Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Millard Wells A.W.S.


Profile of an Artist
by Martha Spence
(From the July 1991 edition of FLORIDA KEYS MAGAZINE)

Name:  Millard Wells
Born:  Imboden, Arkansas
Education:  Flint Institute of art, Chicago Institute of Design
Marital Status:  Married, wife Jeanne
Children:  Six
Arrived Key West:  1971
Occupations:  Military (Aircraft Design Illustrator) Art Designer, Studio Gallery Owner, Teacher, Artist.

Millard Wells looks the part of a Florida Keys artist.  Dressed in khaki shorts and an open-collared shirt, his shoulder-length silver hair lays in striking contrast against the bight red bandanna tied loosely around his sun-tanned neck.  Though he captures on canvas an assortment of fascinating island images, his paintings of historic Keys homes and abounding wildlife are his claim to fame.  Millard Wells is at home in Florida’s laid-back, tropical paradise.  He moved his family to the Florida Keys some 20 years ago to get away from Chicago, which he kindly refers to as an “urban penitentiary” (a pet name he extends to any large city).  There is no heartfelt loss over his decision to leave his design career which served as a financial stepping stone.  Millard and his wife, Jeanne, set up the Wells Studio/Gallery inIslamorada and easily adjusted to a small town life.  The quaint island is an artist’s sanctuary, where streams of purple bougainvillea line clapboard houses and tall, white-feathered egrets roam for fish.

Born in a little town in the northeast corner of Arkansas, which Wells claims is the only town he has ever seen get smaller in his lifetime, Millard spent his youngest years on his grandfather’s farm, “Wells Creek”.  The family survived the depression years by hunting squirrels and living off the land as best they could.  He grew up surrounded by creeks and rivers, which he is sure was responsible for influencing his decision to become an outdoor painter.

Wells remembers his parents literally having to drag him out of Arkansas when his family moved to Flint, Michigan, so his father could find steady employment in the automobile industry.  Gone were the pristine streams and the early morning sounds of farm animals stirring.  All that he had known was replaced by dirty air pouring from coal burning furnaces and the sounds of five o’clock whistles.  “The only happiness I ever had in Michigan was seeing the Flint city limit sign in the rear view mirror,” Wells recalls.

However, Flint did offer one redeeming quality.  “My art teacher in high school built a fire under me that just wouldn’t go out,” Wells says.  He won a scholarship at the Flint Institute of Art and began life classes in drawing while in high school.  He studied both water colors and oils, but discovered a love for water colors which has never subsided.  At an early age, Wells vowed he would do something about painting every single day of his life.  While still in high school, he subscribed to American Artist Magazine.  If he wasn’t painting, he was reading about the style and technique of other painters.

Millard’s father was convinced his son was wasting his time living in an “unrealistic” art world.  In his father’s eyes, “art” was a profession that could hardly put dinner on the table.  “My dad’s goal was to survive; my goal was to go beyond survival,” Wells explains.

Drafted into the service in the early 40’s, Wells continued to paint in between his duties at the encouragement of an officer in charge of his unit.  The military supplied the brushes, paint and paper, and Wells ended up winning a first place award in the National Soldier Art Competition which showed in the National Galleries in Washington D.C.  It was his first of many.

Considered to be one of the country’s foremost water colorists, Wells is unique in that he is a “location” painter***.  He is drawn to the outdoors for inspiration.  His soft and poetic style was influenced by his admiration for the French Impressionists.  “I feel the French Impressionists inspired today’s modern water color more than anyone else,” he affirms.

For many years he painted “loose and wild” bordering on abstraction, abut after the service, his paintings took on a more traditional appearance.  His taste and attitudes changed.  He began to take an interest in painters he didn’t care for as a young man.  Wells says that now he marvels at Eakins ‘ ability to plan the pattern of a body of water before painting it, the way one would plan the pattern on a parquet floor before laying it.  He is referring to Thomas Eakins, an American artist who was best known for his oil portraits and recognized as an outstanding water colorist.

Wells learned the difference between painting loose and painting sloppy.  “You have to do a lot of severe study like Eakins did in order to get fast and to interpret something quickly with authority; otherwise it’s amateurish,” he explains.  And according to Wells, there is a lot of amateurish painting going on in the world.  “Failure never comes fast enough for an artist,” says Wells.

Teaching is one of Millard Wells’ favorite pastimes.  For the past 18 years, he has taught drawing and painting at numerous schools such as the Florida Keys Community College.  In addition, Wells conducts week-long workshops three times a year designed for artists who wish to paint outdoors.

The virgin ambiance of America’s southernmost chain of islands offers an assortment of picturesque subjects.  Lobster boats lined with colorful buoy traps and flocks of pink spoonbills nesting alongside a cluster of mangroves entice even the most novice of painters.  “The Keys are one giant abstraction,” Wells points out.  “The sun and colors are so bright here.”

Painting is a constant challenge to Wells.  He brims with optimism about anything he considers a challenge.  “You can’t do anything in life if you can’t visualize it first.”  And where does he get his direction from?  A religious man, his answer is God.  “I thank God every day that I can paint, and I apologize to him every night that I didn’t do it better.”

Anyone can copy or render an image, according to Wells, but the true test of talent is getting the paint to explode on the canvas.  How do you get rifts in sand?  How do you get paint to move like water?  “It’s a matter of becoming one with nature,” he adds.

Two things all water colorists have in common, Wells believes, is tremendous vitality and dedication.  “I’ve never known an artist who is any good at all who hasn’t painted right damn near ’til the day they died,”  he states.

Millard Wells’ paintings adorn the walls of the homes of man of the country’s top sports fishermen.  For years his paintings which depict fishing scenes have been awarded as trophies to first place winners of bill fish and back-country tournaments.  Yet, you don’t have to be a fisherman to be enchanted by Wells’ use of rich hues and his ability to capture the Bohemian, lush imagery of island life.

Being an outdoor painter, Wells philosophizes that artists are in a sense “guardians” of nature.  He strives to give the viewer a sense of appreciation of nature,which we so easily take for granted.  When he is not painting the outdoors, Wells is enjoying the outdoors.  He is either off fly-fishing or on a morning sail with Jeanne.  FKM

***Actually, the term for this is “Plein Air,” which means “in the open air,” in French.

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