Dan’s Papers Cover Artist Bo Bartlett on Maine & Moviemaking

Bo Bartlett's “The Watercolorist” on the cover of the November 13, 2020 Dan's Papers issue
Bo Bartlett's “The Watercolorist” on the cover of the November 13, 2020 Dan's Papers

Bo Bartlett talks about this week’s cover, inspired by an experience he had in Maine, as well as his new feature film, his family and more.

What was the inspiration for this piece?
“The Watercolorist” was painted after a passing hurricane on Wheaton Island in Maine. We’d had some guests out to the island and after the hurricane passed, the waves were huge. We walked around the island, and I saw a friend against the sea with the large rolling waves. I decided then to paint it and did a small thumbnail sketch on the spot. It is not unusual to see me out here on the rocks painting like this during the summer months.

Tell us about your artistic process.
Usually I’ll see something, either in real life or in a dream, and it’ll get me going. Say it’s a guy on a bike, riding in slow motion as we pass him in a car. It will strike me on a deep level and it’ll resonate and vibrate throughout my entire body. I’ll have to get it down. So I always keep a small sketchbook with me to record everything. These sketchbooks are a treasure trove of ideas and half-thoughts. I save them up until they want to come out, until I’ve figured out, in part, what they might mean, what they might say. They are like mise-en-scène in a film. One image can tell the whole story.

Then I usually stage the scene anew, having friends or actors pose for the recreated scene. I draw a lot and take a few reference photos, then it’s off to the races. Each painting takes a few months to paint—after years of dreaming about it.

Painter Bo Bartlett in his studio
Bo Bartlett in his studio. Photo: Courtesy Bo Bartlett

Talk about your art style. 
I don’t have a style. I just paint. I try to disappear so that it’s not about the hand of the artist. I’m channeling the divine energy. The world is spinning and we are pulled down to the planet by gravity, and we know nothing about what all of this really is. We do what we do to distract ourselves so that we don’t have time to really think about it too much, because if we did we’d slide off the rails or our heads would explode. I paint to have a task at hand. It gives me something to get out of bed for. Life energy goes into every touch of the brush. Ruach.

If you weren’t an artist what would you be doing?
I’d be involved in my other love— filmmaking. I love movies. They are so challenging. Although I went to film school in my 20s at NYU, I’ve gotten a late start at actually directing. Oh, we’ve made documentaries, but features? That’s where my heart is. Our first is getting released in the new year, Things Don’t Stay Fixed, from Lionsgate. Very Exciting! I have so many film ideas. I hope to live another 50 years to make them all!

What inspires you the most?
My wife Betsy, Eby is a constant inspiration, and my sons Man and Will. My friend Andrew Wyeth still inspires me, although I miss him terribly. His advice and tutelage and vast body of work still inspires me. And, of course, I love film and music. I have a radio show, ArtHaus Radio, on a little college radio station in my hometown Columbus, GA. It’s a hoot! Mostly music, but I slip into stories from time to time. It’s a real southern experience—tales from the present and the past, stories from childhood—countered by an eclectic mix of fresh music. I hope you’ll listen!

Listen to ArtHaus Radio at arthausradio.com and see Bo Bartlett’s next exhibition at Miles McEnery Gallery in May, 2021.

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