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Charlie Bullock

"Art’s a luxury"

by Byron Browne
Photographs by the author
“Art’s a luxury,” Charlie Bullock says. And who would know better than an artist like Bullock who, every day, waits patiently for any of us to decide that we crave such an indulgence?

Of course, Bullock is talking for us non-artists. For himself, art is as much a necessity as eating. Charlie Bullock picks up a paintbrush with the same alacrity as the rest of us would a fork or the telephone. His is that rare talent that the rest of us only dream of, the demonstration of extraordinary ability that is spoken of with awe and witnessed with wonder. A short time ago my wife and I visited with the Bullocks and saw, first-hand, the extraordinary workings of this Texas artist.

The Bullocks, Cindy and Charlie, live in Malakoff, Texas. Malakoff, being one of the few towns in the state with a Russian name (Odessa, Sebastopol, Moscow among the others but, as some will undoubtedly tell you, Odessa is Ukrainian, not Russian.) and a modest population of around 2500 is home, according to Mr. Bullock, to “several fantastic artists.” This magazine, in fact, on its Malakoff page, lists a couple of these artists. However, the magazine’s mention of Bullock is misleading. The entry describes Bullock as a “muralist” and leaves the story there and bare. Truth of the matter is, Charlie Bullock will paint, draw, sculpt, sketch or print on just about any material and if a wall is what today’s canvas might be then well, so be it. Bullock’s eye is his inspiration and whatever is handy is the preferred material. In fact, according to Bullock, ordinary house paint has, on more than one occasion, risen to preferred status on the materials hierarchy.
Cindy and Charlie Bullock
Cindy and Charlie Bullock
Charlie Bullock Art Studio and School
Studio, School and Gallery
Charlie Bullock Art Studio
Classroom
When we first arrived in Malakoff, meeting at the local Brookshire’s market, the Bullocks loaded us into their SUV and headed, just up the street, to Athens, Texas where Mr. Bullock’s art studio is located. The studio, just east of the town’s main square, is a long, rectangular space comprised of a couple of classrooms and a single office area that doubles as Bullock’s personal work area. The larger of the classrooms, in the back of the building, was stocked with art supplies and the work of several of Bullock’s students. As we wandered around the area both Mr. and Mrs. Bullock remarked to each other about the artwork and progress of the student’s work. The comments were those of proud teachers. It was clear that they regard their students as family and the work of their students, as it was in varying stages of progress throughout the space, propped on easels and spread atop tables and shelving, showed real development as led by a talented and caring hand. It was around this large workspace table that we sat and discussed Mr. Bullock’s career and its meanderings through Texas, Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.
African Sculpture
“I kinda’ paint in series. I get into a groove of one subject and stay with that for some time,” Bullock remarks as he tells us about his time in San Miguel, Mexico and then in South Texas painting landscapes, ranch hands and cowboys. And the work in his office area and the hallway bears out this Southwestern theme. There are several paintings of mountain landscapes from Colorado and Arizona, cowboys at work on the range, etc. and Bullock is quick to point out that this is what he associates himself with, i.e. the western art themes that are so prominent in this part of the country. Indeed, when asked for artistic influences Bullock first declares an affiliation with the Cowboy Artists Association and several of the artists that are members. He appears to define himself, if even somewhat loosely, on the principles of outdoor, Western scenes reanimated on canvas. However, his education (he obtained his degree in Art in 2002 from UT Tyler) and his recent work reveal a more modern and eclectic style. In the hallway of his studio are a few, oversized collages made of newspaper clippings, photographs, oil paint and pencil; representational and themed works centered around the 9-11 tragedy. In the corner is a wonderful rock bust of an African man, carved during an association with a group of visiting Zimbabwean artists a couple of years ago. Additionally, many of the newer pieces that he has catalogued in his portfolio illustrate portraits and drawings that involve the use of vivid, base colors that are reminiscent of such modern artists as John Wesley or Roy Lichtenstein. All of which are clear departures from the Southwestern genre however, I suspect that the switch in aesthetic is not so much a planned redirection in artistic intent as it is the result of Bullock applying the materials necessary for whatever project he is involved in at the moment. As he stated, “If Cindy shows me a photograph I might say ‘That needs to be a watercolor or maybe if I see a landscape I’ll think that it needs to be oils or acrylic. Whatever is right for the scene.” And yes, that could include ordinary house paint.
Athens TX Train Depot Mural by Charlie Bullock
Even while fading, the mural is still a bit more than the building deserves.
We left the studio and began to drive around Athens in search of those murals that have, for some, defined Bullock as an artist. We first came on the mural painted onto the old Athens train depot. This is an enormous painting, stretching the entire reach of the building, depicting a nineteenth century Athens as the depot area itself may have appeared with a colossal train steaming into the foreground. Much faded now, Mr. Bullock remarked that he should return soon and remove some shrub that has grown up at one point, obscuring a portion of wall where he had painted an image of himself. (There was a sort of pattern to this, i.e. Bullock, like Caravaggio, furtively re-signing his works by incorporating an image of himself and or his wife into the canvas.) As we drove through town it seemed that there was no part that did not have some point of relevance for him. Passing an office building Mr. Bullock remarked, “Oh! And I have an oil painting in that attorney’s office.” A little further on, “See that door over there? The one with the ark and Biblical scenes painted on it? That’s mine.” This event repeated itself many times during our drive through the area; it seemed that each segment of town was represented by Bullock’s work.
Malakoff Texas grandstand tiger mural by Charlie Bullock
The Malakoff Mascot in 3-D
We came to the local high school and Bullock showed us the enormous lion mascot that he had painted onto the back of the grandstand of the football stadium. Literally picture perfect, the animal leaps from the wood and, in fact, reaches beyond the boundary set by the frame of the space. Charlie described how he had had to paint the pressboard canvas inside the school’s gymnasium, straddling the wood, Pollack-like. Like the train depot mural, the school’s mascot is sun-blanched and faded and it seemed a shame that so much quality work had been left to the elements.
Wall mural by Charlie Bullock
The outdoors indoor

