I love to pick other artist’s brains, to see what makes them tick. We can learn a great deal from other artists. Their experiences can influence and direct our creative paths.
Today you are in for a treat. I did an email interview with artist, Russell Cushman. I have known Russell for more years than I would like to admit and consider him to be a good friend. Russell is extremely talented, passionate about his work, and can do just about anything he puts his mind to. He lives in Navasota, Texas, and has worked over thirty years as a professional artist. Russell has several book jackets published and has painted over 7,500 square feet of murals in museums and schools in his native State. His most well-known work is the massive 140-foot mural at Washington on the Brazos, Texas.
I could go on and on….You can learn more about Russell at http://russellcushman.com.
My questions are in bold and Russell’s answers follow. The interview has been divided up into two parts to make it easier to read. The second part will be posted next time. So, here goes:
Russell, when did you know that you had a need or desire to create?
I was very young when I began to use my creative skills to entertain myself and my little brother, and later my classmates. As a little artist I could manufacture my own toys. They were more like paper dolls, but we could play any theme we could dream up. At school they sometimes provided clay, and that was, at age five, my purpose in life. My childhood was full of stories my grandmother told us about our ancestors… so I would often illustrate them. It was a sort of constantly changing story board… where an army would appear and the battle lines were drawn, and then the opposing force would show up and all hell would break loose. Few of these drawings survived the war. Later I began to focus on more peaceful subjects, cowboys and Indians, wildlife scenes, and I loved the positive affirmation I got from classmates and my family. In fact it became the one arena where I developed self worth, which probably kept me from totally melting down later on .
Was there a person, place or event in your life that influenced your creative journey?
There were so many persons, places and events that influenced my artistic development. Too much to tell. Certainly recognition of my special talent from school teachers gave my underachieving mind a jumpstart. My fourth grade teacher, Marie Hargis, even gave me a separate, somewhat dumbed-down curriculum, so that I could concentrate on art! That was great until fifth grade came around. I took private lessons from Houston area artists that greatly encouraged me, as usually I was painting next to adults and able to compare my progress with theirs. When I was 12, Karen Pennison finally had to tell me to stay at my own easel, and not walk around and look at others, because they were getting discouraged because of me swaggering around, giving them pointers! I was just trying to help! Perhaps my most inspiring trip during that formative time was a cross-country journey in a Volkswagon bus with my uncle and his family to their home in Montana. Seeing the sun go down on the great plains, sketching it while running down those bumpy Kansas roads, my uncle rambling on and on about Frank Lloyd Wright, visiting the home state of Charlie Russell, seeing some of his originals, falling in love with Uncle Parker’s magnificent Labrador Retriever, who would fetch anything out of the ice cold river, that ran through Missoula… Riding home on a Continental Trailways bus, by myself through the American West, sharing the ride with a real Indian boy, seeing a dimensional diorama of the country from Butte to Salt Lake City. To Las Vegas, Needles California, then Flagstaff and finally Tucson, where I met my family. I have to give credit to my parents, who encouraged such experiences.
At what point in your life did you call yourself an artist?
I knew I was an artist in Kindergarten, when everybody sent their clay down to me to make something for them.
Tell me a little about your first painting or sketch.
My first painting was a nightmare. I was enrolled in an art class held every Saturday at a Sherwin Williams paint store. The lady took me as a student even though I was a little young, but then refused to let me paint until I learned to draw. Maybe in six months she promised… I worked really hard to develop my drawing skills to earn the privilege to PAINT, which was what I came for. Finally we picked out a tree in a Walter Foster “How to Paint” book and I was in heaven. For about fifteen minutes. I began to think I was taking a foreign language course… Alizerin Crimson? Cadmium this and that, Viridian, Prussian, blah blah. I hated it. Just give me back my pencil!
Did painting, drawing and sculpting come easy for you? Explain.
Making art has always come relatively easy, but that does not mean that I was doing something… of artistic value. I was always able to wow myself and family. That made it tough to understand that these efforts were only the beginning of my journey. Taking instruction on art was an insult to my arrogant 12 year old ego. I got the humbling I needed when I won an Art Scholarship to the school hosted by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston… Every Tuesday I got out of school early and my father took me downtown… and I would go to the class full of kids as good as me. And then I would wander around the halls of the museum every week, waiting for my dad to pick me up, staring at all those masterpieces, studying the incredible Remington bronzes, Rembrandts, Renoirs, and some giant floppy canvas Oldenburg fan. All of this raised my awareness and made making art, real art, much harder.
To be continued…….
If you are a follower of Russell’s art career, please take a moment to make a comment on this article. Thanks!