A world defined by light
Ashand artist Robert C. DeVoe says depicting how light models the world was always what fascinated him and informed his paintings.
"It's a challenge to capture light in art," he says during a telephone interview. "I think that's why I turned to the most realistic technique that I could find."
He turned to realism — representing authentic life with color and light — and is most noted for his still lifes, though he has done many landscapes, mostly of local scenes and especially Ashland's north hills and Grizzly Peak.
"I worked mostly in watercolor," he says. "Early on, as a hobbyist, I tried to develop a conventional watercolor style: loose and wet. But my real desire always was to recreate what I saw as exactly and authentically as I could. So I developed techniques that allowed me to paint photo-realistically. My process involves working from photo sources, prints or slides, and always from photos that I have taken myself. I always tried to create an image that had some special quality, a play of light, a mood or atmosphere that appealed and felt significant to me.
"I have also worked in oils, acrylics and pastels using basically the same photo-based techniques. A large watercolor would typically take a hundred or more hours to finish. I would develop the whole image carefully referencing the photo information, then spend a final few hours tweaking and refining the image in its own terms."
DeVoe has shown his paintings in galleries in San Francisco, Chicago and Sun Valley, Idaho, but his primary art dealer and gallery has always been Judy Howard and Hanson Howard Gallery.
Hanson Howard, at 89 Oak St., Ashland, will celebrate DeVoe's career through December with an exhibit of his work garnered from the other galleries and personal archives.
As a child, DeVoe liked to draw. He took art classes at Medford High School from an encouraging teacher named Paul Gasparotti, he says. After a stint in the U.S. Air Force, he enrolled at Southern Oregon College of Education and became an English major. Then he completed a master's in English literature from the University of California at Berkeley before transferring to the University of Oregon to work on a doctorate, which he never finished, he says.
"I was hired into the English Department at Southern Oregon College, which became Southern Oregon State College," DeVoe says. "There I taught English composition and literature for 20 years. I continued to draw and paint as a hobby."
When life changes in the mid-'70s resulted in a new marriage, his new wife encouraged him to pursue his old ambition to be a professional artist.
"I worked at that seriously in my spare time," DeVoe says. "Fortunately, I had a good friend, Judy Howard, who also encouraged me and gave me my first show in her gallery. In 1985, I gave up teaching and became a full-time artist.
"When I was painting still lifes, I would collect objects and compose scenes myself. I was fond of going to antique and second-hand stores to find interesting things, things that would do well in still-life lighting, or moody lighting. Then I would compose the settings and photograph them, so I was in control of the kind of light effects and mood.
"I used natural light in an unused bedroom that got beautiful morning light through a big window. Sometimes I would put tracing paper over the window to modulate or decrease the intensity of light, then I would wait until the right time of day. Sometimes I would go to that room in the late afternoon and discover an even better effect with afternoon light."
He soon received national recognition. He became a member of the American Watercolor Society based in New York City, the National Watercolor Society in California and the Watercolor USA Honor Society.
"I would place paintings in each of those every year," he says. "I won a Walter Bronson Crandall Award in '81 from the National Watercolor Society and a High Winds Medal from the American Watercolor Society in '84.
As his career moved on, DeVoe's still-life paintings grew darker in color and mood.
"Judy would tell me not to paint so many dark paintings. She thought the light ones sold better," he says. "I've taken most of my inspiration from the old masters, artists such as Rembrandt and Vermeer. Their still lifes often were low-key, moody and dark. I think a desire to get those effects moved me in that direction."
DeVoe says he's felt quite successful making a living as a painter.
"It's a hard thing to do in the world," he says. "I haven't painted in the last five years, but I had a great life and a great career."