Back in the truck and a phone call later, we came to a home of one of Bullock’s patrons. Commissioned a couple of years ago to give some life to a downstairs bath area, Mr. Bullock had painted a prairie landscape onto all four walls of the room. The effect is that the room’s area is seemingly opened to the outsid. In fact, opening the door to the room is almost equivalent to opening the back door onto the expanse of grasslands that were the grounds of this enormous home.

When we left this gated community we drove a few blocks back towards town and Mrs. Bullock detoured through a neighborhood to show us a mural that Mr. Bullock had painted onto the façade of an outdoor tool shed. Mr. Bullock tried a couple of times to get the resident of the home on the telephone so that we could have access to the backyard and a closer look at the painting. Having no success with the phone, we drove past the house to have a look from the street. Unfortunately, the door of the shed, that portion that holds the focal point of the work, was open and the majority of the painting was hidden from view. Nevertheless, we did get a decent look at the mural as it exists on the walls and the vibrancy of the colors and the equine scene that it featured fully demonstrated Bullock’s experience and talent for the pastoral.

As we passed the house my wife noticed the cause for the home’s occupant not answering the telephone - he was asleep, sunbathing on the roof.

Jazz Club Mural by Charlie Bullock
The last stop on the tour was the Bullock’s own home. We were intent on viewing Bullock’s first mural, a life-sized portraiture of a scene in a New Orleans jazz club. The painting is of a group of musicians in full sway and, in what would become, literally, a signature move, Bullock painted himself off in the corner, peering into the club through a side window. Originally commissioned for and residing in a restaurant, the restaurant has closed and the painting is now placidly waiting, in the Bullock’s hallway, for a new home. Bullock showed us the postcard that had been the model for the work and I was reminded how he had told us earlier in the day how some of his commissions have been to paint replicas of famous and or extraordinarily expensive works of art so that the owners can more easily insure the paintings by keeping the originals safely stored somewhere besides the living room wall. The representation of the postcard was flawless.
Charlie Bullock's reassembled brick mural remnants
Salvaged bricks from the Malakoff Jr. High School
Near the bottom of the page of this magazine’s entry for the town of Malakoff is a picture of Bullock’s mural for the Malakoff junior high school. Near the top of the driveway at the Bullock home is a small pile of colored bricks. These are, of course, the same entity. The junior high school demolished the building holding the mural some time ago during renovations. The Bullocks were able to salvage some of the bricks but most, sadly, were hauled away like so much detritus. For many years the icon of the town, this mural, like so much of Bullock’s public work, has been discarded. Several other pieces of Bullock’s work seem threatened by the same spirit of indifference. Nevertheless, Charlie Bullock continues to teach, inform and create. Every day Mr. Bullock teaches his students, engages himself in those projects that he is drawn to produce and waits for the letters and phone calls asking for the portrait of the children or the landscape of the new home. He seems perfectly patient in these endeavors because, as he stated, “Everything I’ve ever done has been to get back to where I can just paint.”

Copyright Byron Browne

Notes From Over Here
May 27, 2009 Column
Byron Browne can be reached at Byron.Browne@gmail.com
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