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Artist Bev Doolittle

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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.

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