This past winter, I had the privilege of taking classes with internationally renowned expressionist artist, Bert Seabourn. It isn’t very often one gets to meet an artist like him, never mind get to learn his process. But Bert is very humble and warm with a keen sense of humour that he uses to challenge the viewers of his artwork, rattle cages and undermine stereotypes.
Born in Texas in 1931 of Cherokee heritage, Bert knew he wanted to be an artist as a child. He studied art at Oklahoma City University and OU before joining the Navy as an artist and journalist during the Korean War. A talented illustrator, he thought about doing cartoons, but he told me there was no money in it, so he went to work as a graphic designer and illustrator before becoming a full time artist in the late 70’s. His style is not limited and he has bucked the pressure to be just one kind of artist. Working in acrylics, watercolour, sculpture and printmaking, Bert uses a variety of themes largely native in focus. His work has found its way into collections across the planet. He has artwork in the permanent collections of: the Vatican; China’s National Palace Museum, in Taipei, Taiwan; Moscow University, in Ulytanovsk; the American Embassy, in London, England; the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History; the George and Barbara Bush Collection, in Houston, TX; and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum; the Oklahoma State Art Collection; Oklahoma City Museum of Art; and others. *
Bert is a gentle teacher, allowing his students to pursue their muse, always ready to help. I spent most of the winter learning how to make and print etchings, but I can admit now I was avoiding setting my brush free, afraid I would have no idea what to do with that freedom. It took him a while, but he finally got me to break out of my rigid style of contemporary realism. I wanted to try being expressionist, but I just didn’t know how to start. It’s amazing to discover how much you already know when in the presence of a master.
I attended a party at his house recently and the walls are covered in museum quality art from a broad number of artists, including some of Bert’s very large abstractions. He and his wife Bonnie were gracious hosts, letting their guests freely wander. I had to stop my jaw from dropping as I walked from room to room of floor to ceiling art. Bert loves to show off the more risqué works lying around his studio and he pointed to one in particular. This was one of two paintings that were removed from a recent exhibition. He tells the story about how they were there the night before and gone the next morning with a twinkle in his eye and a giggle. Bert is fond of word games and it is worth taking a closer look at his paintings and their titles too…
In class, Bert does demonstrations and encourages his students to mimic his work, if they choose, as part of the learning process. There is no better way to understand a work of art than to try to recreate it. As soon as I opened that door, Bert chose a different painting for me. A cow’s head. I was thrilled by how liberating the feeling of loosely pulling vine charcoal across canvas and laying paint with no preconceived notions could be. In the space of little over an hour, I had produced a new painting, learned how to make tools for marking and splattering and left the class with a euphoric sense of accomplishment – and I had a great time getting there. (see my painting below)
For those of you in Oklahoma City, Bert’s art can be seen at 50 Penn Place.
* source – Bert Seabourn’s Biography