Glenn Ness looks at art as a way for him to tell stories, while celebrating the need we all have to connect to each other and to our surroundings

RAMONA MCCALLISTER - Glenn Ness pauses in front of the patriotic mural he is painting on the VFW building on Main and Fourth streets. For the past two weeks, bystanders have stopped to admire the skills and creativity of local artist, Glenn Ness, as he paints the patriotic mural on the outside of the VFW building on Fourth Street in Prineville.

As he moves deftly about on the scaffolding to complete the consigned mural, Ness is actually working on a side job to what he has done for more than 30 years. Ness does not just paint murals but is an oil paint artist and creates oils in a contemporary realism genre, with his work currently in three galleries. He has artwork in George Billis Gallery in Westport, Connecticut; Peterson Contemporary Art in Bend; and Sue Greenwood Fine Art in Southern California, which is one of California's most respected contemporary fine art galleries.

In his artist statement at Peterson Contemporary Art, Ness indicated that he looks at art as a way for him to tell stories, while celebrating the need we all have to connect to each other and to our surroundings. He loves telling stories with images, to hold the viewer long enough to engage the intrinsic ideas they themselves brought to the narrative.

He goes on to say, "I love light! I love reflection and shadow. There is also an importance given to the narrative, without boxing it in. Czeslaw Milosz is one of my favorite poets, and his way of 'celebrating the ordinary' is also a focal point I find in my work."

When viewing his artwork, one is instantly drawn into the moment that he has captured of everyday subjects and spaces. One of his pieces in the Bend gallery depicts the inside of the local Tastee Treet restaurant, with the retro stools and magnificent counter crafted by the late Vern McCallister. The painting, titled "Sunday Morning" immediately elicits a memory where the viewer can connect with the piece or even an emotion if there is not an actual connection to the setting.

Ness graduated with a degree to teach art in 1987. He chose fine art rather than teaching and had his first show in Pasadena, California. He also began painting in 1987. Kenton Nelson, who is a successful California artist and mentor to Ness, discovered his work in 1994. Ness' first solo exhibit was at Mendenhall Sobieski Gallery in Pasadena.

When he was in college, Ness was fascinated by artists such as David Hockney, Eric Fischl and John Register, who captured light and captured the moment.

"When I was going to college, I was noticing the artists who really spoke to me were the ones who really dealt well with light — trying to get that light just right — and it really sets the mood," Ness emphasized.

When he first began painting in the late 1980s, he was captivated by light and specifically the California pools. He recalls sitting by the pool one day, and his kids were playing by the pool.

"The colors of turquoise and light shock against the flesh, that just rocked my world. I began to photograph and to pursue that."

His first show at the Mendenhall Sobieski gallery was all about the California pools and the experience that you get around the pool — the light and the shadows and the transient moments that you cannot get back. At the end of the show, his work sold out.

His work evolved to other subjects, such as inner spaces — urban spaces, café images and quiet spaces, and he discovered that same light everywhere he went. He did not want to get pigeonholed into just painting pools, however successful that may have been. He found his niche in realism with an abstract idea. Many who view his paintings mistake some of his work for an actual photograph until closer scrutiny. By that time, the picture has already drawn in the bystander.

"It's something that makes your heart beat when you see it painted," said Ness of his love for the subjects he paints. "If you took a picture of it, it would still be interesting, but when you take the time to put 40 to 100 hours into a painting and try to manipulate it — because I edit as I go—there are things in the photograph that I do not want to show."

He added that a photograph requires changing the perspective when painting it, because of a single point lens, a barrel or fish-eye lens from the camera point of view.

"A successful painting to me is something that you can hold the viewer long enough for them to get a story or a sense if where they belong. If they like it or they do not like it, if you can hold them there for 20 or 30 seconds even, that is kind of a smashing success, instead of having somebody come by and look at it and keep on moving."

He added that art is not for everybody, and not everyone sees art the same.

Ness is a native Oregonian, graduating from Silverton, Oregon, but moved to California for the sake of his career. He moved back to Oregon to be near family. His two younger sons were born in Bend during the Obama era. His wife's dad passed away, and they were in Albany, Oregon for a time to be closer to his mother-in-law. They ended up eventually moving to Prineville, which he said is one of the best things that happened to his family.

"The rain was too depressing for me, and I need light. Central Oregon has something special about it," Ness expressed about the amount of light in Central Oregon, and the draw of the culture.

He went on to say of Prineville, "Now I find it to be the most amazing place. People are awesome. I love the community and all the activities that go on."

He said he loves the good values of a small town with the sophistication of being in modern times.

"I love Prineville. Prineville is just the coolest town, and to support the community and the way that we love law and order here and our veterans — and respect, and it seems like it is how I see America and American values."

He enjoys being able to be creative and use his talent to paint murals around town. He has done a few murals over the years — one at the Granada Theater at The Dalles for Huck Gomez and wife, Debbie, a 30-foot wall in the interior. Mural painting is a side business that he enjoys between art shows.

"It takes about six to seven months to prepare a show for a gallery, and in that time, you still need to have income coming in, and this is a creative way to do it, and I don't have to go pound nails," Ness said with a smile.

He ended up becoming commissioned for the mural at the VFW building after a building committee meeting between the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), where they discussed the artwork that Glenn Ness had done around town.

"So, we brought up, 'What do you think about doing a mural on the wall (outside the building)?'" recalled Commander for the American Legion, Alan Alderman.

The two groups share the space, although they are different entities. They contacted Ness after their meeting, and he enthusiastically agreed. Ness once again saw an opportunity to help make Prineville a better-looking place.

"That building is such a drab place. We have actually had veterans standing in front of it, not realizing they are standing in front of a veterans' social quarters," pointed out Alderman.

He added that it is a good opportunity to identify the building and give veterans in Prineville something to be proud of.

"I know that the city, from Seth Crawford to many others — the mayor, the commissioners that we have had speak at different events throughout the years — everyone is supportive, and Crook County has a really, really high rate of veterans living here per capita compared to other counties. It is a very proud community, and I think it says volumes on what this community thinks of its veterans."


Glenn Ness

Oil Paint artist — contemporary realism

Galleries: George Billis Gallery in Westport, Connecticut; Peterson Contemporary Art in Bend; and Sue Greenwood Fine Art in Laguna Beach, California


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