LOOKING DOWN THE TRAILBy James Pollock, CAT IV Vietnam 1967 Courtesy of the National Museum of the U.S. Army
James Pollock (2015), Photo by James MacKay
SDAA Featured Member Interview
Stacey Evangelista: Hello James; thanks for taking the time for this interview and allowing me to pick your brain! So lets start off with a bit of your background. You graduated from SD State University (Brookings, SD) in 1965, majoring in art; 1967 you became a US Army Vietnam Combat Artist. What were the methods used to teach art in the 60s. How do you think it differed from today’s education? How did serving as a Combat Artist help shape who you are as an artist today?
James Pollock: Through grammar and high school, I did not have any formal training in art. I read books on how to draw, sometimes I would copy cartoons from newspapers and the margins in my classroom notebooks were frequently filled with sketches. As long as I can remember I liked to draw. At SDSU I majored in art. At that time the Art Department was small, I think there were less than 10 art majors. Beginning art students were introduced to solid fundamentals of drawing and painting, but at the same time encouraged to explore their creative boundaries. In drawing classes we were encouraged to keep a sketchbook. It is hard for me to compare today’s teaching methods with that of the 1960s. I do think that today’s grammar and high school students have more and better art exposure opportunities than those in the 1960s.
My experience as an army soldier artist in Vietnam was pivotal in my career. When I got out of the service I didn’t have a job. Chuck Cecil wrote an article about my experience as a combat artist for SDSU Alumnus magazine. The article was picked up by AP and as a result of that article Vern Laustsen CEO of North Plains Press and publisher of THE DAKOTA FARMER called and offered me a job as staff artist at North Plains Press. It was here I developed skills working as a graphic designer and doing illustrations that I used to make a living throughout my life.
Stacey: Wow – I had no idea that you also worked as a graphic designer & illustrator. So, you have been working prolifically on your art for some time!
In June of 2015, you had a show at Eastbank Gallery (Sioux Falls, SD) with all these beautiful little watercolor paintings. In your presentation you mentioned how you are always sketching. I remember your outfit resembled that of someone on safari with all kinds of pockets in which you had drawing materials stashed away. Can you share how you manage to be prepared to work when you leave the house? What are the items you tend to always have on hand? Any particular cases, easels, or gear you keep with you at all times?
Pollock: For the past several years I have focused my art on working outdoors and on location, as the French say En Plein Air. I try to keep my field equipment as light and compact as possible and still be functional.
LEVEL 1: In my pockets most of the time I carry a pencil, 2 Rotring 600 fountain pens (one filled with black Rotring ink the other with walnut ink, both are water soluble), a Ninji water brush, a 4″ x 6″ spiral sketchbook and a pocket knife. Sometimes I carry a small pocket watercolor set
LEVEL 2: In addition to a Soltek easel I carry a nylon bag with several pockets. Inside the bag I have what is for me a complete water color set up. Including a 20 well plastic water color palette filled with my favorite tube colors, a plastic brush holder with several brushes, a water bottle, a 2 oz. atomizer, 2 plastic lids, sponges, paper towels, a small 3 ring binder filled with 5.5″ x 8.5″ paper to paint on, sunscreen, sunglasses and small plastic trash bags. The Soltek easel weighs 9 pounds and the art supply bag weighs approximately 6.5 pounds with supplies. I don’t always use the easel, much of the time I take a stool.
Stacey: What medium/mediums do you prefer to use when painting outside? Do you work much inside or do you usually find yourself outside working on location.
Pollock: Watercolor is my favorite media when painting outdoors. It is simple, fast and allows me to respond to continually changing light conditions. Now days, unless I am working on some sort of special project, my indoor art is sketching from TV. I keep a sketchbook handy and have great fun making quick sketches from the TV screen.
Stacey: What brand of watercolor do you use? What colors do you tend to use the most? Does your choice of colors differ if you are doing a quick study or a longer more formal painting? What about mediums?
Pollock: I really don’t have a favorite brand. Right now I have Winsor Newton, Holbein, Cheap Joes and other brands. I try to keep a simple palette, basic yellows and ochre, basic reds, a violet, a green, and basic blues. I also use Paynes Gray. I use a variety of paper for watercolors. My favorite is a tinted paper with the brand name Domtar Proterra. I do use acrylics sometimes. What I like about acrylics is that they are quick drying and one can quickly glaze layer after layer for some very interesting effects. I also like working with pen and ink.
Stacey: What inspires you to draw or paint; is it a subject, a feeling, design, etc.?
Pollock: For me working outdoors on location produces a connection that breathes life into what I am painting. I pay particular attention to atmospheric conditions which I try to emphasize and at times exaggerate. I try to simplify and eliminate details and strive for an emotional impression rather than a literal interpretation of what I am painting.
Stacey: Tell me a little about the art or projects you are currently working on.
Pollock: No major projects, just keeping my sketchbooks close by. Every now and then art that I did during my stint as an soldier artist in Vietnam shows up someplace. All of the art I did during that period of time is in the permanent Army Art Collection at the U. S. Army Center of Military History, Washington, DC. Recently they published a book “IN THE LINE OF DUTY, Army Art, 1965-2014” which had some of my art included. I was surprised to find in the September 2016 issue of SMITHSONIAN ASSOCIATES one of my Vietnam War pieces entitled “Waiting Interrogation” used as an illustration. The art we did as soldier artists is in public domain and one never knows where it might show up.
Stacey: How neat is that, and congratulations on being selected frequently for publication!
Do you have any shows, exhibits, or presentations coming-up in 2017?
Pollock: As a member of Artists of the Black Hills (ABH) I participate in shows generated by this group. We usually have several group shows during the year but right now there is no schedule of events. February 17, 18 and 19 I will be participating in the Center for Western Studies sponsored Artists of the Plains Art Show and Sale which will be at Hilton Garden Inn, downtown Sioux Falls.
Stacey: Happy New Year James! Thanks again for taking the time to share your process and knowledge! Any last minute advice you would like to share with other Artists?
Pollock: I’m still learning to draw and paint myself, so it is not my place to give advice. Maybe, try to draw something every day and keep a sketchbook handy. Don’t pay much attention to any opinions of your art except your own.
Stacey: James it has been a pleasure; thanks again – “Over and out!”
Don’t forget to stop in and say ‘Hi’ to James at the “Artists of the Plains Art Show & Sale” (Hilton Garden Inn, downtown Sioux Falls) February 17-19, 2017!
Pollock wrote an essay titled US ARMY SOLDIER ARTISTS IN VIETNAM about his experience as a soldier artist for WAR LITERATURE AND THE ARTS, an International Journal of the Humanities published by United States Air Force academy. Follow the link below to read Pollock’s article!
Essay by James Pollock US Army Soldier-Artists in Vietnam
For more artwork by James check out his wep page James Pollock
WAITING INTERROGATION–199th LIB By James Pollock, CAT IV Vietnam 1967 Courtesy of the National Museum of the U.S. Army
James Pollock in Vietnam, CAT IV, 1967.
Photo of Gear for Plein Air Painting, Courtesy of James Pollock.
CARD GAME By James Pollock, CAT IV Vietnam 1967 Courtesy of the National Museum of the U.S. Army