Emotion takes shape in sculptor George Paxton’s creations

Evoking emotion is the goal of local sculpture George Paxton, whose work will be featured along with that of watercolor artist Joel Johnson in the “People and Places” exhibition opening March 2 at the Center for Spiritual Care in Vero Beach.

“I’m trying to show something about the person, not just the figure,” explains Paxton from his Vero Beach home. “I strive to create something that someone can relate to, and oftentimes I see viewers relate in a totally different way than I did.”

Paxton’s sculptures, although small in size, averaging only 2 to 4 feet in height, are large in detail and depth.

“I work from nature with a live model to create a three-dimensional figurative sculpture in terra cotta and cast in bronze. The human body is so complex and beautiful with its fluidity in motion. A good understanding of proportion, gesture and anatomy is essential to creating a realistic figure. Knowledge of muscle and bone structure helps me create a sculpture that is true to nature and allows me to capture the essence, mood and feeling of the subject.”

Many of Paxton’s subjects are nude women. When his subjects are dressed or partially dressed, he likes to emphasize the complement of form to fabric, which in turn can create its own independent shape.

“The female body is perfection,” he says. “I focus on the structure of the figure, the interplay between shapes and how one form flows freely into another, sometimes with interlocking curves. There are so many S-curves in the female body and it’s simply a miraculous blend of structure and fluidity.”

Paxton grew up on Long Island, New York, and says he comes by his artistry naturally.

“My father was a musician, Big Band leader and songwriter so I was surrounded by talent. We had all these famous people like Perry Como and Nat King Cole floating around the house. It was very inspirational. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any musical talent, but I did start drawing at a very young age. I moved into sculpture because I liked the three dimensionalities of the medium. The fact that you can walk around and see the movement of the piece intrigues me to this day.”

Paxton went to art school at the Arts Students League of New York before opting to change course and attend Columbia and Vanderbilt universities.

“While I was drawn to art, I realized I’d have a better chance of making a living in law, so my life took a different direction and I became a trial lawyer with a respected law firm in Bethesda, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.”

But despite practicing law for most of his life, Paxton never gave up his artistic pursuit.

“I built a little studio in my basement and started sculpting,” says Paxton, adding that when time permitted he attended classes at art schools and workshops in Washington, D.C., Virginia and New York, and even spent a summer at the Florence Academy of Art in Italy.

These days, Paxton spends winters in Vero Beach, sculpting in his downtown Vero Beach studio and teaching figurative and portrait sculpture at the Vero Beach Museum of Art. During the summer he teaches at the Southern Vermont Center.

Nationally acclaimed for his work, his sculptures have been widely exhibited and have been awarded numerous honors in local juried exhibitions.

“I’ve had showings at the A.E. Backus Museum and Gallery in Fort Pierce and in a museum in Boca, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming show with my friend Joel Johnson at the Center for Spiritual Care. Since most of my work is displayed on pedestals, I thought his beautiful watercolors on the walls would be the perfect blend of emotion provoking art forms.”

The pairing of Paxton with Johnson, a highly regarded water colorist, is an ideal one. Johnson was raised in Sinclair, Wyoming, and, like Paxton, says he was drawn to art at an early age.

“The line and the endless variety of shapes it created seemed magical” he explains. “The support and encouragement I received from my teachers and parents gave me the confidence to continue with art classes in high school. In college, I took courses in both painting and drawing in several subject areas, including still life, portrait, and the human figure.”

Johnson holds a B.A. in studio art from Westminster College and a M.F.A. in painting from Utah State University. He taught at various levels of education while continuing to pursue his endeavors as an artist and eventually decided to “create” full time, transitioning from drawing, to oil painting, to watercolor, which is his main focus today.

“Watercolor combines my love of drawing on paper with the transparent luminosity only watercolor can achieve,” says Johnson, noting that he likes to incorporate the white of the unpainted paper in the lightest areas of the painting; utilizing layers of paint in darker areas to create depth and color intensity.

“I’m currently working on reflective surfaces, especially water. My paintings visualize the impact that light has on form with regard to weight, volume, value, texture and color. Light and shadows create a mood as a sense of place for the viewer that the writer Joseph Campbell referred to as ‘aesthetic arrest’, or a sense of calm and awareness.”

A full-time Vero Beach resident, Johnson teaches watercolor classes at the Vero Beach Museum of Art during the winter months. His work is displayed in galleries nationwide as well as in numerous national juried art exhibitions. After the March showing in Vero Beach, he will head to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Prix de West exhibition in Oklahoma, which features the finest contemporary Western artists in the country.

The People and Places exhibition runs March 2 to April 2 at the Center for Spiritual Care in Vero Beach. For more information, visit centerforspiritualcare.org.

Article by: Kerry Firth, correspondent

Photos by: Gordon Radford
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