The Right Reasons for Painting

By Fauntleroy, Gussie | Southwest Art, October 2012 | Go to article overview

The Right Reasons for Painting


Fauntleroy, Gussie, Southwest Art


Derek Penix discovers what drives his remarkable talent in art

SOMETIMES TO go forward in life, you have to step back. Derek Penix would not have wanted to hear that when he was 19 years old and suddenly found that, without much effort, his painting sales "just started happening." He wouldn't have wanted to hear it a few years later when, out of the blue, an art publishing company flew him to California from his hometown of Tulsa, OK, and offered him a contract to produce 12 paintings a month.

But when the blush of instant success wore off, when the naïveté of youth gave way to dawning insight into himself and the art world, when the true satisfaction of painting started to emerge - that's when stepping back and starting over, in a sense, propelled him forward like a shooting star. Now 31, Penix (pronounced Pen-nicks) is an award-winning artist still on a full-time track with painting. It's just a different, more authentic track from the one he was traveling three years ago.

EVER SINCE childhood, Penix has seemed destined for a creative path. Born into a family with a strong aesthetic appreciation for art, antiques, and the beauty of architecture in Tulsa's historic neighborhoods, he was collecting old furniture by the time he was a teen. "People thought it was weird," he concedes, his friendly, thoughtful personality coming through in a soft southern drawl. Penix's grandfather could often be found refinishing antique furniture in his garage and was a painter on the side. His homemaker mother also painted and generously encouraged her son to pursue a career in art.

"1 remember Mom always had a painting going. When I was a baby she was doing a giant painting, and I went up to it and slapped the wet paint and completely ruined it," the artist relates, smiling. By his midteens he was full of self-taught notions about how to paint. Once, when he informed his mother that she was going about a painting the wrong way, she allowed him to paint over what she had just done. The result was not a masterpiece, Penix admits, but the incident stands out for his mother's confidence in his artistic ability. That confidence would later help launch his painting career.

In 2001, during a visit to Laguna Beach, CA, with his father, Penix found himself in galleries unable to stop staring at certain still lifes. Struck by the abstract qualities contained within them, he rerepresentation

Abend Gallery, Denver, CO; Dodson Galleries, Oklahoma City. OK: Meyer East Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; Waterhouse Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA; Elizabeth Polite Fine Art, Harbor Springs, Ml.

upcoming shows

Great American Figurative Exhibition, Waterhouse Gallery, November 18-December 10. Holiday Miniatures Show, Abend Gallery, December 7-29. Small Gems Show, Waterhouse Gallery, February 2013.

membered noticing a similar approach in the work of impressionist and Tulsa native Leonard Wren, whose art he had admired back home. To an artistically naive young man, this aspect of painting was a revelation. "1 was floored and mesmerized, because when I got up close I could see the brushwork and abstract qualities, but when I stood back, there was the three-dimensionality," he recalls. Gazing at the still lifes, he suddenly realized, I can do this]

Back in Tulsa, the 19-year-old set up and photographed a still-life arrangement. Painting from the photos, he "jumped right into it." More still-life and figurative pieces followed, and he took photos of azaleas in a nearby park and painted those. One day he and his mother were in a gallery close to their home when his mother struck up a conversation with the director. "My mother said, 'You should see my son's paintings!' And I'm like, Momi"His mother insisted he go home, sign his paintings, and bring them back. With the signatures still wet, he showed them to the director. She wanted them in the gallery. Almost immediately, they began to sell.

When Penix looks back at his paintings from his early 20s, he smiles wryly and describes them as "pretty-pretty and trite, the kind of art I can't stand now.

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