'Sleeping Artist' Packs Punch In Paintings

PAYSON ARTS

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Indian Hill Studio is home to Conrad Okerwall, a gentle man in a white cowboy hat who refers to himself as "the sleeping artist."

Although the painter is laid-back, he and the cowboys of the West he captures in action are anything but sleepy.

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Artist Conrad Okerwall says a cowboy feels naked without his hat.

He talked about the name for his studio for many years.

"My paintings sometimes show a little bit of humor and I guess I like to take naps once in a while," he said, and then smiled through his white moustache and beard.

A closer look at "Riders on the Purple Stage" reveals his humor.

In this painting, a stagecoach races through Monument Valley. Zane Grey, author of "Riders of the Purple Sage" is holding the reins, with Okerwall riding shotgun beside him. Grey's wife "Dolly" waves from the window of the coach, or perhaps she lost her handhold, as they rounded a curve in the road. The "mysterious rider" sits across from Dolly.

The team of horses stirs up dust with their hooves.

And, the stage, in a shade that blends perfectly with the landscape, is purple.

"Out of Hells Canyon" is a serious painting on a large vertical canvas. The majesty of the canyon's walls dwarfs the cowboy, as he leads a pack train.

Okerwall paints from reference materials he has gathered over the years, then adds his own elements.

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Ben, Ike and the Arizona Kid

"Most of my paintings are out of my imagination, unless I use a real place," he said.

In a print from one of his earlier works a "Coca-Cola Cowgirl" races at Payson's old rodeo grounds.

He can paint cactus and the Rim from the patio off his studio, but he has plans to go camping and indulge in what the French call "plein air" painting.

Outdoors, he will be able to stop, camp and paint when and where the mood strikes him.

Okerwall started drawing in first grade.

He and his best friend Fred drew futuristic cars during their public school years.

After a tour of duty in the U.S. Army, Okerwall and Fred decided to go to art school and get into advertising art.

Okerwall graduated from The American Academy of Art, Chicago, Ill.

"It was the only way to really earn a living in art," Okerwall said. "Advertising paid the bills for 30 some years."

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The Race

He worked in a number of advertising studios in the Windy City.

In 1970, he picked up a paintbrush and started doing pet portraits and paintings of animals.

The West called to him because he and his family always traveled West on their vacations, his favorite Western artist was Charlie Russell and he began collecting Zane Grey books.

"The West has always been in my blood," Okerwall said.

RESUME

Name: C.M. Okerwall

Medium: Mostly acrylics, but also watercolors, pencils and pastels.

Motto: Always be honest, trustworthy and dependable.

Advice to beginning artists: Keep practicing drawing whenever you can, rather than starting out by painting.

Award most proud: Several Payson Art League Show honorable mentions.

Hometown: Evanston, Illinois

Why Payson? My wife's folks lived here. We first saw the town in 1975. We retired here in 1988.

Upcoming project: "The Navajo Roundup." I was driving down Highway 89 and saw three Indian children on bicycles herding a horse and three cows.

Faves:

Western movie: "The Wild Bunch"

Food: Italian

Music: I grew up with Big Band music, but I also like The Beatles.

Points of contact: By appointment at his "Indian Hill Studio," 904 W. Rim View, Payson. (928) 474-0745.

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