A Simple Sense of Beauty

An Interview with Gregory Packard

Gregory Packard was born on 3rd May, 1970 in Boise, Idaho. He studied English literature from Boise State University, Boise, Idaho and graduated in 1996. However, it is the language of nature that attracted him most since his early childhood. A relocation to city early in his life only added further impetus to his yearning to learn and depict the poetry of nature on canvas. Yet, it is not till in his twenties that Gregory truly found the opportunity of exploring the wealth of the art world. A chance visit to Paris brought him face to face with some of the finest works of art and for the first time in his life he experienced the shifting focus of light and playfulness of small brushstrokes on an impressionist canvas. Despite, all these it took time and effort for him to tread the spiral way of life and he finally managed the transition of being a fulltime artist in early part of last decade.

The Fall Exhibition, to be commenced on 28th September, in California Museum of Fine Art is featuring Gregory’s work. This is the latest in a series of shows that have been organised to exhibit his work which also earned him rich accolades nationwide. The following piece of information would show how far the artist has travelled in last ten years or so – his name was mentioned in the ‘Artists to Watch’ list of the reputed Southwest Art Magazine in December, 2002; in May, 2013 the same magazine dedicated both the editorial and cover on him. It is not surprising that Gregory’s greatest learning and source of inspiration comes from nature, ‘there is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.’

You have studied literature during your graduation and now you find yourself studying the poetry of nature. Does it feel ironical that now you are utilising a medium which require no interpretation in words for expressions?

In college I worked in the high–tech industry and studied English with a Technical Communication emphasis; that is, the study of writing user manuals, documentation etc. It was a very logical and left–brained activity for a very right–brained person. Painting, particularly impressionism, was a great release from the structure of that high–tech environment and the logic of that type of study.

How the influences of your childhood at home and the surrounding environment were instrumental in the development of the artist and human being in you?

My childhood environment shaped the person I am today a great deal. My early years were spent on a farm in rural Idaho. As the youngest of eight children I was the last to start school, which meant I spent several years entertaining myself at home while my older siblings were at school during the daytime hours. Though through the eyes of many it was probably a lonely, uninspiring place for me the farm was full of secret hide outs and interesting things. It was a great place for an introvert like me to plant the seeds of romantic notions and daydreams. At age six my parents divorced and we abruptly had to sell the farm and move to town where I became a city kid and a latch–key kid at that. It was a dramatic change, one which I probably wasn’t old enough to emotionally process. As I became an adult the city I lived in was growing rapidly and seemed crowded, so I tended to idealize those early years on the farm. Emotionally I probably also longed to get back what I had lost as a child … family, a slower pace in life, and a simpler sense of beauty. I believe those longings show up in my paintings today.

Harmony, Painting by Gregory Packard

What prompted you in choosing the impressionist technique for your paintings? Can you elaborate on how Russian and French impressionism affected you and impacted your work technically and conceptually?

In retrospect I truly believe my becoming an impressionist was fate. I certainly wasn’t educated about art yet God, circumstances and a tug in my heart persistently put me in the right place. My background was in drawing. As a kid I didn’t have access to paints but pencils and paper were readily available. Drawing was the only thing that came naturally to me and believe it or not I drew in a photorealistic style. With that style, however, I got to a point where I wasn’t skilled enough, wasn’t artistic enough to say more in drawing than what reality offered up. I could draw what was in front of me but I couldn’t turn that reality into poetry like I later realized some artists like, say, Nicolai Fechin could. As a result I became bored with drawing. Lucky, at the age of 22 I was given a free ticket to Paris with my sister—she was a travel agent and her husband didn’t want to go. Upon arriving the first thing I did was go for a stroll. By pure chance I stumbled upon the Musee d’Orsay where several impressionist paintings hang. This was my first real museum experience, and I saw truly inspiring art. Among it I was drawn to the impressionists’ work. Though I couldn’t have explained it at the time, the simplicity of it was akin to what I couldn’t do in my pencil drawings: turn wordy prose into simple, powerful, visceral poetry. This was the first fateful experience. The second was to follow a few years later. On a business trip to Washington DC in my mid twenties, before I really started painting, I saw a Monet Cathedral painting and it was the single best piece of art I had ever seen and perhaps still is. Books and printed images simply fail miserably at showing the power in some artists’ work, particularly in those with truly rich colour and texture. That painting still has a hold on me. Fate stepped in again at age 28 when downtown Boise killing time before a business meeting I stumbled into a gallery and was drawn to a painter’s colourful work. The gallery attendant informed me that he was teaching a workshop, so I signed up on the spot. Immediately after leaving, a few blocks over, I went into another gallery and was struck by another skilled artist’s colourful work. That gallery attendant also told me he was teaching a workshop the week following the one I had just signed up for. I signed up for it too. It turned out, again simply by happenstance, that both of these artists were heavily influenced by the Russian impressionist painter Sergei Bongart (in fact one was Sergei’s assistant) the other was a graduate of the Art Center, one of the best art schools in the country. Prior to this I didn’t know that professional artists taught workshops. In a strange twist I had applied to the Art Center’s fine art program and was rejected. The longing to create art was only getting stronger and I certainly didn’t have the money to get into debt at a high–priced art school, which Art Center certainly was. In the end it was a blessing that the Art Center turned me down and a further blessing that I stumbled upon the two, affordable workshops. There at age 28 I really began my painting journey in two, week–long workshops discovering yet another type of impressionist that would forever change me, the work of the Russians of the past century. Their work was less refined than the French. It was coarse like me but purposeful and full of life. When I finally got my hands in deep and dirty with colour it was pure freedom with the paintbrush compared to the photorealism, monochromatic drawing I had been cutting my teeth on since I was a young boy. With colour and a brush my inner child finally had touched the sunlight and sensed the freedom it offered.

