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Oklahoma painter Tim Kenney goes on tour around country to raise money for Parkinson's research
Norman landscape artist Tim Kenney’s 50-state tour is a road trip with a purpose.
Kenney is painting 50 canvases in 50 states in 50 days. A share of sales goes toward research into Parkinson’s disease.
Kenney, 58, began painting six years ago, inspired by the landscapes of New Mexico, where his family has deep roots. He and his wife, Debbie, have been married 36 years and have four children and two grandchildren.
Tim took some questions from The Oklahoman after about three weeks on the road, then followed up with a report on his progress with about two weeks to go. Plans called for him to be in Jackson, Wyo., on Thursday. The trip also includes plans for Kenney to fly to Alaska and Hawaii.
Q: Do you look for morning light, dusk, cloudy weather? Sunset? Do you go with whatever the day gives you?
A: Morning or evening light is best for an artist as the light shows specific characteristics that would not be apparent at noon when the light is flat. In the morning or evening, red and orange and warm colors appear and there are also shadows that add contrast.
Q: What if it rains on the trip?
A: It has already rained twice while I was painting. I have a pop-up tent that we have put up; it keeps the painting dry and enables me to keep working. We also used the pop-up tent on the beach in Destin, Fla., on a very hot day. I learned my lesson after painting on the beach at Ocean City, Miss., without the tent.
Q: Giving back to others plays a role in this trip. Tell me about that.
A: I have a friend, Nicole Jarvis, in Norman who was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson's disease two years ago at the age of 38. Nicole founded the Nicole Jarvis Parkinson’s Research Foundation and in only two years has raised over $300,000. I have donated paintings to Nicole’s foundation at the last two auctions. Twenty percent of the proceeds from sales of the 50-state tour paintings goes to her foundation. Nicole is an inspiration for many, including me.
Q: Is there a theme emerging? Are you finding some continuity developing from painting to painting?
A: It’s interesting how I started my trip painting the shapes and colors that I saw... . Then my wife, Debbie, gave me a call while I was about to start my painting in Alabama and told me very nicely that my usual colors were not quite there in my first few paintings. Two days later, Pat Matthews called me and said very nicely, “You told me before your trip you were going to use your vibrant colors that you usually use on your paintings, and those colors are just not there in your first few paintings.” I told Pat that my wife beat him to it but they were both right and I quickly returned to my style and colors and the colors returned quickly.
Q: What do you look for in a subject? Are your subjects researched ahead of time?
A: I have been staying with friends and family and in each location our hosts have great local places and beautiful spots to paint. In the states where we have stayed in hotels we have gone to areas I have known before or searched in state parks or famous locations. I must say, in each state we have found a beautiful place to paint and I hope the painting has done it justice.
Q: What are you painting?
A: My skill is painting landscapes and that is what I have done on this trip. I have painted 95 percent aspen trees in my previous paintings but in the first 18 days of the trip I have not seen an aspen, so I have painted what I see. The joke I heard the most before the trip is, “Where are you going to find an aspen in Florida or Texas?”
Q: How big are the paintings on this trip?
A: All 50 of these paintings will be painted on 30-by-40-inch stretched canvases. They are an inch-and-a-half deep, which enables the scene to move around the edges of the canvas. Most of my paintings are not framed. Each canvas is an oil, painted with palette knife.
Q: Who’s the most interesting person you’ve met?
A: On the University of North Carolina campus as I was carrying the finished painting back to my trailer a gentleman was walking by and he just stopped in front of me looking at my painting. He asked what I was doing. I explained the 50 paintings in 50 states in 50 days tour. I said to him, “You are either a late-starting student or a professor.” He laughed and said he was a professor. I explained I only started painting six years ago and he loved the story and the painting. He told me his name. I looked it up later and realized he was the former secretary of the Interior for the Carter administration. He said he would be getting in touch with me after I handed him my card.
Q: Other memorable stops?
