Monday, September 29, 2014

Monticello Elementary School Open House

The murals have taken up residence in their new home at the Monticello Elementary School! We delivered them a couple weeks ago and stayed for a fantastic community celebration that far exceeded our expectations!

Being an artist is often solitary work. There's no lunch break chat (well, once in a while when my friend Jon English stops by the studio!) no water cooler to gather 'round and talk about the challenges and successes of your current project, no one dropping by the cubicle to bounce ideas off of. It can be isolating, so shows and unveilings offer a welcome opportunity to discuss the craft and share your work with others.

In this case, the most exciting thing was unveiling these paintings to the community in which they will live. The celebration was held at the new school, and the paintings were unveiled at eye level so that community members had a chance to see them up-close before they were placed on the walls in the central entryway to the school.

It was so fun to see the school kids who had posed for the paintings run up and find themselves. They'd exclaim to their families: "There I am! That's ME!"

In order to control focus and provide depth, some of the figures in the paintings are a painted more loosely. That turned out to be a fun thing, because a lot of kids that didn't pose came up and said "There's ME!" They saw themselves in the paintings, which is exactly what I wanted. I want every kid who comes into that school to see themselves and get excited about learning.

I got to work with such amazing people on this project. The San Juan School District School Board and Bill Boyle, editor of the wonderful "San Juan Record," and president of the school board. He gave a great speech at the opening, which really highlighted the values of Monticello. It was published in the paper the next week. You can read it here:
His insight and vision are matched only by his dedicated support and service to the district.

And Superintendant Doug Wright, whose 11th grade English class inspired my wife (who is now an English teacher herself) while she was a student and who now directs the San Juan School District with excellence:

I also got to work with the school community council and Julie Holt, principal of Monticello Elementary School. Her commitment to providing the best educational experience for the kids at her school is inspiring. She comes by it naturally, as her mom, Nedra Bunker, has been an important part of life at the school for many years:

Most of all, I loved working with the community of Monticello, whose kids added enthusiasm and magic to the project and whose values, heritage, and dedication to their kids and their future were the heart and inspiration for these pieces:

I really wanted these paintings to capture the spirit of this community. I wanted them to be reflective of who the members of this community are and what they see as their values and identity. It was wonderful to attend this grand opening and be surrounded by hundreds of members of this community. Seeing them surrounding the paintings and hearing their comments, sharing the excitement of the new school with them, made this unforgettable.

If you're interested in reading a little press about my work and about the new school, the San Juan Record has run some great articles:

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Figurative Friday: Monticello Murals Sneak Peek

If you haven't seen much of me lately, it's because I've been in the studio every. waking. moment. (And some non-waking moments, too.) Along with the summer's Plein Air competitions, some illustration jobs, and the Deseret Book Lunch and Learn, I've been painting some murals.

Detail of "Adventure: The Readers' Circle"
Earlier this year I was commissioned by the San Juan School District to create some original art for their new Monticello Elementary School. I was excited, because I had a great time working with them a couple of years ago and also because my wife attended the old Monticello Elementary School.

These are big paintings: 3 and a half feet tall and over 7 feet wide. There are six of them. These pieces have challenged me, engaged me, and delighted me over these last few months. They've been a great project. 

I wanted these paintings to be both site-specific and universal. I worked with people from the community for models (including some teachers who actually teach at the school) and used local landscapes. At the same time, I tried to capture themes that are common to childhood and education. My main goal was for the kids who walk under the paintings every day to see them and get excited about the possibilities of the things they were learning. I wanted the paintings to give Monticello Elementary School students a connection to where they came from, who they are, and what they can do.
Detail of "Discovery: New Friends at Loyds Lake"

This post is just a taste of the murals. The complete set of 6 will be unveiled next Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 at the new Monticello Elementary School. A description of the event from the San Juan Record: "Dedication services are set to begin at 5 p.m. Afterwards, an open house and celebration will run from 6 to 8 p.m. The event will include food, tours, and activities for kids and adults. Six paintings by local artist Richard Russell will be unveiled at the event." (Read more: San Juan Record- New Monticello School . . . )
Detail of "Creativity: Kid Made"

I hope you'll join us for the unveiling and check out the new school!

Wednesday Wanderings: More Plein Air Rockies

Every piece I completed at Plein Air Rockies has its own story. Every one is, for me, connected to the moment in time that I was capturing and to the unique character of each place I stood.

The following piece is connected to the perfect serenity of Rocky Mountain National Park. At times, I found painting there to be almost meditative. This piece, titled "Boulder At Rest," was painted beside the rushing water of the Big Thompson River, in a shady spot between boulders and ponderosa pines. The entire time I was working I heard the song of the river and felt the remarkable calm of things that have been still for a very long time:
Boulder at Rest painting by Richard Lance Russell
Boulder At Rest
Oil on Panel
14" x 11"
Plein Air Rockies 2014

This piece on the other hand, is not connected to serenity:
Moraine Park Morning painting by Richard Lance Russell
Moraine Park Morning
Oil on Panel
16" x 20"
Plein Air Rockies 2014

Sometimes an idea for a painting just hits you in the face as soon as you see your subject. Other times, the actual painting hits you in the face. That's what happened with this piece. I was in Moraine Park, surrounded by grassland and towering peaks and WIND. It was an incredibly windy day, one on which I might have, under different circumstances, stayed in the studio. But in a timed plein air competition, every day matters. You have to take advantage of every moment that the light is catching your subject just right. It was the last day I would be able to paint Moraine Park in the morning, and I couldn't stand to miss it.

So I put my hat down further on my head, leaned into the wind, and painted. I had just finished the sky and peaks and was working on the tree when a huge gale simply picked up my painting and smacked it flat into my face. I had blue across my nose and forehead and grey on my cheeks. The worst part was that the painting then landed face down in the black dirt of Moraine Park. I suppose that's what makes a plein air painting authentic, though, right?

This piece holds memories for me that are different from the other pieces. This was painted at Lilly Lake, which has a popular walking trail around it. I was set up on the trail, and all the people who were out walking the trail would stop and see the painting and chat for a few minutes. It was a very social, engaging place and I could see that it was much beloved by all its visitors. Some of that fun community feel permeates this piece. There is a huge fallen tree with crazy sticking-out branches right beside the trail, which people love to climb on and comment on as they walk by. It had real personality and was a character I had to capture in paint.
Guardian of Lilly Lake painting by Richard Lance Russell
Guardian of Lilly Lake
Oil on Panel
14" x 11"
Plein Air Rockies 2014
People who make scrapbooks or slideshow videos or keep journals of their travels know the particular joy and satisfaction of returning to that place and reliving a single moment of your experience there. It's like a gift. I love finding those moments again through each painting.