Meet Randy L Purcell. Originally from a small town in Kentucky, Randy L Purcell has held many careers: construction, deckhand on a tugboat, retail sales—even uranium enrichment. At 37, he decided to pursue his passion and return to school for a BFA at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU).
Now, Randy’s prepping for the September Flying Solo Exhibition at the Nashville International Airport and juggling the demands of multiple galleries. We talked to him about his unique approach to encaustic painting and how he found success by networking outside the traditional art scene.
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WHEN DID YOU FIRST BECOME INTERESTED IN ENCAUSTIC PAINTING AND HOW DID YOU MAKE IT YOUR OWN?
I learned it at MTSU. I started college to design and build my own furniture, but since there wasn’t a degree specifically for that, I took painting and sculpture classes. One day in painting class we played with encaustic techniques.
At the time, I was making a lot of things out of barn wood. We were given a project where we had to do something 50 times. So I cut 50 small barn shapes out of barn wood, covered them with wax, and transferred images of flowers, horses and other farm related things from magazines. There was something about the ink transfer that stuck out to me.
Over time, my process has changed. Normally, encaustic painters use layers of pigmented wax, transfers, collage and other mixed media, and paint while the wax is hot. I took one step (or technique), the transfer, and turned it into my own thing. The wax is melted and applied to panel. After it has cooled I smooth the wax and then transfer the color from recycled magazine pages. The beeswax is just a binder that secures the ink on the plywood panel.
Each piece is unique because there are so many variables. I buy 10 pounds of wax at a time and the color of the wax varies from light yellow to blonde to a dark brown. That can also impact the color of the ink. I’ve tried to find other artists that use this process but haven’t really found anyone. So, I created a video to share my process online hoping to get feedback.
MANY OF YOUR PAINTINGS DEPICT FARM AND RURAL IMAGERY: HORSES, BARNS, COWS AND FLOWERS. ARE THESE SUBJECTS CLOSE TO HOME?
I am constantly asking myself this question, too. I think it has to do with the nostalgia of something. I loved living out in the country. I grew up in Paducah, Kentucky − just a few hours from here − and later moved to Nashville. My wife’s family has a farm in East Tennessee that we visit quite often and hope to move there one day.
Everything I paint relates to something in my life, something around me. I often keep a camera with me and am constantly stopping to take a picture. I have 30,000 photos right now that might be something one day, maybe not. I go to them if I need inspiration on what I want to do next.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS OR STUDIO. WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO CREATE?
I have to get in the mood before I get started in the studio. I can’t just walk in and get to work. I come in and I will tidy up first and make sure things are in their place. That makes me feel more at ease. Then I crank up my music, which could be anything from heavy metal to jazz. Sometimes it takes me 30 minutes to an hour to get everything right.
In my studio I like to keep my last couple of paintings close by (if possible). Every painting I do I try to push a little bit further. So maybe I try to use a new combination of colors or more texture. Seeing my recent paintings nearby is a great form of feedback on what worked well and what I want to try differently next time.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR OTHER PROFESSIONAL ARTISTS?
I go to art walks and participate in art events on a regular basis. But, connecting with people that aren’t in the art scene and being involved in local community has helped me tremendously. I am active in some civic groups, the Donelson-Hermitage Evening Exchange Club and a business group called Leadership Donelson-Hermitage.
Because of that I know people that don’t normally collect art but might buy my stuff because they know me and want to support me. Plus, I was given the opportunity to do a mural titled “In Concert” on the side of the Johnson's Furniture building in Donelson. I came up with the composition and outlined my drawing on the wall in a grid. We had around 200 community members paint a section of the grid. Those members included anyone from an artist, teachers to business owners. That was a huge boost in awareness for me as an artist.
These connections and opportunities all led to me getting an exhibition at the Nashville International Airport in September called Flying Solo. I will have three big walls to hang my work on. This will get me tons of exposure. This will be the next big turning point of my art career.
My tip is to get involved with a lot of things. Don’t be so caught up in studio that people forget you exist!
WHAT IS A COMMON MISCONCEPTION ABOUT BEING A PROESSIONAL ARTIST?
Artists who are starting out often don’t realize how much work it is to be represented by a gallery. It’s a job. We get to do what we love, but it’s still a job with responsibilities. Currently a gallery in the Louisville area called Copper Moon Gallery represents my work. It’s a great honor. But once you get in, you have to keep up with inventory. I can’t just send a few paintings and go on to the next project. They need new work on a regular basis.
Some galleries ask for paintings that they think will work best for their clients. It depends on the type of gallery you’re in. If I create something that I think is cool, it’s usually a one and done sort of thing. But then the gallery will want more of that type because their customers like it. Not an ideal situation, but sometimes there are sacrifices that have to be made.
On top of all the responsibilities of creating art you also have to look for other opportunities to show your work, keep an updated artist statement and bio, and the list goes on and on. Being an artist is easy. But, i’ve never worked so hard in my life!
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