For Tulsa mixed-media painter Neil Cluck, the world isn't flat.
And it hasn't been for the past 13 years or so.
“I actually painted on canvas for about 30 years, for a long time,” he said. “The winter of '99 is actually when it was that I just couldn't do it anymore. I just wanted something more three-dimensional. Just got tired of painting a 3-D world on a flat canvas. It made no sense anymore.”
So he took up some wood panels and pieces, a band saw and the woodworking skills he honed growing up with a hands-on father and modified an ancient painting tradition to suit his newfound interest in three-dimensional artwork.
“I knew people had painted on wood panels for hundreds of years. A lot of the Renaissance stuff, da Vinci's stuff, the Mona Lisa, it's on a piece of wood. There's just no reason it has to be flat,” he said in a recent phone interview. “So that's where the wood panels came in: the ability to break up the canvas dimensionally and mount things on different layers. The carved pieces of the wood, the thicker pieces, well, they start out as a brush stroke.
“I got rid of the canvas, and the whole idea was ‘If I had a two-inch brush and I could paint on air, what would that look like?'”
Cluck's work is getting a prime showcase this Labor Day weekend. The 1976 University of Tulsa alumnus is the featured artist for the 34th Annual Arts Festival Oklahoma, so earlier this summer, he created a new mixed-media work that is featured on the poster for the event, which continues through Monday at Oklahoma City Community College.
“It's visually stunning,” said Lemuel Bardeguez, OCCC's director of cultural programs. “He makes such great use of color.”
Although the 2-D poster doesn't do Cluck's 3-D piece justice, Bardeguez said the original will be on view at the featured artist's tent during the festival.
Born and raised in Tulsa, the contemporary artist grew up drawing and painting. By high school, Cluck, 58, had moved through J. Audubon, Monet, Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock phases. But the former music teacher said the distinctive mixed-media technique he has developed likely will carry him through the rest of his life.
“The combination of the different colors plus the layers on top, there's a lot of stuff left to do. I've got probably three sketchbooks full of stuff yet to make, so I've got a couple of decades of work left just in those books,” he said.
“It's not something you're gonna be taught in school, let's put it that way. ... It was not something that I did to be different; it's just something that I had to do. I said, ‘OK, this is what I want it to look like,' and I just had to figure out how to make it look like this.”