TEXARKANA — For retired art teacher Anthony Bruce, the free-flowing nature of time helps him appreciate the ability to create art.
And with an award-winning talent in portraiture accompanied by strong conceptual ideas and his faith, Bruce has seen his work honored at the Texarkana Regional Arts and Humanities Council's annual Juried Exhibition show with first place honors in 2017 and a Yates Collection Purchase Award last year.
"They have helped me out quite a bit," Bruce says about the recognition for his art. "I'm a retired art teacher, and I retired five years ago. Since that time I've been able to just work at my own pace. The great thing about having worked all those years and taught all those years, the fact that my income allows me to not have to hustle."
Bruce has a laid-back approach to his art, which he loves making, and he's happy to not have the pressure to pay the bills by making it.
"It's been really nice to kind of work at my own pace," Bruce said, a veteran of 28 years in teaching, mostly high school, after he graduated from Henderson State University.
"The teaching of it taught me to love it even more, because you see that sparkle in that eye and you recognize it — and not every human being is going to say, 'I'm going to be a professional artist' — but there are children who are born with that sparkle when they just get a paintbrush or a pencil in their hand," Bruce said.
No matter what is going on in the educational system around them, the teacher can see a student's ability to do something that helps them escape whatever is negative in their lives. He recognizes that feeling, a way to disappear into the process.
"I felt that since I was a little kid. I just loved to draw and paint. Time vanishes when I sit and I'm drawing or painting, and those are my areas, drawing and painting," Bruce said. Much of his recent work is colored pencil. It's less of a mess, although he does love oil painting, too, as it fits his leisurely pace.
"When I paint and when I draw, I don't want time to even be considered," Bruce said. He drifts into it, he says.
"Colored pencil for me is extremely comfortable," Bruce adds, because he enjoys the drawing process and something about the sound of the pencil on paper is hypnotic to him.
"That was a specific series that kind of started on a whim," Bruce explained. It began with a photo of his friend and her little dog Dutchess.
In January of last year, he worked with several pictures for the composition and added a backdrop of the Earth.
"It's like the two of them together getting ready to conquer the world, take on the world," Bruce said. Much of his work is extremely detailed, but this drawing was so much fun with no pressure and went more quickly because of the Bristol board he used, a smoother surface, he explains.
Posting it on social media, he saw the popularity of the drawing. "It just kind of snowballed from there," he said, but he narrowed the series down to portray women with their dogs.
He didn't rush but kept at it steadily. With all of what happened last year, he was encouraged by the response. He also added to his body of work so he can eventually have a solo show, he hopes.
"It seems like every couple weeks or so a drawing would be finished, and I'd post it. People began to look forward to it, and so I just continued with that," Bruce said. "It was strange because as things got worse and worse with the pandemic hitting and then all of the strife that was going on around the country, I still had people wanting to see these drawings and they were very uplifted."
The relationship between women and their dogs interested him, particularly during the tough times we experienced last year.
"Especially during those difficult times, you see a hope and joy, and the responsibility that someone is going to be there with them regardless of whatever's going on in the world," Bruce said.
With his figure drawing, he's also dabbled in self-portraits. He tries to do one every so often. He believes it's important to document his own aging — "it's just to kind of document the journey," he said. His most recent is an oil painting that appeared in a TRAHC Juried Exhibition.
It's titled "An Ode to the Trinity," a reference to his faith in Christianity, which he considers his grounding. Stones that are pictured on the wall represent God as his rock and pillar, he explains, which also underscores the conceptual strength of his art.
Bruce explains that he has three essential approaches in his art: perception, creating and expression. He loves the process of perceiving and drawing.
"That feeling of creating is the second element of art that I truly love," he said.
The expression in his art involves feeling, emotions and beliefs, Bruce said, noting he did an experimental art piece in this vein and submitted it to this year's TRAHC juried show.
"I took plastic water bottles, and I started saving them and collected them. Some of them I melted down for the frame, and others I cut into pieces to form sort of a texture to work with acrylic paint and create a painting with texture," he said.
It's a landscape composed of hearts, and he sought to represent love.
Bruce didn't stop there. He wrote a short story that talks about his faith, and he then added a song to sing, which he put on a YouTube video. He thought maybe a couple people would like it, but he found the response was decidedly positive.
"They said this was a real, genuine presentation of the Christian faith from beginning to end," Bruce said. "And that to me is always a foundation."
For him, it was therapeutic to create it. Art, to him, is a wonderful escape to a place where one can perceive, create and express.
"Those three things are what drive me: to perceive, to create and to express. To me, that's what being an artist is. And that first one, to perceive, that's just something that for me is like a fish in water. When I'm looking and drawing what's actually there in front of my eyes, the subject matter can disappear. The lines, the shapes, the colors, the texture, I love every aspect of the visual element," Bruce said.
(On the Net: Instagram.com/anthonybruceartshow.)