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Richard J Van Wagoner

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Richard J Van Wagoner

(Midway, Utah, 1932 – 2013, Seattle, Washington )

Richard J. Van Wagoner was born in Midway, Utah, in 1932, lived in California for a few years and then returned to Utah where he received his education. He graduated from Davis High School and Weber College and then received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Utah. He earned a Master of Fine Arts from Utah State University in Printmaking. Then he received another Master’s degree, this one in painting from the University of Utah. In 1959, Van Wagoner began teaching at Weber State College in Ogden. Originally, he taught many different art classes; but later he specialized in watercolor, drawing and painting. He was chairman of the department of art from 1975-1981. Now retired, he continues to paint and exhibit throughout Utah and the United States. During the 1960s and 1970s, Van Wagoner painted figures in landscapes. Later, his work increasingly depicted the western urban landscape of freeways and automobiles against a backdrop of inner-city and suburban vistas. Van Wagoner has always been interested in the ordinary, unposed moments of daily life and in recent years his subject matter has focused on autos, trucks and highways. Donor Bank, his 1990 oil painting, is a perfect example of his shift to painting urban landscapes with automobiles. Van Wagoner says he has always loved or hated cars. He feels the transportation system dominates our lives and is the greatest manifestation of man’s interests, needs, and activities. The title Donor Bank reflects this domination by comparing the use of used parts from wrecked cars to the use of donated human organs. The realism of this painting reinforces Van Wagoner’s comment on the importance of cars in our lives. Artist Statement from weber studies/spring 2001 “We are bombarded by the social problems of a complex world. Should the artist comment about the injustices in our society? It seems impossible to me that any artist, aware of the growing social issues of our time, could paint pretty landscapes. It is interesting that pretty landscapes remain the popular genre of our western society. "My heroes were discovered early in life. They were courageous, righteous, uncomplicated and magnificent. But the conservative environment of my youth repressed flexibility of thought and an investigative attitude into life. It is taking me a long time to become a citizen of the Twenty-first Century. Having been given all of the answers early, I feared asking questions—to investigate the mysteries was evil. Consequently, my ignorance has been (is) the greatest of evils. Much of my art reflected (perhaps reflects) the sanctity of my ignorance. "Experience and time have humbled me. Now, as an old man, light elucidates, not so much in solutions, but in query, wonder and amazement. Existence becomes more complex, but I revel in the questioning. "The traditional, academic training that I received earlier in life has provided the tools for developing the surreal, complex imagery of my recent work. In making a painting, I start with an object from nature or from the man-made world. It may be from reality or from my imagination. Perhaps it has no relevance to anything that I have been thinking about. But it must be an object that interests me in ways that I may not recognize or that may be difficult to verbalize. Once painted, the illusion on the canvas causes me to react again in ways that may appear to be irrational. I continue to add images in this fashion until the painting is finished or beyond repair. Some works I keep, as partial answers to my questioning. Others I destroy. I can only hope that viewers become interested in the process and subject of my inquiry." Richard Van Wagoner Obituary in The Salt Lake Tribune/December 29, 2013 Richard J. Van Wagoner, on eof the American West's great visual artists, kissed his beloved sweetheart and muse of 62 years goodbye before setting out early Christmas morning on his final painting trip. At the time of his departure, he and his wife, Renee Hodgson Van Wagoner, lived in Concrete, Washington, with their son and daughter-in-law, Robert and Cheri Van Wagoner. Dick was 81 years old. Though skilled in various art mediums, Dick was best known for his two-dimensional works: his watercolor, oil and acrylic paintings, his drawings and prints. Though admired for his photo-realistic paintings, (particularly his watercolors, a notoriously difficult medium when used in photo-realism), he was far less interested in verisimilitude than structure, color and contrast. In an interview conducted by Levi Peterson and printed in Dialogue, a Journal of Mormon Thought, Dick described his work: "Possibly because I've been termed a realist by art historians…I've let the label stick, but I've diverged into different interests throughout my career-some abstracts here and there, particularly during the last fifteen years in which I have worked with surrealism or what I like to call super-reality. Certainly most of the art that I've made over the years is realistic-the urban and highway paintings being the most prevalent. Perhaps someone else could describe the form of my art better than I. My work certainly could not be called naturalism (naturalism being the assumption that nature is perfect as is, so don't change anything-copy it as it is, be like a camera) because I am not interested in painting things exactly as they are. I do a lot of editing of the subjects that I paint. It comes naturally. It's just the way I work. The essence of what I've chosen to paint comes to me most of the time without thinking much about it. That essence is often simplification or strong contrasts that help satisfy my subconscious intent." In a second interview published in Weber: The Contemporary West, he added: "We are bombarded by the social problems of a complex world. Should the artist comment about the injustices in our society? It seems impossible to me that any artist, aware of the growing social issues of our time, could paint pretty landscapes. It is interesting that pretty landscapes remain the popular genre of western society." Born in Midway, Utah, on March 14, 1932 to Winnie Jones and Arthur William Van Wagoner, Dick spent his preschool years in the Wasatch Valley and Los Angeles, California, before returning to Utah, where he was educated. He graduated from Davis High School in 1950, then attended Weber College, where he met Renée. Dick-an artist already, with an eye for depth and beauty-recognized in his future mate a subject with whom he would never become bored. The last painting he completed before his death was a large landscape portrait of Renée. No other model appeared in more of his works. After graduating from Weber College, Dick earned a B.A. from the University of Utah. He continued his training at Utah State University, where he earned an M.F.A. in printmaking, followed a number of years later by a second masters degree from the University of Utah in painting, terminal degrees in his field. He began teaching at Weber College (later named Weber State College, then Weber State University) in 1959 as a professor in the Department of Visual Arts, where he remained until his retirement, mentoring young artists for nearly a half century. During his long career at Weber, he also held numerous leadership positions, including three separate tenures as the art department's chair. By his own description, his teaching style evolved from the controlled didacticism popular when he began teaching into a critique/workshop model, an interactive teaching style designed to liberate his students, but one that also demanded much from both teacher and pupil. He was a well-respected professor and advocate, and many of his students went on to successful careers in the arts. And yet Dick's great love for making art and teaching students fell a distant second to his love for Renée and their five children. A Latter-day Saint, he held great faith in the eternal nature of family, and he lived his life striving toward that end. At important crossroads in his life, he consistently chose the path that best served and protected his family, even when doing so came at great professional cost. At home, he and Renée fostered in their children intellectual and spiritual rigor, and an openness to ideas and individuals outside their faith and culture. Dick was quiet and reflective, but a natural leader, serving his church and community in roles that ranged from scoutmaster to LDS bishop. He thought before he spoke, and people respected his restraint and wisdom. Dick's art had depth because he had depth. He is survived by his wife, Renée Dare Hodgson Van Wagoner; his daughters Christy D. Van Wagoner of Birch Bay, Washington, and Kelly Dru Van Wagoner Gougler (Dan) of Lake Side, Arizona; his sons Richard A. Van Wagoner, Esq. (Helen) of Salt Lake City, Utah, the novelist Robert H. Van Wagoner (Cheri) of Concrete, Washington, and Nicolas J. Van Wagoner, Ph.D., M.D. (Jeff) of Birmingham, Alabama; his sister Joan Alder of Lewiston, Idaho; 17 grandchildren and 18 great grandchildren. He is preceded in death by his parents, Winnie and Arthur Van Wagoner and his brother, Drew Van Wagoner (Nancy).

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