By Bonnie Gangelhoff
A year ago, Utah artist Seth Winegar gathered armfuls of art books, loaded them into cardboard boxes, and placed them on a high shelf far from reach. He had gleaned much from studying the works of old masters like John Singer Sargent and contemporary ones like Richard Schmid, but he felt the time had come to put away the things that belonged to his art education. “The world is based on one person building on another, but I needed to find my own way,” Winegar says. “I wasn’t becoming who I could be.”
Today, at 25, Winegar is well on the way to developing his own painterly style in tonalist landscapes of the West marked by thick brush strokes and muted colors. He often chooses as his subjects the landscapes he sees near his home in Bountiful, a northern suburb of Salt Lake City named after a passage in the Book of Mormon. The picturesque Bountiful, where Winegar was born and raised, sits in a valley surrounded by rugged mountains and affords breathtaking views of the sunset over the Salt Lake. North and south of town, the rural countryside unravels with acres of farms and fields an abundance of nature for a landscape painter.
Winegar paints in the basement of his family’s home, a space he has converted into a comfortable studio. Here a visitor can spot a few of Winegar’s favorite things scattered about buffalo skulls, fishing poles, and rocks he has collected on painting excursions around Utah and Wyoming. Two easels grace the space and a riot of colorful splattered paint dots the once-white studio walls. The usually quiet studio is occasionally punctuated by the sounds of a rousing Tchaikovsky overture Winegar plays while painting.
Although it’s still early in his career, Winegar has already passed through several artistic evolutions. When he first began painting seriously in 1992, he dreamed of becoming a wildlife artist. He worked hard and studied diligently with Michael Coleman, the well-known Utah wildlife and landscape painter. That same year Winegar hauled an array of his wildlife works to Meyer Gallery in Park City, UT. To his great disappointment, the gallery rejected his work.
Gallery co-owner Russell Jones recalls that Winegar’s early works were too similar to Coleman’s. But Jones and his wife Susan spotted Winegar’s raw talent and advised him to study with a variety of different artists and to find his own artistic voice. Winegar heeded their advice and soon signed up for classes and workshops given by Sherrie MacGraw, Jim Wilcox, and Schmid, among others. A year later, still just 19 years old, Winegar returned to Meyer Gallery with eight still-life paintings. The gallery sold all of them within a month. “What makes Seth special is that he jumps hurdles and is determined to be a fine artist and do the best work he can,” Jones says. “When we told him to go paint with other people, he went out and bugged the heck out of artists until they had to respond to him.”
Cystic Fibrosis is one hurdle Winegar faces, but he downplays the condition that has plagued him since birth. He states simply that there have been some negative experiences connected with it, but he’s learned to stay positive. This attitude helps him stay on course in his dogged pursuit of becoming a great artist.
For example, when he can’t finish a picture to his satisfaction, he doesn’t give up. Instead he puts the pesky canvas aside and comes back to it later because he has faith that the painting will turn out well. “You never know at the outset what it will take to finish a painting,” Winegar says. “Once in a while everything comes together, but other times you beat the thing to death. You take all the paint off, set it aside, and then pull it back out. Suddenly it veers off in a different direction. You have to be still, listen, and be persistent. It eventually becomes a painting.”
Like many artists who have gone before him, he has learned the value of patience. For example, he struggled for a year with Serving Shadows, a moody rural scene. “It’s nothing like the painting I started,” Winegar says. Originally he set out to paint what he calls a “big chunk of houses.” “It wasn’t working,” he explains. “I gradually simplified the painting until there was one house. I probably subtracted more paint than I added.”
As a challenge and a learning tool, Winegar occasionally does a series of paintings based on the same composition but with a different palette or on a different size canvas. After he completed Serving Shadows, for example, he painted its companion, Serving Shadows #2. The second painting features a bolder palette of greens and blues, including a bright royal-blue roof instead of the earthy brown one in the earlier work. The second painting took him about a week. “Once you learn something about a picture and you have a composition that works nicely, it’s good to play with color,” Winegar says. “You can limit obstacles like composition and experiment with colors you never tried before.”
He also likes to work with the concept of opposition. In Season’s End, for example, he contrasts brown leaves that are dying on a tree with the ones that are still green. “Opposites exist in nature. If you don’t use opposition you are knocking out a whole lot of possibilities for good paintings,” Winegar says.
Another technique he employs is to imagine he is in a particular scene. In Season’s End he envisioned standing in the doorway of a hayloft and peeking out at the landscape. “It helps you get a good feel for what belongs in the painting and what doesn’t,” Winegar says.
One of his favorite things to paint is fly-fishing scenes. He enjoys the sport himself, although he admits that he spends more time painting than actually fishing. In Early Morning Ride he captures a fisherman investigating the water at sunrise. “The reason I like to paint fly-fishing scenes has a lot to do with wanting to be a wildlife artist,” he says. Then he adds half-jokingly, “If there wasn’t such a thing as painting I would like to be a professional fly-fisherman. I love the early morning light, the smell of the outdoors, the little bugs flying around and the sun glistening on them.”
Winegar paints six days a week, but on Sunday he rests, a practice that coincides with his beliefs as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “God has given me so much that I want to spend one day a week being thankful and reflecting on my blessings,” he says. Winegar explains that for him the rest also replenishes his creative juices. “It seems natural to have a day of rest from work,” he says. “You can’t do the same thing every day and not get burned out.”
His desires for the future are summed up in a simple phrase—to be true to himself and his art. “When I’m gone I want my work to endure,” Winegar says. “I want people to say, ‘He was a really great artist.’”
Photos courtesy the artist and Meyer Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ, Park City, UT, and Santa Fe, NM.
Featured in February 2000