Following Robert Moore’s painted path
Don’t be alarmed to find a slew of paintings at the Dana Gallery’s fifth annual Paint Out exhibit that look almost identical, even though the artist’s names below them are different. This year’s show attracted a first-time visit from Robert Moore, an increasingly popular oil painter and renowned teacher from Central Idaho, as well as three of his pupils. And while each claims distinct differences between their work, to the naked eye they appear to share the same careful composition, thick brush strokes and creative lines as their famous teacher.
“I think the four of us can easily tell each other’s work, because if you look closely enough at them you can see the subtle differences in personality and style. But a person just walking in may not get it,” says Caleb Meyer, 24, a recent art education graduate from Boise State University who’s worked at Moore’s studio since January. “It’s tough because, at least for me, I’ve been working really hard at appreciating Robert’s style and the quality of his work while also trying to not copy it and develop on my own. You may not see it, except in, say, how I use colors that may be a little crazier one day.”
A similar style isn’t the only thing binding this close-knit group of artists. All met through church, and the students refer to Moore, who carries himself with a disarmingly serene demeanor, as a sort of spiritual leader. Although such talk may be off-putting to some who prefer their art and amens separate, the connection makes perfect sense, considering that these artists aspire to capture the natural, untouched landscape, usually painting plein air, which means creating the work outdoors.
“For me, my intention when painting is really to draw from the beauty of God’s creation and to call attention to it,” says Dave Mensing, 43, an architect who moved his family to the Snake River Basin a year ago to work for and learn from Moore. “It’s a spiritual pursuit.”
“I think there’s something in Robert that we’re all drawn to,” adds Troy Collins, 38, who describes his part-time job with Moore as “the guy who does whatever needs to be done to free up Robert’s time to paint.”
“There’s something spiritual about him, a presence that I think we all trust.”
Despite his best efforts to deflect such attention and accolades, the focus of the group is inevitably kept on the soft-spoken Moore. He began his training at Eastern Oregon State College, where he studied art education and played basketball. The latter—he refers to his position as “deep bench”—ended up profoundly influencing his art career when he broke his left wrist.
“I had a show coming up—it was just a small show, but it’s all I had at that point,” says Moore, who is naturally left-handed, “…and I said I’m not going to cancel this show. I’m just going to learn to paint right-handed, and I’m going to learn to write right-handed, and I’m going to learn to draw right-handed. And I found that I could do things with my right hand that were more natural and more aesthetic, even after I started to regain the use of my left.”
Moore, who is also colorblind, became ambidextrous and now uses both hands when painting, a style that allows him to fluidly trace lines and brush strokes without ever having to cross his arm across his chest. To put it in perspective, it’s not something his students have been able to pick up. “I’ve tried it a few times,” says Meyer, “but it doesn’t really work. He’s the master.”
After Eastern Oregon and “one year of eternity” teaching high school art classes, Moore went back to school on a full scholarship to the Art Center College of Design in California. There he studied under Butte native Dan McCaw, a renowned impressionist, and Moore developed his own distinctive style, which is best defined by textured landscapes that employ an inordinate amount of paint with thick strokes and rich colors. Although his work is now gaining more notoriety—Moore’s been profiled in Art of The West and Southwest Art, and is carried in dozens of galleries nationwide—he’s just as dedicated to teaching as to painting.
“I’m a teacher, I love to teach,” he says. “I love to identify and isolate certain aspects of a painting, and just knowing that having the right teacher can make the path shorter to achieving the goal [for other painters].”
It’s working. Moore is in high demand to speak at schools across the country, as well as hold more seminars at his own studio. Plus, his pupils are gaining their own reputations—Collins is actually a veteran of the Dana Gallery’s Paint Out, having taken part and sold paintings at last year’s show. In the meantime, the group continues to work together, content to learn from each other in the relative seclusion of the Snake River Basin.
“There was this day I remember when I went home to my wife and told her about this great moment where Robert called me outside and wanted to show me something,” says Mensing. “And it was just one leaf. That’s all it was—one leaf against a white background and he wanted to show me the values of it. That was it, but it was a great teaching moment. That’s the reason I’m here.”
The work of Robert Moore, Caleb Meyer, Troy Collins and Dave Mensing is on display at the Dana Gallery’s Paint Out exhibit, debuting at First Friday, Aug. 3, at 5 PM. The exhibit will be up throughout the month.