DAD DIED CHRISTMAS DAY 2013. HIS IS A LEGACY OF RICH ARTISTIC EXPRESSION AND REMARKABLE RANGE*
Moving Silhouettes, Oil on Panel, 24" x 32", Richard J Van Wagoner, 1988, Courtesy Helen Bero-Van Wagoner and Richard A. Van Wagoner**
My father died six years ago today. With his estate’s permission I feature his art as part of my blog. He had an astonishingly broad range. I include several of his paintings from different periods in this post. Those who follow my blog will recognize most of this work. I hope you enjoy.
Self-Portrait, Oil on Canvas, 24" x 48", Richard J Van Wagoner, Circa 1962, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
I hope my writing complements his work. I am presumptuous enough to believe he would mostly approve of my combining his work and my words, even if he disagreed with my point of view. That I think is more important than what I think.
Untitled, Watercolor, 21.5 x 29.5, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy Van Wagoner Family Trust**
My father’s talents were extraordinary but I had no ability to understand or appreciate them. Everyone’s dad did something for a living and mine was a painter, a little odd but no big deal. He died just shy of his 82nd birthday on Christmas day 2013. At 61 I now appreciate what a remarkable gift he was and gave and continues to impart to the world.
The Poet, Oil on Canvas, 24" x 36", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
He explored and interpreted the world with expanding conceptual and visual wisdom. His evolving talent was borne of and sustained with deep introspection and a relentless struggle for meaning.
La Femme Qui Pleure Two-and-a Half, Oil on Masonite, 48" x 20", 1993, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Helen Bero-Van Wagoner and Richard A. Van Wagoner**
Dad often discouraged his kids from choosing art as a profession. While he knew I was safe from that life of struggle after taking his basic drawing class, his advice, I believe, was informed by at least two underlying themes. First, earning a living as an artist can be difficult. Second, tied to the practicality of the first is the more complex struggle between and among intrinsic and extrinsic meaning, relevance, purpose, self-definition and -determination and external forces, art for the sake of art, art for public consumption, art to educate, art as political statement, art . . . . He never solved the problem except to concede the tension enriches the experience and, with few exceptions, the outcome. In the end, he erred on the side of self-reflection and -determination as his art revealed highly personal and intimate growth and introspection.
Waiting for the Parade, Oil on Canvas, 48" x 72", Richard J Van Wagoner, 1989, Courtesy Helen Bero-Van Wagoner and Richard A. Van Wagoner**
Among my earliest memories is dad’s conversion of the attached garage into a studio at the 6th Street house in Ogden, Utah. He replaced the south-facing garage door with a horizontal sliding glass door. He constructed large plywood shelves with high, thin vertical spaces for painting storage. He built an adjustable art table using a wooden door which he hinged horizontally, about chest high, to the east wall next to the plywood shelves and linked hanging chains to bolts that extended from the outside corners. He hung florescent lights from rafters. He installed a tall, thin electric heater between the shelves and hanging table for the winter, and protected the exposed plywood next to the heater with a slab of asbestos. He attached particle board on the west wall for hanging hand tools from various-shaped metal hooks.
Underpass with Cars, Oil on Panel, 36" x 48", Richard J Van Wagoner, Circa 1988, Courtesy of Helen Bero-Van Wagoner and Richard A. Van Wagoner
We used a square-mouth shovel, brooms, brushes and rags to clean the cement floor of the thick layers of oil, dirt, oil-soaked sawdust and “cat-sand” that had accumulated over the years down the center of the garage floor. Dad was unhappy that my friends and I could not rid the floor of all oil stains, even with copious amounts of gasoline as a solvent. He gave it a try, without much more success.
Untitled, Watercolor, 11" x 27, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Helen Bero-Van Wagoner and Richard A. Van Wagoner**
His studio was strewn with easels, small tables on rollers, metal tool boxes, surplus military ammo- and fishing tackle-boxes filled with metal tubes of paint, quart-size wide-mouth bottles jammed with brushes and oily rags, palates with gobs of oozing paints in various stages of hardness, plastic buckets for water, sponges, cans of thinner, stand-alone lights, a wooden box-set of drawers for cataloguing his hundreds of slides, step ladders, a screen and slide projector, and saw horses, power saws and routers. The studio doubled as his work shop for framing and cutting mats, along with general carpentry, rough and otherwise.
