Story: Katie Cooper | Photography: Rett Peek |
Renowned artist George Dombek gets back to his roots while showcasing nationally acclaimed pieces in his studio and gallery in Northwest Arkansas
You’re known to many As a watercolor artist, but you also have an extensive background in architecture. How has this shaped your artistic expression and painting technique? That question comes up a lot. Of course my training in architecture plays a large part in my process. It influences the technical approach I have to painting, but I was painting long before I ever knew what architecture was. The first painting I did was in 1960. Painting every day for forty years is what really shapes the work. I am responding to what I see and hopefully people interpret the work in different ways.
Barns are one of the most iconic themes in your art. How did you first become interested in them as a subject? When I was in architecture school at the University of Arkansas, I took a historical preservation class. The professor wanted us to do a semester-long project of documenting building types with photography. I had just discovered a 35mm camera. My father was a coal miner in Paris, Arkansas, so I planned to document coal mines. On my trip to Paris, I discovered that all of the buildings associated with mining had vanished. Driving back to Fayetteville, I happened to see barns. When I told my professor, he said, “Well the Romans had their coliseum, we have our barns.” I spent the whole semester in Northwest Arkansas photographing barns and mapping their locations. At the end of semester, I received a grant to continue studying barns over the summer. Three years after architecture school, I entered graduate school and started painting my first series of Arkansas barns. Ten years later, while teaching in Tallahassee, Florida, I painted a second series of tobacco barns. Twenty years later, I did my third series of barns. This led to a large project where I painted a barn in each county in Arkansas. I’ve painted the inside, outside, and looking through the barn.
Aside from barns, you create a wide variety of themes, including birds, bicycles, rocks, and more. How do you juggle multiple subject matters? My work is directly related to my location. For instance, after graduate school, I moved to San Francisco and painted fire escapes. When I was in Ohio, I painted steel mills. In Tallahassee, I painted tobacco barns. Florence, Italy is where I began to work on various themes in nature. I would usually work on these different subjects two and a half to three years at a time. But today, I work on several different things in the same day. It’s a change in my creative process, but I prefer the variety now.
With an extensive career and travels all over the world, you ended up in your native Arkansas in a picturesque setting that combines your life and art. Tell us about your grounds and what a gallery-goer can expect to see when visiting. I first purchased 6 acres of property in Goshen [rural Fayetteville] in 1984 after returning from teaching architecture at King Faisal in Saudi Arabia. I was not yet living in Arkansas, but rather teaching in Tallahassee. I’ve had galleries in New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, Miami, Washington, D.C., and others. Around 1995, I felt confident enough in my painting to give up teaching and move back to Arkansas. That is when I first built my house and later came the studio and gallery. I have added 24 acres over the years. One of the properties has a barn that I continue to restore. The studio and gallery exhibit many original watercolors and art glass. Our main gallery space is open year-round by appointment, and we have open studios throughout the year. This fall’s open studio will feature recent paintings and art glass. It will be free and open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays in September and October.
PLAN YOUR VISIT
Dombek’s studio and gallery will be open to guests—free of charge—this fall on Saturdays and Sundays, September 9 – October 15 from 1 p.m. – 6 p.m.
George Dombek Studio & Gallery
844 Blue Springs Road, Fayetteville