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Artist Bev Doolittle

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After an eight-year hiatus, artist Bev Doolittle is touring with her first acrylic on canvas titled “Beyond Negotiations.” She will appear at the Repartee Gallery (University Mall, 575 University Parkway, Orem, BigHornPrints.com) on Aug. 10, from 6-9 p.m. This is the unabridged Five Spot interview that appeared in the Aug. 9 issue of City Weekly.

You’re only visiting 16 galleries nationwide this year. How did Repartee Gallery in Orem make the cut?
I let my publisher deal with that. They’re the ones who pick out the shows. There are so many factors: You have to be paid up, you have to sell a certain amount of product, there’s all kinds of stuff I don’t really know about. Don’t want to know. I haven’t been to Utah in a while, so it’s going to be fun to come back.

Do you have ties to Utah?

I do. One of the artists in our group, Jim Christensen, put me on to stone lithography. I went to his little cabin above Sundance, and I spent a week. We just created stone lithos, and I learned the craft. It turns out there is a master printer nearby who also teaches stone lithography at BYU. So I went to see his class and to meet him, and I really liked him. So I’m doing stone lithos with Wayne Kimball.

Is stone lithography a new medium for you?
Absolutely. Jim Christensen has been trying to get me into it because he knows I love to draw. It really shows the drawing skills. Most all the drawing I’ve done to this point has been to get me to a painting stage. Well, then you roll the drawings up and throw them away. I like to draw for the sake of drawing. Stone lithography is the perfect medium to showcase that.

I got hooked on it. I’ve probably done 10 of them. I picked it up pretty quick, but there’s still some trouble I’m getting into. In fact, on this most recent print [“Beyond Negotiations’], I got too much oil from my hand on the stone. You work with a grease pencil directly on the stone. The ink sticks to that oil. My Indians were black smudges, and we had to destroy the whole edition.

Meanwhile, I had this wonderful drawing I had put all this work into. I thought, “How am I going to salvage this?” And I thought this really would be nice as a painting. So that’s how I got into working with acrylic. This is my first of acrylic on canvas. And it all started because of the failure of stone litho. There are a lot of firsts here. It’s my first 6-foot painting. It’s my first acrylic; it’s my first giclée canvas, too.

The technology of giclée has really improved. I’ve been out of print for seven/eight years. All my prints up to this point were done on paper. Giclée can be done on paper, too. It’s actually like an ink-jet process where you spray ink on the paper or the canvas, instead of the dot-screen method. It’s a whole different technology, and it’s really beautiful to see all the fidelity of the colors. It’s really rich.

When I went back to sign, I wanted to see the original so I could see what they thought the accuracy was. I was amazed. You could hardly tell the difference. On the original, I painted the Indians on their horses several times, so there was a buildup of paint. On the print, you don’t get that.

{::INSERTAD::}This is the largest the painting you’ve done.
I think I’ve been up to 4 feet with my watercolors before in one direction. It’s funny when I got the drawing done, I took it down to an office-supply place and just blew it up. I got it up to 200 percent, and the bigger it got, the better it looked. You get it up to a billboard, and it would even be better.

I thought, I’m going to be painting in a whole different style, a lot looser than the style than I’m known for. And this is not going to be watercolor; it’s going to be acrylic. Again, it’s on canvas. There are a lot of new things for me to focus on. I didn’t want to get into too much hot water.
Of course, I couldn’t have picked a more difficult painting to experiment on. With 19 Indians (I think I got down to 17 Indians now), every square inch of this is horse or human anatomy. I really suffered at times. I spent two and a half days just getting an arm right. I was real close to just putting a shirt on him and just forgetting the whole thing (laughs).

How long did you spend on it?

About six months. I thought it would be six weeks if it was painted as loose as it should have been. I really wanted to change my style of painting; it was like going back to school. I had to really concentrate and focus. When you get your drawing all blown up, you start seeing flaws. All of sudden, you have to focus on facial expressions. You have to see teeth and shadows and got to get involved with eyeballs.

What’s the color for teeth?

You never use white. Teeth aren’t white. It depends on the lighting. I think all the teeth in my painting are in shadows. So if you mix it up on your palette, it would probably look like a dark blue gray. You just go, “Euh, that looks awful.” But to put it on the painting, surrounded by all the other colors, they look absolutely brilliant white. In fact, sometimes, I had to tone them down even more. It’s all relative. You put orange against a blue, it’s going to scream. If you put a cooler orange against a warmer blue, it’s not going to scream as much. It’s a matter of color, value and hues.

