanwhile, the interest on my student loans has accrued and ballooned into a ferocious monster. Even though one of my paintings made it into a museum exhibition in Montana, my art has suffered at the hands of outlandish debt.

If I had to do it all over again, I would have never prayed at the feet of the Gods of Higher Education. Self-instruction from books and an occasional class at a community college that I paid for out of pocket would have been a better choice for me.

This above all — to thine self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

canst not then be false to any man. “

~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet, c. 1600 [I, 3, Polonius]

picture of me at the ripe old age of 23.

“The mirror will only lie, when you look at it through a mask.” ~ Anthony Liccione.