A Cautious George Bodine

2012-11-11 11.40.14Mood and emotion explode off George Bodine’s paintings. Without a traditional formal art education, he has become one of Cincinnati’s most accomplished artists. He walks in rarified air. His paintings are sold in prestigious galleries across the country. He is an Associate Member of the Cincinnati Art Club. He consistently picks off awards in art competitions. Still he struggles as many of us do with the isolation that comes from painting daily, alone behind an easel. He wonders on occasion if he is even creating art.

He would draw as a kid so when his mother saw one of those “Can You Draw This?” matchbook ads, she encouraged him to take the test. He passed and enrolled to receive their mail order art instruction booklets. It was not a serious commitment that then led to art school. He went to college in Wyoming but dropped out to work in the oil fields. For two years he was a cop. George was into back-packing, archery and bow hunting. He tried underground mining and then he finally gave up the rugged, solitary life to return to college in 1980. Two years later, his life took an unexpected turn.

An Unexpected Turn Upward

Captain George Bodine, Delta Airlines>

George applied to Navy Flight School. Obviously smart, physically fit and with leadership skills, he was just what the Navy was looking for. By 1892 he was accepted into the rigorous path of becoming a jet pilot. After flight school graduation, George was landing F-18 Hornets, landing at night on aircraft carriers. Eventually, he became a Top Gun Adversary Instructor. He left the Navy to join what would be a 23-year career as a pilot for Delta Airlines. Along the way, he passed time drawing and painting just because he enjoyed it.

 George kept drawing and painting and was as happy to be flying across the US and Europe. That led him to visit art museums around the world. He was amazed at how the museums would let him put his nose and eyes within inches of works by the Masters. He could study the colors and the brush strokes. He could step back and see how they merged into a full composition.

Through the 1990s, George kept improving his painting skills.  He mostly created landscapes and cityscapes but was increasingly drawn to depicting the human figure within stories that he conjured up. Virtually self-taught and with no mentors to guide his path, no flight school of art to help him. Yet he continued at a level of success that came so fast and with such success that it is hard for most to explain. His self-taught painterly realism is produced with broad, confident brush strokes. His color palette captures the effects of light, even when in shadow. His compositions often are moody, dark intriguing. With unusual sensitivity, he created paintings of people, often in solitary or lonely settings displayed in a haunting style that flowed out into emotion and a mood that revealed his sensitive nature. He was selling his work everywhere, frequently before the paint was dry.

Once, George Bodine

The Accident and Transition

One of those things that come on you so suddenly that you can’t escape. This time it was a tragic motorcycle accident and a traumatic brain Injury. Recovery took a long time and he could no longer get medical certification to fly. The world was upside down. What had brought him such satisfaction was gone, never to return. He was also without a job although his career as a pilot left him financially secure.

His wife, Susanne guided him, as she often does, to point him into a purposeful transition from pilot-artist to full-time artist. He bought a small building in Newport and gutted it, doing all the rehab work himself, to create his own studio. He re- booted his life as a professional painter.

From where do the stories such as “The Shunned” come?

<painting: The Shunned, George Bodine> Caption:

The Shunned, George Bodine

“I would stare at scenes or objects or a figure for ten minutes or more, trying to discern what to do about them. I do that often … stare at something so long that I can remember it long afterward and put it into a story. I do lots of sketches. A painting might start with a scene of a connecting alley, or St. Mark’s Square, or an object like a cross.

Then I add a story to it as I did when I became fascinated with an Amish hat that led me to paint The Shunned, a painting of a young Amish woman in a barn. The model was my daughter.”

Another Turning Point for George–The Wayne County Plein Air Event

With meteoric success, the pure enjoyment of painting was now tugged by sales and competitions. The joy of painting seemed twisted by the wrong goals. The sensitive soul inside him had to work its way through to an explanation of “why?” that literally took hold of him. He was thinking more and painting less until recently when he simply stopped painting altogether.

Earlier this summer, he was at the Wayne County Plein Air Competition and shared his thoughts of this experience: “Plein air is usually when we paint what is before us”, he explained. “When I finished my painting (“Wayne County Storm”) and stepped back from it, I was shocked. It was unlike anything I had done before. I had no idea how it happened. The colors were different. The scene was so not what was in front of me as is usual when I paint on location. It was imaginary. I questioned if it was even art. The experience was unnerving. How can I paint what I can’t explain?

<painting: Wayne County Storm, George Bodine>

Caption: Wayne County Storm, George Bodine

It’s odd. This was such a great event for me, personally and professionally, yet I was in a place where I could no longer paint. I’m hoping that somehow this struggle over what to do and where to go, ends with something positive as an artist. As I go through this, I’m beginning to understand why a common theme surrounding art history often includes asides about the struggles and demons of the artists themselves. There is a loneliness to the work. I often find myself questioning if it is even important, or if it has any worth. And my work was changing so much that I got to a point where I didn’t know what to do next.”

George kept painting after that event and worked non-stop preparing for a two-man show in Warm Springs. When he finished that show, and looked at his work, he remembered thinking, ‘Now what?’ and things unraveled. He put down his brush.

Susanne again was the grounded one, fully confident he would resolve his larger-than-life questions … “He will paint,” she told him, “because it would be a shame not to. No one should not turn your back on a God-given talent like when you share your talent with others.”

He listens to Susanne because he trusts her. She is focused on him and not on the money or the competitions. He needs to understand the stories he has to tell and how he wants to tell them.

The Good News is that George is Painting Again

George was amid this self-discovery process, one that that many of us go through in our lives. Even George was not sure where all this was headed. He had not held a paint brush for three months, but just as Susanne predicted, he did pick up and paint again in mid-August.

<Painting: That One Day, George Bodine>

Caption: That One Day, George Bodine

He said: “I went to the studio today to try to paint again. It was very tough. I kept sitting there, but eventually began to work again. I think it was a talk I had with Susanne last week and finally I was in the mood to hear it. It came down to that this is my job, it is what I do. Now stop sitting around and get to work.” His return to the easel led to “That One Day” where he recaptured mood on canvas of the tranquility of sitting out there on the beach, watching the waves roll in and contemplating a world bigger than self.

George Attends His First-Ever Art Workshop

<photo of bodine and Xhaouming Wu standing next to each other>

Caption: George and Xhaouming Wu

To help continue working his way through his soul searching, George decided to take his first-ever art instruction by another artist. He travelled to Connecticut to a workshop led by Xhaouming Wu, one of the artists George most admires. He is hoping this experience will not only help him sort out deeper thoughts but by watching Wu run his workshop, George wants next to try teaching his own workshops.  ”

It will be a cautious movement forward, “I am going to be careful going forward in what I paint, and more importantly, why I paint. Like the dragonfly larvae that struggles in a pond to emerge from its watery universe into a winged world of flight and beauty, George is painting again. Quero!

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