Your paintings resonate with the passions of colours. As the image transcends itself through your mind’s eye what layers of colour do you add yourself and how much do you leave behind if any? Years ago Monet quipped, ‘Colour is my daylong obsession, joy, and torment’. How would you define your tryst with colour?

When I paint I let the colour of the subject direct me, but as one of the artists I studied with would always say, ‘I’m not a slave to it.’ By physics alone it is impossible with paint to copy nature colour for colour because real light is a thousand times brighter than the pigment of paint. As an artist you have to make your paint feel like it’s real light by the colours you add, the colours you leave out and how you place one colour next to another. It’s always a dance and I love trying to make a beautiful mess.

How has your approach changed since you have started spending more and more time in your studio than being outdoors with your easel?

When I paint outdoors from life I am probably more literal than when I am in the studio. It’s really great to do both. With a student’s approach you can learn from each.

Comraderie, Painting by Gregory Packard

How has your artistic sensibility been moved by the diverse and pristine landscape with its endless sources of inspiration first in Idaho and then in Colorado?

I have been very fortunate to paint primarily landscapes and live in the beautiful states of Idaho, Wyoming and now Colorado. I grew up in Idaho. I love Idaho. I camped, backpacked and romped around in the rugged, raw, central–Idaho mountains. Idaho has the prettiest wild rivers I have ever seen and some of the prettiest mountains too, but I was just beginning to paint when we moved away. At age 29 my wife and I moved to northern Wyoming (where she is from). There I discovered a different mountain landscape along with beautiful rolling ranch country at the base of the mountains that sometimes feels like it takes you back a few generations in time. The mountains in northern Wyoming are much older, gentler. There, surely, I fell in love also with the Wyoming landscape. If we hadn’t had a falling out with family we would probably still be in Wyoming today. But as I mentioned earlier fate has a way of shaping your life if you allow it, and in this instance it brought us to beautiful Colorado, a place I had never anticipated living. I have always been drawn to aspen trees. Idaho has relatively few, Wyoming a few more, but as a friend of mine puts it, southwest Colorado is the epicenter of aspen groves. In the area in which I live the world’s largest aspen groves thrive. Walking among them I feel at home. I have an innate kinship with these forests and I simply love painting them in every season. The San Juan Mountains are both grand and subtle, and I’m so fortunate to call them home today. Yet, the reality of a landscape painter is that many landscapes get hold of your heart and don’t let go. I have to visit the ocean from time to time because I miss it like an old friend if I don’t. I have to see old fishing boats from time to time and smell the earthy salt water at a port to balance my love for the mountains.

From or beyond the world of art whom do you consider your greatest source of learning?

Beyond the world of art my greatest source of learning has been life itself—the wheel of life. Every time I think I’ve learned something life shows me I’ve got more to learn. From age six on my Mom worked full–time to make ends meet and before that nobody really taught me a whole lot about life anyway, so I grew up learning what I could where I could. I became overly self–reliant. Of course that meant inevitably I would fall a lot in life, and I have, but so far I have been able to get up each time and the wheel moves another turn. I have a wonderful life today: an intelligent and beautiful wife and two kids of the same makeup, and I have been blessed with work that I love. My biggest obstacle is probably my own overactive mind. I sometimes get melancholy and get overpowered by the incredible stream of negativity in the news and media, the manipulation, corruption and pain of the world at large. In spite of it I can’t help but believe from the core of my soul that God has always been with me in my struggles. I think he / she is with everybody in their own unique way if they choose to listen.

Living through the ebb and flow of life how does it feel in finally managing to turn your passion into a full time profession?

Having work that I love has been a real blessing. I worked very hard for it, and both my wife and I sacrificed greatly to make this journey. Before I was able to make a living at it painting was a struggle. Today painting is a way of honouring God as well as a means to a living. At the same time, however, I am always aware that it could go away tomorrow. Most of the time I’m lucky if I can control how well I paint on a particular day. Beyond that there is very little control one can have in life. The world is a mess. Things could change overnight in this country or any other and upend everything. Success is an illusion. Letting go is reality. In this way I have to let go everyday and paint with abandon.

Portrait of Gregory Packard

Gregory Packard prefers…

When Gregory manages time out of his busy schedule he loves going through the pages of the semi–autobiographical novel of Wallace Stegner, The Big Rock Candy Mountain, listening to New Age songs or watching the holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. The individuality of violet piques his imagination. A perfectly roasted prime rib feels deliciously mouth–watering for Gregory.

Find more of his work at http://www.gregorypackard.com/

Image Courtesy: Gregory Packard