By Wolf Schneider
A visit with landscapist William Hook at his studio in Carmel, CA
Text by Wolf Schneider/Photos by Dani Winston
So Hook, if I may be so familiar…. Go ahead, that’s what everyone calls me.
You’ve got a great set-up: a home in Carmel for winter, another in Santa Fe for summer. Santa Fe is a major art market, much bigger than Carmel. Carmel is developing itself as an art community again, but it doesn’t have the following that Santa Fe does as far as collectors.
Are you on a first-name basis with Clint Eastwood, the former mayor of Carmel? He’s an absolute hero of mine. I run across him at the Mission Ranch, which he owns. There’s a tennis and workout facility there, and I’m a member. Years ago when I was painting at the ranch he asked me if I was staying there, otherwise he would have to ask me to leave.
He tried to throw you out—he was in Dirty Harry mode! Yeah, and I was a lucky punk. [Laughs]
Tell me about your Carmel studio that’s attached to your house. The light wasn’t very good in the existing studio so I built a glass box, basically. It’s got a totally glass roof and north light from windows that go from 3 feet to 15 feet. It’s so nicely designed. Carmel can be cloudy and dreary and foggy, and the light levels go way down then, but this way I get all the light I need. The studio’s about 15 feet by 18 feet.
Are you a spontaneous painter, or do you do sketches? I’ll do several studies for one piece. My sketching is done on the canvas prior to the painting.
A neatnik or a slob? My studio is actually carpeted, so I’m very much a neatnik. Acrylic paint dries extremely fast, so I need to have everything set up so I’m not knocking stuff over. And I document all my works photographically. I spent about 16 years in advertising design and that created good discipline in me. I also went to a great school in Los Angeles—the Art Center College of Design.
Landscapes are your thing—large skies, extreme horizons, distant mountains, textured foregrounds, broad brush strokes. Is your personality just as bold? [Laughs] Probably. That’s a good analogy. I am impatient, and that’s one reason for the broad brush strokes. I like the broad-brush painters—Edgar Payne, Victor Higgins. It’s a good way to deliver the medium to the canvas without having to go to a palette knife. It’s not for wimps, though.
How about painting style—do you consider yourself an impressionist? Hmm. Someplace between impressionism and expressionism, because I’m a colorist and I like making paintings a little bit edgy.
You seem to be partial to blues and yellows. Oh, it shows, does it? Those two colors have always fascinated me. California has the gold hills and cobalt blue ocean. New Mexico has cobalt skies.
What do you consider your forte when it comes to painting? Color and design. Design is something you have or you don’t have. Color can be taught. Joseph Albers was a hero of mine—he studied color vibrations and color subtractions and additions.
Is your mantra “By hook or by crook”? [Laughs] No, it’s “Be true to yourself.”
At 57, what trait has served you best in your career, and what trait do you deplore in yourself? Best is the discipline I learned in commercial art. I deplore my impatience.
On what occasion do you fudge the truth? Probably when I get a speeding ticket, and I’ve gotten some hefty ones in New Mexico. I couldn’t have been going that fast!
Which artist, living or dead, would you most like to trade a piece of art with? Boy, I’d love to have a Victor Higgins.
Which artist would you most like an hour of advice from? James Abbot McNeill Whistler, and I’d talk landscapes with him.
What’s the range that your work sells for? Oh, from $1,500 to $25,000.
What does an artist need most: a good accountant, a good truck, or a good red wine? No question about it, it’s the good red wine. I like a red Zinfandel.
All the Californians go for the wine. So, when your time comes to kick the bucket, what sentence would accurately sum it up for your life? “His approach to his art and life was fearless.” Y’know, why not run it up the flagpole?
Hook is represented by Portnoy Galleries, Carmel, CA, and Meyer Gallery, Santa Fe, NM.
Featured in “My World” August 2005