A drawing class at Clark College in Vancouver, Wash., changed the trajectory of Gordon Wilson’s life.
“I was pursuing English literature when I took a drawing class from Richard Stensrude,” Wilson recalled. “It totally consumed me. I knew this was what I was going to do, practical or not.”
Wilson is the featured First Friday artist at Marmot Art Space in Kendall Yards tonight, and his exhibit The Bridges of Spokane County will be on display at the gallery through September.
After earning a degree at Portland State University, Wilson came to Spokane for an MFA program offered at Fort Wright College. Instructor Jack Bauer looked at a landscape Wilson had done and asked, “Are you painting this on location?”
When Wilson affirmed he was the instructor asked, “Why aren’t you looking at what you’re painting?”
The next morning, the artist took his watercolors to the Spokane River.
“It was a foggy morning,” said Wilson. “I painted along with the sunrise, really observing and learning from what I saw.”
He joined the faculty at Whitworth University in 1976, teaching art until he retired in 2022.
“It’s a good place to be,” he said. “That’s why I stayed so long.”
For the first part of his artistic career, he focused on large-scale drawings, but a trip to France introduced him to the beauty and technique of plein air (out-of-doors) painting.
“I took nine trips to France with students to teach the one-month art portion of the French study program,” he said. “One of the main reasons I did drawing instead of painting is because painting took so long.”
But on one of those trips, he watched Jeffrey Hessing finish a plein air painting in an hour and that propelled him into painting with oils.
Wilson’s work has been shown in galleries, museums and universities throughout the Northwest and beyond. His landscapes reflect the time he’s spent in Europe.
“For several years in a row, my wife, who is also an artist, and I traveled to Italy,” he said. “Then COVID happened.”
While overseas travel wasn’t possible, Wilson still longed to paint something with both natural and architectural aspects.
“Marshall (Peterson, owner of Marmot Art Space) said, ‘You should do a painting of Spokane from Kendall Yards.’”
Intrigued, Wilson went to the Centennial Trail at 8 one evening.
“I didn’t want to paint the views everyone sees on Facebook,” he said. “So, I stood on a table near the trail, and I liked the view I saw.”
That view launched his first post-retirement exhibit, “The Bridges of Spokane County.”
“For years, people have been seeing Italy, France and Germany in my work, but these are local, recognizable locations.”
The 16 works include a vibrant painting of the Monroe Street Bridge with the curve of the Federal Courthouse behind it and The Spokesman-Review tower visible behind that.
“It’s a compressed view at a different time of day,” said Wilson.
From the bridge at Latah Creek to the span at People’s Park, Wilson painted iconic scenes in his unique style that captures history, mood and sense of space.
“It’s a chance to see familiar locations in an unfamiliar way,” he said.
For Wilson, 76, the magic of making art hasn’t lost its luster.
“I like both the creative part and the mechanical part,” he said. “The process is pretty wonderful.”
Contact Cindy Hval at email@example.com.