Text by Wolf Schneider; Photos by Scott Spiker
You live in Toledo, OR, a pretty little town of 3,700 surrounded by forested hills that’s near the coast?
Yes, the sign still says 3,500 but people have been moving in like crazy. We’ve been found!
You’re a couple of hours from Portland. I guess that’s where you go for a new car or art supplies?
Actually, there’s a nice art-supply store in Newport, which is only seven miles away. And plenty of car dealerships there. We’ve got a big bay with a significant fleet here and the Marine Science Center, which is second only to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
You grew up in Oregon designing Porsche accessories in your 20s, so I gather you have an appreciation for life’s finer things?
What’re you driving these days?
A Jeep Cherokee. I insist on something that I can get fixed at the local gas station.
Oregon’s a pretty progressive state. Isn’t euthanasia legal there?
Yes, it’s very progressive. It’s way ahead. The people are really interesting, and there’s not so many of them that it’s uninhabitable—only 3.5 million in the whole state. Quite a bit of nature.
Since you’re of Irish lineage, what’s your preference: Irish whiskey, Guinness, or Bailey’s Irish Cream?
It would be Guinness. [Laughs]
You’re a plein-air painter primarily of rural scenes?
Plein air and studio.
Do you consider yourself an impressionist or a realist?
I fall between the two, and there are tonal qualities, and I am also a colorist.
What’s the key to making landscapes look as inviting as yours?
It’s the way into the painting. There’s something that breaks the bottom picture plane that takes you in. And I use geometry with a golden section that’s laid out in a series of ratios—it determines where the central focus will be.
You helped found the Yaquina River Museum of Art, which is housed in The Old Vicarage, a historical house built in 1926 that you own?
It’s a legacy—a charitable trust. It’s a house museum filled with art; we open it by appointment. There’s a total collection of 125 pieces now—my paintings, pieces by Ken Auster, Emil Carlsen. We’ve got four buildings here so artists can come and work, and the museum will collect a piece or two. The mission is to portray the land and people of the Yaquina River watershed. My studio is across the street.
Your studio’s in what used to be a Methodist church, originally built back in 1887?
I hear it’s got a painting studio, frame shop, office, carpentry shop, kitchen, and loft, so it must be pretty big.
It’s 3,300 square feet.
What’s the architectural style?
New England shingled, unpainted. The house is a shingled Cape Cod, and this goes along with it.
Yes, 21 feet high. White walls, four-inch red-oak plank floors. The north window soars 18 feet in the air and has 165 square feet of glass. Two tall windows on the west side. It’s a beautiful place. Leather chairs. Oriental carpets. A wine cellar is being built. We use this place like a salon—there are major collectors who come here.
Where do they stay?
Some stay on the coast at the Salishan Lodge.
What do you consider your forte when it comes to painting?
Oh, I’m a landscape painter, through and through.
How about when it comes to personality?
My astrologer says I’m full of fire! Aggressive, single-minded, inventive, entrepreneurial.
Entrepreneurial—that helps explain why you also have maintained a second home and gallery in Arizona for many years. So tell me: oil, acrylics, or watercolor?
At 62 now, what quality have you decided an artist must have, and what quality will only do an artist in?
An artist must always push. What will do them in is getting too comfortable with their work.
What’s the trait that’s served you best in your career, and what’s the trait you deplore in yourself?
Best is my persistence. Worst is my tendency to pull inward if I’m a little depressed.
Which artist, living or dead, would you most like to trade a piece of art with?
Which artist would you most like an hour of advice from?
What’s the range that your work sells for?
From $2,200 up to $85,000.
What does an artist need most: a good accountant, a good truck, or a good red wine?
All three, plus a terrific spouse and a terrific dealer.
When your time comes to kick the bucket, what sentence would accurately sum it up for your life?
“He had a great ride—he’ll be back again.” [Laughs] It’s been a good run.
Gibbons is represented by Studio/ Gallery Michael Gibbons, Toledo, OR; Gottlieb Gallery, Portland, OR; and Meyer-Munson Gallery, Santa Fe, NM.
Featured in “My World” February 2006