“I don’t get the Sunday blues anymore,” says Jeff Pugh, winner of Southwest Art Magazine’s “Emerging Young Artist” award. “Now I look forward to Mondays, to getting to work again.” Jeff is standing in the middle of the modest 10 x 20 foot basement room that serves as his studio, office, and storage space, explaining how he decided 10 years ago to quit his full-time job as an IT specialist and become a landscape painter, a risky step for a newly married man with a growing family.
“It was my wife, Julia,” Jeff recalls. “She and I talked, and she said, ‘You can do this,’ and her father agreed.” Jeff speculates that perhaps growing up as the daughter of celebrated Utah artist Gary Smith, Julia simply believed that painting was a “natural thing” that husbands and fathers did. In any case, their collective faith convinced him to change his major and begin cutting back his hours at the call center where he was working full-time but not loving it.
Jeff describes his job now as “distilling forms”–turning everything he sees, knows, or learns into something “beautiful”–whether that beauty lies in the bucolic intimacy of rural, agricultural life or in the remote distances of Utah’s red rock country. In either case, it’s about finding meaning. “I’m here to interpret,” he says, “not transcribe.”
The result are “landscape portraits” featuring strong composition, a limited palette, simplified forms, and a distinctive impasto technique reminiscent of Van Gogh. “I don’t use brushes at all,” Jeff says. Instead, he lays in everything–even smooth skies and receding backgrounds–with various sized palette knives. “I use the knife like a spatula,” he says. “If I hadn’t become a painter, I’d be a good mason or cake decorator.”
Jeff is certainly disciplined. The IT job taught him essential organizational and management skills. He estimates he does 150 paintings a year, working 8-5 daily, with a goal of starting three new paintings a week. “That keeps me on track with scheduling and keeps the galleries and collectors happy,” he says.
He keeps his routine steady Monday through Friday. The weekends are reserved for his family, which now includes three children, who also serve as subjects in his increasingly frequent figurative paintings. It’s what he really likes about his work now–the way the subject matter has become more personal and symbolic. “I incorporate what’s going on in my life much more in my paintings now.”
The use of form as symbol is also more intentional now–as the often whimsical titles suggest. It’s not just cows; it’s five cows: “A Family Council.” The field is stacked not just with hay, but with security. In “Support Staff,” the trees provide not just shelter and shade, but an interconnected root system that sustains them all. That these works are created in a room that is literally situated at the foundation of Jeff Pugh’s home says it all. In the end, it is the internal support of his family that gives him the strength, confidence, and determination to make his living creating art.
Jeff’s work can be seen at the David Ericson Gallery in Salt Lake City through November 20, at the Meyer Gallery in Park City this coming February, and on-line all the time.