Where did you get the inspiration for your camouflage paintings?
It evolved. I see it in nature. I think almost everyone has seen clouds and logs and found things. It’s kind of a game you play when you’re a kid. As an adult, you still do it. It’s nothing new. The military have been doing it for a long time. It’s just I applied it in a different way.

I love the wilderness. I love Native American philosophy. You tie those two things together with natural elements, things that happen in nature, you tie it in with a concept or an idea, you got something new and different. You just have to listen to yourself.

Everybody is unique. Every artist is unique. Everyone who looks at this painting is going to get a different response, a different take because of their own life experiences.

One guy came up to me at a show after he saw “Beyond Negotiations” and said, “I had a day like that last Wednesday.” It’s kind of a road-rage painting to some people. Some people say, “Gee, did you send one of these to President Bush?” like it’s a political statement. I’m going, “No. No. No.” (laughs)


Titles are crucial. I think there’s nothing worse than an untitled painting. It’s like you didn’t really think about it enough. That’s laziness.
Sometimes it’s intentional and you really want the viewer to get their own take on something, especially if it’s an abstract. If you title it, then you’re saying, “This is what it’s supposed to be.” Maybe my vision is not what the viewer is going to get out of it.

When you start getting into a more narrative, conceptual painting, the title is half the thing. This painting without the title wouldn’t be half as much fun. It conjures up all sorts of little stories: “What did they actually go through?” “Why are they fighting?” “Who are they fighting?” “Is it symbolic, or are they really going after the cavalry?” “Is Bev going to do another painting with the cavalry going away from them?” I like to keep it open-ended.

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So how did you embrace this genre?

It comes out of the things you love. Horses were my first love. I was a Campfire Girl when I was a kid. I had a shallow, more simplistic view of Native Americans. As I got older and started seeing the country, the whole wilderness ethic took hold. I’ve always loved camping out, painting outdoors; I’m an outdoors person. I want to communicate those feelings that I have while I’m out there. Of course, there’s the Native American philosophy—their living close to the Earth, and their animal brothers—which really rings true to me.

I’ve always loved the whole Western movement. How the West Was Won: That movie was special to me. When I was a kid, I grew up with Westerns on TV.

When I got married, we were in the advertising business for about five years. We quit our jobs and traveled and lived out of a camper for about a year. We traveled the Western United States, the Rocky Mountain area, western Canada and Baja California. You go to museums, and the more you see of Native Americans, the more you want to know. The more you know, the more you want to keep researching. It’s a fascinating subject to me. It was grounded on my feeling for nature.

I don’t think that will ever get old. I think we’ll always be looking for a simpler life. In our hectic days, we have so little time, it seems, to look for something quiet and simple. I think sometimes my paintings depict that.

How do Native Americans respond to your art?

I’ve only had one person come to me at a show. I think he was upset by the fact that I was using Native Americans to make money. It really offended him. Most Native Americans come to my show and they go, “Oh, my gosh, it’s wonderful to have someone [depict] us the way we really are.” I’m glad they feel that way. Again, it’s got to come out of me. It’s totally a selfish thing. It’s got to be something I feel strongly about, that I feel passionate about, that I want to communicate in my own way.

Did you ever starve as an artist?

Oh, yeah. Well, we never starved. I think we lived on $4,000 one year. Our CPA didn’t believe it. But we walked down to the store and bought a Popsicle, that got put on the list. We always managed to save. Even when we were starting out and pretty poor, we never really hit the wall. We always managed to make just enough to get by or break even.

Did you do the art-festival circuit?

We signed on with a promoter whose list of shows were mostly in resort areas. We found out through trial and error that people, when they were on vacation, would be more apt to buy art. If you get them at home in a mall, they’re buying about shoes and underwear and they’re not thinking about art. If we did a show in Tahoe, or in some resort area, we always had a better show, especially if it was an outdoor show, too.

What’s your opinion of art that’s on the market these day?
I think there are a lot of things, technology, that’s creeping in here. When I went to school, I was an advertising/illustration major, and I could have gotten a job doing either one. In fact, I did both for a time. Kids are being taught how to draw, but schools are focusing more on concepts and design. If you look at U.S. News or Time magazine, look at the art in there. They’re either photographs or more symbolic renditions. You don’t see book covers being purely illustrated anymore except for Westerns and not even a lot of romance novels. There really isn’t as much work for illustrators like they had in the olden days. Look at TV and movie posters. There are some iconic posters like Indiana Jones, but most posters today are done with computers or photography. I think the schools are trying to get their kids into jobs, and computer skills are necessary today, where in my day, we did everything the hard way.

What work are you most proud of and why?
“Pinto” is the very first print I ever did. I still have that original because it launched my whole career.

