I was about 27; the year was 2000 or 2001. I was studying art at Grand Rapids Community College. My teacher somehow got the artist Stephen Duren to come in and give a talk.
I don’t think I ever looked at art the same after that. I was taken with his tales of traveling and making art. Somewhere deep inside of me, a plein air painter was born.
And the art Stephen made was magical. He painted abstractly, yet realistically. Colorfully, yet controlled. Stephen knocked my socks off, so to speak, and a personal hero made his mark in my imagination.
Stephen is modest. And I get that. I could tell way back then he wasn’t driven by ego. That’s what made me unafraid to meet this hero. I already had. And I knew he was pretty great.
So I very quickly signed up for Stephen’s recent class, a three-day workshop at the Franciscan Life Process Center in Lowell, Mich. I already knew he didn’t teach very often, if at all.
We started painting at 7 a.m. for the best light, then took an afternoon break before painting late into the evening.
It was a game changer. I’m well aware you can’t put people on pedestals. In many ways, you can say how an artist’s work affects you has very little to do with them. Once it leaves our studio, it takes on a life of its own. And how you react to it really has nothing to do with me. I respect that my reaction to Stephen’s work is my own. And while it has everything to do with him, at the same time, it has nothing to do with him. Does that make sense?
Still, it was a dream come true to work with Stephen, and he was every bit as good a teacher as I thought he would be.
He got me thinking about the term “pretty art,” and replaced that idea with “edgy art.” Not his words, but mine. He pointed out that I, as a person, am much more of a “rebel with a cause” than perhaps my website reveals. He’s right. I’m processing that.
And yes, he went to each of our websites before meeting us. He’s someone who brings his all to everything he does. He brought us all to this workshop and I’m grateful. I’m also inspired by that. Unfortunately, Stephen doesn’t teach very often. He’s done about four workshops in his entire 50-year career. I understand that. I respect that. I also wish it were different.
The thing I hope you, my dear reader, takes away from this blog, is to bring everything you have to whatever it is you do. To be open to ideas that stretch you beyond your comfort zone. Be open to critique. And above all, always be willing to learn and grow.