Editors note: Last week, the reader met Robert Harrington, a local artist whose painting was recently chosen for an exhibit in Cooperstown. We learned he did lettering to support himself and his family. This week we learn more about the artist, his accomplishments and his thoughts about art.
By REBECCA SCHWAB
OBSERVER Staff Writer
Although Robert Harrington is self-taught in many aspects, he has always taken his art seriously.
He studied privately with Randall Grimm, an art director for many major Buffalo advertising agencies, and with John Yerger, a noted Buffalo realism artist, juror and art critic. Yerger even did a portrait of Harrington, which depicts a handsome young man reclining in a chair. It hangs in Harrington's Dunkirk home.
"That's me!" he says, laughing and pointing to Yerger's painting. "A long time ago, though."
Harrington is also a member of several artists' organizations and follows the news of the art world carefully. His work has been showcased in dozens of gallery shows, private collections and exhibits. He has sold over 1,000 of his paintings, and he was featured in an article in "Manhattan Arts Magazine," where the reporter raved, "To our delight, Bob Harrington stirs our visceral memories associated with the smells, sights and sounds of country life."
Harrington, a realist, often works from photographs, painting portraits of his family and other figures. But just as often, he paints outdoor scenes, still lifes and sea scapes from memory and imagination.
"I have a photographic memory, I guess," he says. "I can visualize everything. I know the sea and I know the lake. I know the country."
This imagination is necessary, as Harrington does most of his painting in the wintertime, after he's done with all of his summer chores - which, in his eighties, still involves splitting wood and other manual labor. His studio is filled with paintings of sunsets and lake shores in the summer, fall harvests and flame-colored trees, spring meadows and more. There are winter scenes, too, which, Harrington says, are harder to paint than they seem.
"Pine trees are really hard," he says. "Most people murder them, make them always look like silly Christmas trees. I've done a lot of pine trees."
Though many of his seascapes feature boats, and other paintings depict rowboats drawn up on the shore or resting in the grass, Harrington still finds them to be challenging.
"Boats like that are trouble, too. It's the perspective - all the curves, you know. Weird," he explains.
Harrington has his own vocabulary to describe how he likes to challenge himself as a painter: Self-abuse.
"I have to keep busy, do new things. Portraits are tough, but hands are the hardest. So I put hands in all my portrait paintings. I like the abuse, I guess," he laughs. "I like to torture myself!"
Why does such a prolific painter feel the need to put himself through so much frustration over his craft?
"I get bored," he says. "How many trees can you paint?"
In addition to his teachers at ICS, Grimm and Yerger, Harrington also credits an earlier teacher with getting him started as an artist. Theresa Schoeber, Harrington's art teacher at Dunkirk High School, was the first person to teach him about technique and perspective. He still employs today what she taught him so many years ago.
"Also," Harrington jokes, "I learned a lot from the school of hard knocks."
Harrington admires many artists, but he is especially inspired by the work of Andrew Newell Wyeth, a realist painter who was born in 1917 and lived until 2009. Wyeth's most famous work is perhaps "Christina's World," depicting a girl in a light pink dress crawling through a meadow. When viewing Harrington's work, one can clearly see Wyeth's influence, though Harrington's painting style is surely his own.
Every artist should create art because he or she loves to do it, but Harrington has some advice for those just starting out, or for those who are trying to develop their talents:
"If you want to teach, of course you need the formal degree," he starts. "But if you paint because you love it, and you just want to do it, find a local artist in your area and take private lessons. That one-on-one time is worth so much."
Harrington is not what one might call a hobbyist, a dabbler or a casual painter. After selling his oil paintings and watercolors online for years, he is getting back into exhibits and gallery shows.
"I like the competition," he says. "It's exciting. You never know when you're going to be thrown out."
And Bob Harrington plans on painting - on "abusing" himself with new challenges - for many years to come.
"It's addicting," he says. "Like drugs or something. I just have to keep doing it."
To view and purchase original art by Harrington, along with prints and notecards of his paintings, go to fineartamerica.com/profiles/robert-harrington.html or send him a message at www.facebook.com/robert.harringtonsr