By Kristen Romanowski, Staff Writer & Editor
Longtime library regular and self-taught artist Vanley Roebuck will show his paintings in an exhibit this November at the Main Library.
We caught up with him this summer, when some of his work was on display at Maze Branch, to talk about how he got into painting and what inspires him.
‘It used to intimidate me’: How Vanley got into painting
It’s only been in the past few years that Vanley has gotten serious about painting, he told us, taking art workshops at Veterans Affairs (VA) centers and the library and teaching himself through YouTube tutorials.
He enjoyed painting when he was younger, he said, but was “too impatient.”
“It used to intimidate me, just that paint on the canvas,” he said. “That really intimidated me. I was like that for my first year of painting.”
But then: “I thought, I’m kind of good at this. And if I like my paintings, someone else might too.”
Going public with his work
So Vanley started entering his work in VA competitions, and in 2020 he was scheduled for an exhibit at the Main Library that got postponed due to the pandemic.
Two years later, art exhibits are now back at the library. Thirteen of Vanley’s paintings were on display at Maze Branch this summer, and more of his work will be on display in the Main Library Gallery, November 1 through December 3.
What he paints: ‘It fascinates me, nature’
“Right now I’m in a landscape phase,” Vanley told us in July. “I just like the freedom of that sky, the clouds, the mountains.”
Vanley uses a mix of pencil and acrylic and oil paints to create art that depicts natural wonders—horses, flowers, earthy landscapes, and outer space.
Referring to the James Webb Space Telescope images that were released in July, he said, “It fascinates me, nature. How things got formed over millions of years.”
In one landscape painting, the sun sets over a lake between trees, mountains, and rock formations that he said remind him of Utah.
The other, perhaps inspired by his visit to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, 20 years ago, shows a river valley, snowy mountains in the distance, and a wooden boat on the shore.
In the past year, Vanley has been using water-soluble oil paint more regularly. “Acrylic is not as exciting to me anymore,” he said. “I like oil. It looks more realistic, especially for water.”
“One thing I’ve learned—the better paint you have, the better painting you get,” he added.
How he works: ‘You have to be mentally prepared’
Vanley has become more patient as an artist, he told us. His paintings, especially those done in oil, can take weeks to complete.
“One day on a painting is not going to cut it,” he said. “You’ve got to spend time fine-tuning it.”
Because Vanley uses a wheelchair and no longer has the use of his left hand (which was his dominant hand), he’s had to adjust how he paints in order to work independently.
For example, he doesn’t use an easel because that would force him to paint upward from his chair. He paints with his right hand only, with the canvas lying flat on a table.
Setup can take a lot of time, and it can be hard to get started. “You have to be mentally prepared,” he said.
What inspires him: ‘Knowing I can create something out of nothing’
“What inspires me? Creativity. Knowing I can create something out of nothing,” Vanley told us. “If I’m running out of creative ideas I’ll just go to YouTube.”
Watching Bob Ross (host of The Joy of Painting) also helped him: “I would watch and copy him to see if I could do it. He inspired me a lot. That guy was amazing.”
Speaking about a painting of sunflowers at Maze Branch, Vanley said, “I kinda copied Van Gogh, or had him in the back of my mind when I did it. When I was drawing flowers, Georgia O’Keefe gave me a bunch of ideas.”
“My inspiration comes from other artists,” he said. “And they don’t have to be famous. I like to learn from people that do workshops.”
“I think everybody can do it if they put their minds to it,” he added.
See his work in the Main Library Gallery in November
Showing his work at the library is exciting, Vanley said. “It feels like I’m getting recognized. If I’m any good, then people will tell me that. And if I’m not … I am what I am, it is what it is.”
You can see Vanley’s art on display in the Main Library Gallery, November 1 through December 3, and join him for a reception on Saturday, November 5, 11:30 am-1 pm.