“An accident wanting to happen” – Ottis Tussey’s experiments in abstract

When asked to describe his style of abstract painting, Ottis Tussey said that his style is “kind of an accident waiting to happen.”

Ottis Tussey at work in his home.
Ottis Tussey at work in his home.

“I surprise myself at times. I start out with this vague idea and then something happens that changes everything or moves me to something else,” said Tussey.
If there is one thing that Tussey enjoys as much as working at his canvas, it is talking about art.
Not his art in particular, though he is happy to share insights into what he perceives are his strengths in the visual arts, but he also enjoys delving into the kinds of things that he enjoys as a spectator as well as a creator.

Whether visiting the museums or churches that house the world’s great masterpieces or perusing the unheralded work of artists in the local art galleries, he has developed an appreciation for the image and the craft on display.
“I love to see the work of talented artists and the incredible things they do. When I visited Rome some years ago and saw works by Michaelangelo and other great Rennaissance artists, there were times when I would just tear up. They could do anything,” Tussey said.
That statement is also true of artists with whom he has come into contact at his home at Lake Carnico in Nicholas County, Kentucky.
“Several of my paintings are at the Z-Gallery in Carlisle [Kentucky]. Louise Zachary’s place features several wonderful paintings as well as  beautiful hand-made quilts and woodworking.
“And then, of course, I have several abstracts at the [Licking Valley Campus, Workforce Solutions] art gallery in Cynthiana, where there is also many beautiful works. I am particularly fond of the paper mosaics that Mrs. [Claire] Muller creates. Those are stunning,” he commented.

“I surprise myself at times. I start out with this vague idea and then something happens that changes everything or moves me to something else,” said Tussey.

Though Ottis Tussey has dabbled in art throughout his life, it has only been within the last five years that he has applied himself to developing his artistic skills.
Tussey prefers to work in abstracts. In the years since he has taken up painting, he has been quite prolific.
“I am not accomplished at drawing figures or detailed images. As I’ve been working, I find that I don’t care so much for portraits or scenes as much as I enjoy the interplay of vivid colors on a canvas,” Tussey said about his work.

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Vivid, colorful backgrounds are a hallmark of Tussey’s style, particularly in his recent works.
In fact, there are times, he said, when he has labored so hard to create these colorful backdrops that it takes time to muster the nerve to add anything to the foreground.
“I love the interplay of colors and how they react with each other and with different types of canvas,” he said.
In recent months, he has been working with aluminum foil as a canvas, admiring how the reflective quality changes the nature of his acrylic paints.
In another painting in his home, he achieved an unexpected effect when water from a garden hose splashed against the canvas, creating a fragmented effect to which he was able to add his own designs.
However, some of his most striking abstracts have been captured using glass as his canvas. Several examples of his glass paintings are on display at the art gallery in Cynthiana and unframed at his home.
Perhaps the most important element in his development as a local artist is a level of personal confidence that he has in his work.
“I think I have reached a point where my work has achieved a recognizeable style. It was something that I did not have at the beginning. But these days, one can recognize work that I have done,” Tussey said.

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He attributes his growth to a certain discipline in his approach. Though he does not keep a regular schedule of time painting, he makes the effort to be at the easel working on a piece even if he is not particularly inspired to do so.
“I cannot develop if I let things go for too long,” Tussey said.
Regardless of whether he is happy with his work, he also makes an effort to carry a project to its end.
“The hardest thing for me is getting a new idea. I can only paint so many seagulls or random images. When I was getting into this, I thought that I always needed to wait until inspiration happens before starting in on a new painting. But sometimes, it’s just important to get in front of an easel and do something,” Tussey said. “If I don’t like it, I can just as easily paint over it. And having the painting underneath creates some interesting textures that I can use.”
With the coming holiday season, Tussey is following the lead of fellow artist Herby Moore and offering discounts of up to 20 percent on his paintings at the LVC gallery in the Harrison Square Shopping Center in Cynthiana, Kentucky.

“I don’t charge much for my paintings, so this discount is a real bargain for my work,” Tussey said.

An expressive newcomer – The art of Ray Duke

An expressive newcomer – The art of Ray Duke

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When asked to talk about the subject matter in one of his paintings, local artist Ray Duke prefers to turn the inquiry back to the questioner. He enjoys it when his work evokes a response from viewers.
“It’s not important to me that people get what I intended in a painting. I like hearing what my images make them think about,” Duke said.
Duke has converted a small bedroom at the back of his home on Wohlwinder Avenue in Cynthiana, Kentucky into a studio for his painting.
He has sold a few of his works here and there, but the majority of his paintings lie against each other against the rear wall.
Thumbing through the collection, one is struck by the range of subject matter that he has painted. One of the pleasures of looking through these works is tracing Duke’s development as a painter.  

