Measuring the growth of a child is best done from a distance; one's memory has a chance to record change. Growth of an artist may often require the same patience, change is slow and often difficult to discern. Utah artist Douglas Aagard; however, has transformed seemingly overnight. What would cause an artist with a growing following to risk a daring makeover?
Doug grew up in Western Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, an area he remembers where “the people were few and the adventures great”. He developed an appreciation for the land, and there his resourcefulness, creativity, and work ethic flourished. Young Doug spent his summers working a dairy farm, a saw mill, and eventually out in the mountains, where he was left alone to care for two horses and a thousand sheep. In the tranquil green fields of Western Montana, Doug saw the world as a picture, waiting to be captured.
Recognizing oneself as not merely artistic, but as an artist is an awakening of the senses. Doug’s talent emerged when his journal entry illustrations negated the need for text; “I would simply draw a picture”, he said. College courses and private lessons helped Doug to apply new techniques to his work, but in the words of the artist; “my greatest lessons have been from practice”.
At the dawn of the new millennium, Doug had an opportunity to paint with Gary Ernest Smith, a Utah artist of national renown. Gary, says Douglas, “introduced me to the power and profoundness that is possible in painting”. He also introduced Doug to the pallet knife, which the artist credits to adding a whole new dimension to his work.
Gary Smith’s influence was evident in Aagard’s work, the similarities of tone and texture (and often subject matter) were difficult to mistake. The commercial viability of Smith’s characteristic style, and the higher price of his work seemed to open a window for Aagard. Although acting upon a welcome influence, Doug’s work was selling in a niche he did not create, and like many artists before him, Aagard's work became recognizable for its similarity to his mentor.
In a conversation with Gary Smith, Doug asked what he could do to improve. “Just keep painting,” said his mentor, “Just keep painting”. Armed with this insight, Doug steadily produced work, seeking the personal consciousness of growth. Like growing children, it is hard to “feel” oneself evolving; it just happens.
Like those same children, an outside observer is usually the first to remark upon the transformation; “How he’s grown” they’ll say, to which the parents reply “Why yes, I guess he has since you’ve seen him last!” And Doug’s change became observable in much the same way. Showing in a gallery, he learned, is quite different from having a one-man show. Preparing for his first, Aagard found himself pressed to offer enough work to cover the gallery walls. “I was struck by the similarity of my works”, he observed, “ the scenes and colors would change, but ultimately it was all the same.”
When Doug arrived at Park City’s Meyer Gallery for his first show, the owners were stunned by the alteration. “Doug's work has taken on a whole new perspective” said owner Susan Meyer “his earlier work gave a sense of affinity and recollection, his new work transports his audience to the scene.” Aagard attributes his change to, of all things, sagebrush. In creating “Cerrulean Sage”, something inside clicked for the young artist. “I found myself capturing the texture and subtle changes in light on the sagebrush deep into the landscape. Sagebrush transformed me.”
Suddenly obsessed by sagebrush, Aagard began adding features and variances, and the detailed effects he acquired leapt across the landscape to the small cactus and grasses. “Suddenly I was painting a scene of corn stubble and sky with a new vision. It was my work, yet the sky was not like any other sky I had painted, and the corn stubble was not like any other I’d done.”
Meyer says, “Doug carried Plowed Fields and Dark Skies into the gallery last of all his works, and the response was memorable. Both our staff and guests just stopped and remarked upon the compelling mood of the scene.”