Artist Judy Rixom says her artwork keeps her alive.
“It’s what I do. I always have a lot going on in my life and I’ve always loved painting. It’s an outlet; I just love to paint,” says Rixom. And her continued evolution as an artist in her own right is a gift she treasures.
While she says she has always been interested in the craft, it has developed and changed over the years. She began by painting animals and then moved on to a variety of other subjects, generally in oils and, regardless of its focus, always in the style of realism.
“I paint a lot of ocean scenes, beaches and birds, whatever strikes my fancy. I paint what I see.”
When she has the time, she will often begin painting early in the morning, and continue working until early afternoon.
Rixom was born in Connecticut, but as her father was in the service, the family moved a lot; she attended four different high schools. She began to become proficient in oils while attending Hagerstown Community College in Maryland and continued her studies through the University of Maryland’s Munich campus, after her father was transferred to Germany.
She also met her first husband there and, after marrying, lived for 20 years in Taunton, Mass. She resumed her artwork when the last of their three children started attending kindergarten.
However, tragedy struck in 1988. While piloting his own plane, a storm came up out of nowhere and her husband was killed in a crash. Rixom didn’t paint for three years after her husband’s death.
Prior to his passing, they had purchased land and then a house in Vero Beach, where Rixom continued to live with her children. By 1990, she was an empty nester, and met her second husband on the beach. She has been in Vero year-round since 1991.
Along the way, Rixom developed an innate ability for teaching, mastering an approach that can move beginner students along in their studies, and can also encourage advanced students to reach their full potential in the craft.
Rixom opened a studio in her house to give lessons, which continue to this day. Among her students, some have been with her for more than 20 years.
For a brief time, she and friend Steven Babecki ran the Art Workshop School and Gallery on Royal Palm Pointe, where they taught art classes, from beginner to advanced, in watercolor, acrylics and oils. The gallery featured monthly shows of paintings by their students and instructors, and offered a complete line of competitively priced, quality artist materials.
Although they had put considerable money into the venture, the twin hurricanes of 2004 caused “just too much damage to continue” and wiped out the whole operation. “Vero was a mess from that for a while, extensive damage everywhere,” she recalls.
One of the things Rixom demonstrates to her students is how to see all the colors in a subject, such as the varied hues in the sky, clouds and sand. She explains, for example, that by adding shades of pink and blue to the sand, it comes to life, looking more real and less flat.
“Painting in Florida is different than painting in New England,” says Rixom. “The sky is different, there’s a lot more sky, and the sky is spectacular. The land is flat and there is sky everywhere; the colors are different too, more pastels. Even the colors people dress in are different down here. But I like color.”
Rixom is known for the attention to detail that she includes in every painting, frequently using photographs to capture precise images, such as an exquisite tiger she painted from a photograph taken by a friend’s daughter on a trip to Africa.
Rixom teaches year-round but does most of her own painting during the summer, as her volunteer schedule takes up much of her time during Vero’s active season.
She joined the Artists Guild Gallery in 2012 and became president in 2014, a position she has maintained ever since.
She is also a member of the Vero Beach Art Club and has chaired its Art by the Sea Fine Arts and Crafts Show, held annually at the Vero Beach Museum of Art, since 2016. This year, rather than holding it in the Holmes Great Hall, the show was held for the first time in the Atrium.
“The light is so much better there,” says Rixom.
She also oversees the professional jury process for VBAC’s annual Under the Oaks Fine Arts and Crafts Show, a three-day event that brings in tens of thousands of visitors and this year generated more than $1.8 million in sales.
“It’s a ‘blind juror,’ done online, not in person. Juried Art Services totals up the scores for each artist who has applied to the show,” she explains. As it is a nationally top-rated show, artists from all over the country apply in a whole host of categories.
“To get into this show is highly desired. Some artists did over $20,000 in sales in three days,” says Rixom. “I like being involved with the show. Sometimes it’s a little hairy, but I do like doing it. I enjoy the people; the people I work with are great. Every one of them is just fabulous.”
Rixom has won numerous awards for her artwork, which hang in private collections in the United States, Canada and Europe. In addition to the Artists Guild Gallery, Rixom’s work can be viewed at two restaurants in town, the Oar and the Tides.
Photos by Joshua Kodis