Editor’s note: Airstream will host a fine art invitational exhibit of landscape art, May 31-June 5, at its headquarters in Jackson Center. This is one in a series of stories that will profile the artists whose work will be shown.
SIDNEY — It’s a wonder Brian Vegter has time to paint.
According to his business partner, Tom Novak, who operates an art gallery with Vegter in Baker City, Oregon, Vegter and his wife have done a lot of community building in their adopted town.
“They started the Turkey Trot,” Novak said. It’s a Thanksgiving Day 5K race that benefits the Northeast Oregon Compassion Center, a food bank.
The Vegters also established and manage the Baker City Cycling Classic, an annual Tour de France-type bicycle race, and helped to initiate a once-a-month movie night, during which the local cineplex donates use of its facility to show films about art and artists. Vegter is the executive director of a film festival that showcases animated films and comedies.
In addition, the artist was recently hired as the executive director of the Libraries of Eastern Oregon, a regional library association, because he had been so successful at coordinating a regional grant program.
“On top of all that, he’s a wonderful artist,” Novak said.
Vegter began his professional life in television production before moving to painting full time in 2003. A suburban Chicago native, he studied at the American Academy of Art, the Savannah College of Art and Design and the College of DuPage. Following 10 years in New York City, he relocated to Baker City, which happens to be the birthplace of Wally Byam, the founder of Airstream Inc.
Vegter is well known for creating portraits of dogs. He works exclusively in acrylic on canvas and his dog paintings are extremely popular.
It was the paintings of Wayne Thiebaud that inspired Vegter to branch out from dogs to landscapes. Following a 7,000-mile, cross-country trip in his Airstream, the Baker City artist decided to put his spin on the Thiebaud style. He’d paint an Airstream.
“The trailer will be on its way to Paris,” Vegter said of his initial foray. “It was a fun experience. It didn’t come as naturally as painting dogs does, but it was a lot of fun.”
His first efforts were large, as big as 3 feet by 4 feet. Eventually, he felt comfortable making smaller works, “transportable ones to fit in people’s trailers,” he said.
He’d like to own a Thiebaud work if he could have any piece of art in the world.
“I love how he uses color,” Vegter said of the pictures of cakes and pastries Thiebaud became famous for. “I love how expressive they are and they are extremely precise at the same time, despite their (being) so loose.”
That precision, especially when it comes to proportion in his dog portraits, is extremely important to Vegter. He works from photos, and he’ll project a photo onto the canvas to ensure that he gets an animal’s proportions correct in the painting based on the perspective of the viewer. He doesn’t need to do that for his landscapes.
“We all know what a tree looks like and what a mountain looks like. You can trick the viewer into believability,” he said. “I will rework wheel placement and curve of the Airstream. Those are the things that make the Airstream realistic.” The backgrounds, he’s found, he can paint in a more impressionistic way.
Impatience is his biggest challenge to overcome, he admitted. Slowing down to fill in the details of a background takes effort.
“I want to paint every corner at the same time. I have to find motivation to make progress that I’m happy with,” he said. A goal is to use as few brush strokes as possible to tell the story, partly because as soon as he begins one artwork, an idea for another pops up and makes him eager to get to the next one.
“I want to find subjects that hold your interest for the time it takes to finish it,” he said. Although he plots his paintings thoroughly in his mind before he begins them, sometimes he must take a step back to look at what he’s doing.
“I work so close to the canvas, I’m not seeing the whole thing. A lot of times, I feel that it’s a matter of needing to sit and stare at the piece to see where it’s going. Quality of light plays a big part in whether something seems real to me,” he noted.
His cycling paintings are alive with color, racers ready to stream off the canvas and run down the viewer. They are reminiscent of work by sports artist Leroy Neiman but came about because Vegter had to use a lot of paint to cover another work he didn’t like.
He had created a portrait of one of his dogs — he owns a Jack Russell terrier and a fox hound mix — but it wasn’t something he felt good about. After several weeks of trying to appreciate it, he decided to paint over it.
“I kept layering and layering colors to cover the other painting,” he said.
Vegter sells his work through his websites, vegterdesignworks.com and www.dogsbybri.com, and at the gallery he runs with Novak.
“We don’t take a sales commission. We let people sell their art for free. That makes it fun,” Novak, also a painter, said. He’s also found it fun to watch Vegter expand from dogs to trailers to bikes as subjects for art.
“He’s painted everybody’s dog,” Novak said. “(The Vegters) bought a little Bambi Airstream. Then he started putting Airstreams in his paintings and they were popular. Then he started the biking thing and those are popular. So you end up with (a painting of an) Airstream trailer with a dog in the window and bikes strapped on the back,” he laughed.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.