Checking in with Russ Warren


 What are you working on right now?

Russ Warren, whose painting can be seen on the cover of this week’s paper, works at the farm he shares with wife Lyn Bolen Warren.

Right now I’m working like mad on a series of paintings that started about a year or so ago. I kind of picked up where I left off at my last show, and all I’m doing right now is I’m taking care of the farm and painting, so I’m really seeing how far I can take these paintings. They’re very Picasso-like and cubist, and when people don’t understand them and think they’re spooky, I just try to explain to them that they’re not meant that way; they’re really meant more as humorous nightmares, or that’s the best way I can approach it.


Tell us about your day job.

I’m a full-time artist, and I’ve never enjoyed it more in my life. A lot of the people my age, and I’m 58, are starting to do the same thing I am. You’re influenced really blatantly when you’re young, and you have a hard time digesting it. But when you reach maturity, which in most cases is kind of a bad term, in painting it’s great because it frees you up to draw from any period you want, and you’ve already discovered the essence of it, so you just play with how to incorporate it in your work. You end up having kind of a silent, mystical dialogue with artists from the past, and there are a lot of us doing that.


What music are you listening to lately?

I listen to a lot of Dylan, a lot of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark. I listen to a lot of old Mick Taylor recordings from John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, and I like John Mayall a lot, especially his older stuff from the ’60s. I listen to a lot of classical music too. I really love Mozart, and somehow I just get into a Mozart web and pull out a lot of the old recordings that I have. A lot of that has to do with my daughter, a concert clarinetist. She started out when she was young, in my studio, playing Mozart all the time. I also like Tom Petty a lot. I like his old stuff, not overmastered or overproduced, the stuff he did when they were going from Florida to California. They stopped in Oklahoma and met Leon Russell, and sort of learned how to be a band, how to record. There are a lot of bootleg CDs from that session that are really good.


What is your first artistic memory from childhood?

I grew up in Houston, and in the Houston Museum of Fine Arts they had a fantastic Frederic Remington painting collection, which is kind of blasé now, in terms of the subject matter—he painted pictures of bucking broncos, cowboys and Indians, stampedes of herding cattle and so on, and history hasn’t been kind to him, but it was done so well, and it was so beautiful. I started painting shortly after I saw his work, trying to emulate his surfaces.

Do you have a favorite building?

Our new gallery [Les Yeux du Monde] is my favorite building. It opened last October. The gallery is on the ground floor, the storage is in the basement, and my studio is on the top floor. I have this huge window that overlooks the Shenandoah Valley and the mountains, and I can look down and check on my horses. I don’t even need artificial light during the daytime. 


If you could have dinner with any person, living or dead, who and why?

Pablo Picasso. I was working in a basement of a church as an undergraduate, making a painting, and I was trying to finish the painting so I could send it to Picasso, who was in the South of France then, in order to get his permission to go over and see him. I was about three-quarters of the way done with the painting, and listening to NPR, when it came over the news that Picasso had passed away that night. That was a real bummer, because I really wanted to go. As it turned out, he probably wouldn’t have let me go anyway, because the painting was horrible. But in my undergraduate days, I thought it was pretty good.


Favorite artist outside your medium?

Definitely Keith Richards.