CLIFTON FORGE, Va. (TVR) – The new exhibit at the Alleghany Highlands Arts and Crafts Center in Clifton Forge is a study in contrasts.
The exhibit opened Tuesday, March 7, and will close Friday, April 7. Artist Kenneth Stockton has depicted places and landscapes that will be familiar to many visitors, but they range in size from a jewel-like 4-by-6 inches to a “walk-right-into-the-scene” 3-by-4 feet.
“It all started when my grandmother took care of me at (age) 5, and she told me that I could create drawings of anything I wanted to draw. She sat me in a room with art supplies and would check on me every other hour. I was easy to take care of since I enjoyed making art.
“By 1958 I was in second grade at Highlands Park Elementary in Roanoke, Virginia, when I was awarded first place in an art show. This pushed me to do more art,” said Stockton of his early years.
“At Patrick Henry High School. I took mechanical drawing, and in my junior year, I entered the Commonwealth of Virginia Industrial Fair. I came in first place for designing a bridge support.
“After high school, I enrolled in graphic arts at Virginia Western Community College (WVCC), where parties got in the way. My grades dropped, and the draft was knocking at my door. So, I enlisted in the U.S. Navy and volunteered for helicopters.
“I became a mechanic and was shipped to a training squadron in California. I walked the beach praying for a way out because they were withdrawing military personnel from Vietnam. When my father died unexpectedly, I applied for a hardship discharge to go home and take care of my mother. I also went back to VWCC to finish school: I worked three different part-time jobs to pay my way.
“During this time, I put my artwork in several different N&W Railway art shows. In one, I was awarded the president’s prize for my painting — enough encouragement to apply to several colleges to work toward a BFA. I was accepted to the San Francisco Art Institute, bummed a ride back to the West Coast and got a job painting old Victorian homes.
“My work there was very large — sometimes 6-by-8 foot canvases — and abstract. I was doing what was often called ‘contemporary expressionism’ —big, bold and definitely abstract.
“Two of the artists I admire most are Zen Master Sam Tchakalian and Franklin Williams. Both were teachers in abstract contemporary expressionism in California. I also admire the works of Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera. ‘Tribute’ is an homage to Georgia O’Keefe,” Stockton said.
“I lived in many places in San Francisco and got robbed twice. The hardest ‘robbery’ was when one of my large paintings got stolen from an interior art exhibit. It had just won a juror’s award; I had a buyer lined up, and suddenly it was gone. I packed up and went backpacking in the Redwood (National Park). Eventually I would return home to settle in Virginia.”
Stockton has lived his entire life in every art-related field to make a living: advertising, marketing, as a graphic artist, a technical illustrator, an offset printer and now as a fine artist, where he loves painting landscapes.
Stockton’s late father was a scoutmaster who taught him to value and respect nature. Those early years fostered a deep connection to the woods and wild places that continues to this day.
When he returned to Virginia and began painting those landscapes, Stockton was careful to seek out details of place and season, celebrating popular sites, as well as those that people might pass by on any given day. When not painting, Stockton continues to care for our wild places and has worked with the Appalachian Trail group.
He often paints plein air from the back of his Jeep. Stockton strives for “conventional art” made of an artistic representation that simplifies landscapes, “because God doesn’t make any more. Simplified is good, because if you put in too much detail, then you must include the disrespectful human litter that is often left behind.”
Whether the work is a large format or smaller images, Stockton’s work reflects personal memories, as well as a reminder of the magic of the places that humans inhabit. Spending time with one of these paintings offers a welcome respite from the hectic everyday world.
Kenneth Stockton’s “Roads Well Travelled” opened Tuesday, March 7, and closes Friday, April 7.
The Alleghany Highlands Arts and Crafts Center is supported by its members, contributors, the town of Clifton Forge, the city of Covington, the county of Alleghany, the Alleghany Foundation, the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.