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Even to people who do not have much of a background in the visual arts, it is still possible to recognize the development of a highly individual style. There is a great deal of movement and energy captured in these images. Thick strokes invite viewers to touch the canvas and appreciate the tactile sensations in the paint itself.

“I like the way the paint dries on the canvas,” he said. He has re-purposed some of his old canvases, with images he was not satisfied with, to new work. An unexpected benefit of this practice was the way his oils interacted with the older paints, creating a work that invites touching as much as it invites viewing.
Duke has been a practicing artist for decades.
“Growing up, I have always been able to draw and work in clay,” Duke reflected. Yet, he is a relative newcomer to oil painting.
When he first began applying himself as an artist in his spare time, his first devotion was to sculpting, which he had begun in earnest as far back as 1996 while he and his wife were living in San Francisco.
In his living room are impressive examples of his skills as a sculptor. Among them is a detailed scene of two baseball players falling over themselves to catch a fly ball. He’s a fan of baseball, particularly of the San Francisco Giants.
Another is an almost mythic depiction of a beautiful woman with her arms open, an inviting expression on her face, and a scorpion’s tail and pincers seemingly ready to strike.
Duke would have happily continued creating bronze sculpture, but it is a very expensive endeavor.
“It’s not just that bronze sculpture requires a lot of money in materials to create the molds, it also costs a lot to reproduce the works for people who like them. Bronze sculpture is cost prohibitive as a hobby,” Duke said.
He started to take painting seriously around November 2006. From an economic standpoint, it made better sense. A 4 x 5 canvas can run anywhere from $20 – $100.
If the subject matter calls for it, Duke uses wood canvases which are also not very expensive.
But in 2006, when he decided to switch his preferred medium to oil painting, there was one small hitch. He really didn’t know that much about it.
But things were going okay for he and his wife, Karen, – enough so that he decided to leave his job and spend 17 months with a friend in Mazatlan, Mexico to teach himself to paint.
The city proved to be fertile ground for inspiration. The rich culture gave him numerous subjects to depict on campus.
Carnivale in Mazatlan, Duke said, is one of the best known in Mexico. Though it does not have the tourist crowds associated with those celebrated in Rio De Janeiro or New Orleans, it is a vivid spectacle.
One of the works inspired by the celebration occupies a space in their master bedroom.
He has several others in hispersonal collection in the studio. What captures the attention most in his work is the individual detail in the faces.
One of the more vivid examples of that work is one of his early paintings of a struggling family. The fatigue in the face of a mother raising a family alone stands in contrast to the belligerent expression on the face of her son, a toddler who is already adopting a sense of the false machismo that is a bane of male culture in that part of the world, Duke said.

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“I found that there was a steep learning curve when it came to developing skills as a painter. It took some time before I produced anything that I thought was worthwhile,” Duke commented. “It may have leveled out a bit more, but the curve continues to go upward.”
His development is like leaping from one rock to another to cross a stream, he said. “I can see the shore ahead of me, but I never get there. It always recedes.”
The 2008 recession was an economic setback for Ray and Karen Duke. Relinquishing their home in San Francisco, the Dukes came to Cynthiana to where his wife’s family resides.
“We’re like Okie’s from the Grapes in Wrath, but in reverse. We’re economic refugees from California,” Duke said.
But even in the midst of re-establishing themselves here in Cynthiana, Duke has found plenty of material to inform his paintings in Kentucky.

Portrait of Amber Philpot
Portrait of Amber Philpot

A source of enduring inspiration has been a series of nudes that he has interpreted in numerous ways. Recent experiments, which found their way to his living room wall, cast his nude model in the forms of two famous marble statues — Venus De Milo and Michaelangelo’s David.
Two other works that have been displayed in regional art shows are powerful images of a female boxer preparing for a bout.
As with many artists, he hasn’t sold many of his original works. But then again, he describes his work as more an avocation than a profession.
“It’s something that I enjoy doing,” Duke said.
Interestingly, the pleasure that he derives from painting is in the completed work, not in the process itself.
“I find that the work can be enervating. It saps a great deal of energy. I usually just work about two to three hours – about the length of a playlist on my iPod – then I stop and rest,” Duke said.
But when he finally comes to a point where a work is complete, there is a sense of release.

On occasion, Duke enjoys the way that his art can make a powerful statement.
On occasion, Duke enjoys the way that his art can make a powerful statement.

He’d like to sell more of his work, but the market is not the reason he commits time to creating  his art.
Ray Duke is always glad to meet new people and share his art with them. During art shows in the region, he is glad to break out a few examples from his growing body of work for people to see.

“I have known that I have talent to draw and create. I don’t want to live my life knowing that I have an ability and never used it,” Duke said.