Old World Ambiance
Fauntleroy, Gussie, Southwest Art
Clark Hulings first major show in 23 years reflects his affinity for European scenes
A room at Tucson's Medicine Man Gallery memorializes the painting legend
Clark Hulings' wife Mary was flipping through a food magazine last summer when she found what might be a good place for her husband to paint. The magazine featured cuisine from a region in northern Italy, and most of the dishes revolved around lamb, pork, and chicken. "So there have to be a lot of lambs, pigs, and chickens raised there," Mary said to her husband. In his mind's eye, the artist immediately imagined a scene: A few chickens scratch in the dirt of a barnyard on a small family farm. Clothes hanging on a line flap in the wind. Old tools are propped against a weathered stone barn.
Hulings and his wife routinely hunt for scenes like this in rural Italy, Spain, and France. They use clues from guidebooks and other sources-like food magazines-to find areas likely to yield the artist's favorite subjects: scenes that could be from an earlier century. "If there are no forests, and it's not an area known for vineyards-which are boring to paint-then it has potential. We know that if it's hilly and rocky they can't use tractors, so we're apt to find little truck farms and animals. If lumber is the main industry, we stay away," Hulings explains, sitting on the latilla-shaded patio of his Santa Fe home. A few feet away a fountain splashes quietly into a small pool, and vines climb the adobe wall.
Hulings' 26-year-old home has elements of old Europe in its ambiance: a sunny, enclosed front courtyard; a cool, stone-floored interior; thick walls. These architectural elements appeal to the artist because they remind him of Valencia, Spain, where he lived for a time as a child. Much of his artistic sensibility and his attraction to scenes that recall old ways resulted from that experience. And for many years he has created masterful, finely textured, and powerfully evocative oil paintings of such scenes, selling them consistently through galleries and group shows.
Now collectors have the rare opportunity to view a large selection of Hulings' paintings in one place. The artist's first major solo exhibition in 23 years opens November 6 at Nedra Matteucci Galleries in Santa Fe. A 72-page catalog accompanies the exhibition of 35 new paintings, which will be sold by drawing on opening night. Hulings says he decided to do the show, after considering it for about five years, to remind collectors that he's still around and to introduce his work to new collectors who may not be familiar with it. At the same time, he says, the show offers a break from the competitiveness of group exhibitions where works in different genres are judged against each other-where a still life, for example, might compete against a painting of the Grand Canyon.
As he talks about his art and life, Hulings' manner is thoughtful and straightforward, warmed with occasional smiles and flashes of humor. He is serious and justly confident when it comes to his painting, yet he always seems just a little bit pleasantly surprised that so many people love to buy what he loves to paint.
When Hulings was a young child in Spain, his father collected paintings by local artists. Later, growing up in New Jersey, the young boy was exposed to museums in New York City. With a small box of oil paints he began copying the paintings he had seen, and soon he was taking private art lessons. After high school Hulings studied at the Art Students' League in New York City.
The artist was introduced to Santa Fe in 1944 after graduating from Haverford College in Pennsylvania. His health was poor, and the humid Southern climate of Louisiana, where his parents were living at the time, would have been far from ideal for the young artist. He traveled instead to Santa Fe, where he recovered his health and painted. When Hulings left New Mexico he returned to the Art Students' League and began to support himself as a commercial illustrator and portrait artist. …