Emergence, Watercolor, 21.5” x 29.5”, Richard J Van Wagoner, 1995, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
On a Saturday, I’d watch dad prep his watercolor paper by taping its perimeter to discolored, water-warped plywood, quarter inch, and “wash” the paper with clear water using a sponge, a real one from the ocean. He would prepare two or three at a time. Once the paper dried, at least over night, it was ready. Or, I’d watch him begin and complete a watercolor in one sitting, usually a landscape and usually a wet-wash. Sometimes he’d prepare a canvas, a more complex task that required a wooden frame he would build and dress with cloth, staples and coats of white base to stretch and seal the canvas.
Untitled, Watercolor, 21.5" x 28.5", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy Van Wagoner Family Trust**
My father had two masters degrees, at the time terminal degrees in his areas of specialization, studio arts and printmaking, from University of Utah and Utah State University respectively. He taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate subjects which included demonstrations from time to time. He often conducted demonstrations in the classrooms at the Art Department, but sometimes he’d escort a group of students to some scenic area, carting along a stool, paints, brushes, a jug or two of water, rags, a board with watercolor paper and an easel. The students would stand in a half circle behind him and, with some skepticism, watch for the next couple of hours as he sketched an outline of the subject matter with pencil and then applied paint.
Dead Trees, Watercolor, 20.5" x 28.5", Richard J Van Wagoner, Circa 1990, Courtesy of Helen Bero-Van Wagoner and Richard A. Van Wagoner*
Sometimes the subjects weren’t all that scenic to the lay eye. The result of one such demonstration, among my favorites of his watercolors, is below. When I graduated college he asked which painting I wanted as a gift and this is what I chose.
Untitled, Watercolor, 19" x 21", Richard J Van Wagoner, Circa 1980, Courtesy of Helen Bero-Van Wagoner and Richard A. Van Wagoner**
Together my parents embarked on a transformational journey. My youngest brother’s private barter with god hadn’t worked: he returned from his Mormon mission just as gay as he’d left. Recognizing the truth in this truth, my parents engaged in an advanced form of self-directed conversion therapy, not calculated to change their son but to exorcise from themselves the received homophobia fueled by procreation theocracy and sectarian over-againstness. They, not their son, would become the converted. Richard and Renee renounced ex-gay Mormon ministries. They vowed their son mustn’t be encouraged to identify as or be converted to un-gay. Renee compartmentalized sexual orientation from the other Mormon abominations. Indeed, she and my father provided a well-intended but imperfect sanctuary through Family Fellowship for Mormon members of the LGBT community. Renee passed away in March 2016, having “endured to the end,” convinced the Mormon Church got everything right except one. In contrast, Richard was more broadly destabilized by the religious and social hostilities surrounding his son’s gayness. He entered a period defined largely by that disorientation. Don’t misunderstand: when he passed on Christmas 2013, he remained in the faith, albeit somewhat wiser. Richard’s first of many pieces from that period:
In Search of the H Gene, Watercolor, 48" X 36", 1994, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
In Search of the H Gene was included in Watercolor Now, the 1993 Fourth Biennial Exhibit of the Watercolor USA Honor Society in Salt Lake City, an exhibition at the Salt Lake Art Center. Given some of Richard’s writings on the subject, I believe the painting is a visual expression of the beginning of his mourning process, his deconstruction and efforts to rebuild those portions of his belief system he came to understand were deeply flawed.
Sheparding, 46.5" x 36", Oil on Canvas, 1999, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust. Sheparding is tribute to Matthew Shepard who was interred at the Washington National Cathedral.**
Dad didn’t verbalize much. When he did have something to say, it was usually poignant and succinct. He became more and more unabashed in communicating and revealing himself and his evolving struggles through realism, impression and abstraction. He taught his children through example that every concept and conflict was worthy of robust examination.
*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com
**Richard J Van Wagoner is my father. His list of honors, awards and professional associations is extensive. He was Professor Emeritus (Painting and Drawing), Weber State University, having served three Appointments as Chair of the Department of Visual Arts there. He guest-lectured and instructed at many universities and juried numerous shows and exhibitions. He was invited to submit his work as part of many shows and exhibitions, and his work was exhibited in a number of traveling shows domestically and internationally. My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father’s work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father’s art reproduced in https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com are hers