With Canvases To Fill, No Time To Fish



A bass boat sits in artist Rock Newcomb's Payson garage.

Instead of fishing gear, three massive rolls of Bubble Wrap used to ship artwork sit atop the silver boat's seats.

"My boat has been in the water one day in the last two years," Newcomb said.

At least the last time he fished, during a business trip to Colorado, he was lucky. The live well was so full of bass and crappie it took him three hours to clean them all.

That experience had to hold him for a while, because Newcomb is a working artist -- a busy one.

He and his wife, manager and business partner, Cody, are on the road five months out of the year as they travel to 20 different shows. His artwork is shipped to many more -- including Payson's own Nov. 4 - 6 Art League Show, an invitation-only Arts for the Parks in Wyoming in September that promotes national parks, to a show at Bob Eubank's Santa Ines, N.M. ranch.

The Newcomb's first saw Payson on a trip from Jackson Hole, Wyo. -- where he was an artist in residence at a gallery -- to California.

Just three days later they bid on a Payson house.

No longer an up-and-coming artist, Newcomb shakes his head and marvels that his art is in shows with artists who were his idols 30 years ago.

"Now, I'm one of the old farts," he said.

Paintings with Native American portraits, wildlife, and even a series of fishing flies adorn the walls of six galleries across the United States.

When Newcomb is home, he paints 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, to keep the galleries and shows stocked.

"I try to paint about 100 paintings a year (including commissions)," he said.

In 2006, he also gave two workshops.

Cody, his wife of 25 years in December, organizes his art supplies and calendar.

"If it wasn't for Cody, I'd be painting in a closet, and I don't mean figuratively," Newcomb said. "She is 95 percent of the business. I am very spoiled."

Two years before Newcomb quit teaching junior college art courses, Cody quit her job in banking and finance become his full-time art promoter.

For years, the couple saved every dime Newcomb made on his art so he could pursue his art as a full-time career when he was finally ready.

Even though the change was planned, Newcomb said being 53 years old and walking away from the early retirement he was eligible for in two years was "the scariest thing I ever did."

His marriage is essential to his success at shows, Newcomb said. "I will see people coming over to me that I may recognize from art shows and she will lean close to me and say, ‘It is Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so. His name is Jack and hers is Rose'."

His wife has been with him through all the evolutions of media her husband has tried.

He went from the oils and watercolors he used in the early 1970s to art created by scratching the black or brown inked surface of Claybord.

He now uses acrylic on Claybord almost exclusively.

"Claybord is a similar surface to what the Dutch and Flemish masters used," he said.

"I hated acrylic (on canvas)," he said.

Then one day, sitting at his drawing table drinking coffee, he accidentally overturned the cup and watched as coffee spilled across 40 hours of watercolor work.

"I watched the Indian maiden I was painting slowly dissolve," Newcomb said.

Her regalia became "transparent and looked like water vapor coming up out of the ground," he said.

It sparked an idea and the next day he went out and bought red, yellow, blue, black and white acrylic paints, a medium he has worked in ever since.

He estimated he has three to four weeks of time in the 36 x 24 inch painting he recently completed, titled "Pueblo Treasures."

The setting for the still life, "Pueblo Treasures," does not exist except in Newcomb's head.

The Santo Domingo pots in the painting that pre-date 1880 came from three different sources:

Two were in museums where he had to make appointments a year in advance in order to take photos and one in a private collection in Payson.

Because they were not in front of him, Newcomb did not have the luxury of moving the pots around.

Newcomb compares composing art from photos to "a ballerina in sweats on a stage with no lighting and no sets."

"I choreograph the ballerina, design the set and lighting then put the makeup and the tutus on," he said.

"You had better know perspective," he said. "If you don't, you are just sucking swamp water."

After all that work put into one creation, Newcomb tries not to think of each piece as being "sold" at various shows, rather he considers they are "adopted out to good families."

Newcomb may be contacted by calling (928) 474-4971.

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