A: In Iowa, I painted at Eagle Point park which overlooks the Mississippi River. You can see Wisconsin and Illinois across the river. When I set up the easel we saw a group setting up an event next to a pavilion. I asked if we would be a distraction to the group. “No problem,” they said, “there will be 140 Catholic nuns here in two hours for an event.” So I started the painting and in a few hours we were visited by most of the nuns asking questions and giving advice. They actually brought us dinner and drinks. We were also visited by about 25 young men and women who were special needs counselors at a workshop before their summer program began, a great group.
Q: Who is your artistic inspiration?
A: Pat Matthews out of Little Rock. I have painted with Pat three times in the last five years. I was exposed to Pat’s work through Bobby Beals in Santa Fe. Bobby owns Beals & Co. gallery. Pat has been a great help in my career and very encouraging and he is a friend.
Q: How’s the weather been since we last spoke?
A: It has rained a few times and it has been windy. I had one of my paintings blow over into the grass when I was getting something from the car and had to basically start over.
Q: How do you travel? Who drives?
A: In a Suburban pulling a trailer. I have racks in the trailer holding each canvas separately. I have had three people riding with me on the trip so far and we all split the driving. Debbie was with me from Boston to Chicago and she will be with me from Salt Lake to Norman. My brother Richard was with me on the first 18 days and my friend Dale Baker rode with me from Chicago to Salt Lake.
Q: What is the route?
A: I started in Oklahoma, then Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, then Mississippi and east to Florida, north to Maine, west to Washington state, then south and swinging back to Santa Fe. I probably shouldn’t mention the flat tire or me running out of gas, so I won’t.
Q: Where have you been staying?
A: As the planning went on over the last year, more and more people asked if I could stay with them. I have stayed with family and friends about half the time. It has been a very nice part of the trip.
Q: Will people be able to see the paintings together in Norman?
A: I will be doing a show in Santa Fe and I do plan on having a show in July in Norman.
Q: Getting out of town wasn’t exactly easy, was it? Something about a garage fire?
A: I had 88 paintings damaged or lost. It was a mess. I had no choice as far as bouncing back. Too many people make excuses for not succeeding. My father-in-law got sick and passed away in March after the Feb. 10 fire. Now that was something Debbie and I needed to bounce back from. It was a wild four months — the fire, Debbie’s dad, the May Fair Arts Festival that I needed to paint all new paintings for. And another “small thing”: our daughter Suzanne was married on May 10, four days before the 50-day tour began. Unreal. That alone is a good story.
Meet 8 artists who create contemporary visions of the West
Tim Kenney is a man on a mission. As this story was going to press, Kenney was crisscrossing the country on an intensive, tour de force painting expedition. On May 14, the landscape painter set out from his home in Norman, OK, on a road trip with a goal of creating 50 paintings in 50 states in 50 days. We caught up with him in Vermont, at which point he had already sold 14 paintings. “I just sold Rhode Island,” he said. From the sale of these on-the-road works, the artist is donating 20 percent of the proceeds to the Nicole Jarvis MD Parkinson’s Research Foundation.
In his former life, Kenney worked as a contractor. But during visits to Santa Fe several years ago, he saw landscape paintings by artist Pat Matthews. When he returned home, Kenney says, he couldn’t stop thinking about the paintings and, ultimately, decided he wanted to pursue fine art professionally. In 2008 Kenney began taking classes with artist Carol Armstrong, and the rest is history.
Up until this recent trip, Kenney often turn-ed to the picturesque terrain of Colorado and New Mexico for inspiration—places where he also spent his teenage summers hiking, camping, and fly-fishing. In terms of style, Kenney is a self-described “impressionist and colorist.” His landscapes demonstrate his affection for a vibrant palette of colors. Whether he is capturing Maine’s rocky coast or California’s arid desert, Kenney’s goal is to convey “the feeling of being there and the feeling of happiness” to his viewers. He is represented by Beals & Co., Santa Fe, NM, and Mountain Traditions, Steamboat Springs, CO. —Bonnie Gangelhoff