I love the one I just finished. I don’t know why; usually, I just hate them when I’m done with them. I just remember all the pain and torture. It’s kinda fresh in my mind. It isn’t until two or three months later that I can look at it and go, “Yeah, I guess I did OK on this.”

Probably the truest answer is the one I’m working on, that’s the one I’m most excited about.

I’m proud of everything I’ve done. There are a lot of old paintings that I would love to burn, but I’ve learned and grown over the years. Some of these things come out of the woodwork, some painting I did back in the ‘60s, and I go, “Oh, no, not that,” or once in a while, one will come up and I go, “Wow, that was a pretty good effort.”

Where are you going with your art?

You can’t be doing the same thing all the time. You just burn out. In fact, that is one reason why I left print for a while. I just couldn’t paint that way anymore. I didn’t want to change what I paint, but I wanted to change how I paint. I needed to take a hiatus and divorce myself from what was safe and comfortable and put myself on the edge again and get the fun and challenge of painting something new and different back.

I’m not saying I won’t ever do camouflage again. Of course, I will. I even hate that term. I like to think of it more like a mystical connection to nature. I use Native Americans as they represent man and how he thinks of himself when he’s out there. Of course, I love their whole lore because they tied themselves with their surroundings and the world they lived in. I know that I have those same feelings when I’m out there. It keeps you going. You never get tired of that. That’s what I love. How do you change that? You don’t. But you can sure change the way you depict it. The style of painting I would always like to keep fresh.

Where do you find inspiration?

Oh, well, the wilderness. I’ve done a lot of traveling over the years. Or you could just be in the shower and get an idea. You could just be out walking around the neighborhood, and there’ll be a coyote chasing a rabbit. That will kick in a thought or an idea or you could combine that with something else. You just gotta keep your eyes and ears open for things to happen in nature.

Joshua Tree National Park is our back yard, literally. We have coyotes that come up to drink every day. We have a bobcat family. It’s just neat to see them and know that they’re there. My husband was out walking yesterday and today and he came across the same rattlesnake twice and he said, “You know what? I think I’m going to have to walk around this bush a little different way tomorrow.” It’s just neat to know they are there.
We don’t have too many mice this year so maybe that’s why we’re seeing snakes more. It’s funny. Nature just kind of takes care of that. We haven’t seen many rabbits this year. Not many quail. We’ve had some drought. We didn’t get the wildflowers this year. It’s funny how you’ll have a year when you’ve got mice everywhere. Then all of sudden, one year, you won’t see hardly any. Cycles are there for a reason. If you’ve got too many mice one year, there’s imbalance there.

What’s your take on global warming?
Obviously something is happening here. When you have the polar ice cap melting, I’m sure we’re helping to speed things up. There are arguments both ways. I tend to fall on the scientific side. I’m not going to just bury my head in the sand and say, “No.” I’d rather believe it’s happening and try to make this a better world for our grandchildren. Then if it isn’t true, fine, we’ve actually got a cleaner world we’re living in. Opt for the worst. If you don’t believe, it could be true, and you then could get to the point of no return. That’s dangerous, too. So you’re better off just saying that something is definitely happening.

How fickle is the Western genre art scene?

It fades in and out. I think there will always be interest in the subjects I like—because the wilderness is who we are. There’s something missing in people’s lives. Especially in this day and age. I think people hope for a simpler life. Whether people know it or not, the more they are surrounded by things that are not manmade, the better they’re going to feel. There’s an element in nature that touches all of us. It’s hard to say these things. I’m just going to end up painting what I like, anyway. I’ve been fortunate that what I like to paint, a lot of people seem to like. Why? Because I’m depicting something people want to feel: closer to nature. They’re more and more surrounded by things that are manmade. They wonder what is wrong with their lives, and I think they need to go take a hike.

Any tips for art buyers?

Buy what you like. Don’t buy for investment. If it goes up in value, great, you’ve won twice. If it doesn’t go up, then you’ve got to enjoy a painting that you like very much.

Would we recognize the advertising campaigns you and your husband worked on?
The Mighty Dog dog food where you had the branding iron that sizzles the meat (laughs). My husband worked on Coffee-Mate. He got to work with all the beautiful girls when we were looking for models, and I got all the dogs and cats. I thought it was fun, but I didn’t want to live in the big city for the rest of my life. You would have to go to New York or Chicago if you ever wanted to move up. We could have been good in this business if we wanted to, but we didn’t want to spend the rest of our lives doing that. You look back and you go, “What did you do with your life?” “Well, Friskies dog food is No. 1 in the country.” Well, who cares? (laughs)
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