How did you get started and then develop your career?
Ray Hassard: An artist friend of mine asks, “Can you ever remember a time when you didn’t draw?” The answer from me and most artists I know is, “no.” From my earliest days, I have always loved drawing, coloring, painting — anything to do with image making — always with the idea of being as “real” as possible.
My first professional paintings were photorealist in style and urban in subject. I was happy painting that way for years. But eventually I tired of the painstaking nature of it and searched for something more immediate. I turned to plein air painting, and a new world opened for me. I guess only Abstract Expressionism would have been further from photorealism. I think now that to be “objective” is probably best left to the camera, but the opposite danger is becoming so “subjective” that the painting communicates only to the artist. Adam Clague recently wrote about walking the tightrope between “the Abyss of Unbridled Creativity on one side and the Chasm of Static Rendering on the other.” I know that balancing act only too well!
Plein air painting at first was extremely difficult, and I learned a huge amount by watching experienced painters in local groups. I found out about equipment needed, how to approach this very different way of working, how frustrating and yet satisfying it can be. Eventually, I started entering plein air competitions, finding that the additional tight focus of those events helped my work and that I enjoyed the intensity and camaraderie of them. Several First-Place awards and sales added to the incentive as did the opportunity to paint around the country in the past decade.
How do you describe success?
I might say supreme mastery of an art, making the difficult seem effortless, repeatedly. I might also say being able to support oneself (and others if need be) through one’s art. And I might also say being able to spend a large part of one’s life producing art one is proud of, while continuously striving to do better.
How do you find inspiration?
I used to really recharge the batteries by travel. Some of my best times painting were in India and Cuba. A month as Artist in Residence in Dinan, France, will always be a highlight of my life. Of course, that all changed in 2020. So, now looking at other people’s art, online and in magazines and artbooks gives me thoughts and ideas about new directions. I have continued to go out and paint with a few friends — every week if possible — since the pandemic started. And not being on the road as much has allowed me to explore different media such as gouache, acrylic and casein.
What is the best thing about being an artist?
Freedom! We can do whatever we dream of, really, if we can get out of our own way. (See the tightrope analogy again). Of course, there is a lot of responsibility with that freedom — a huge amount of self-discipline and tons of hard work. And there is that emotional rollercoaster we all know about and perhaps ride too often. But never doubt, it is a great life!
Who do you collect?
I collect mostly by trading with my painting friends: the late Larry Rudolech, Roy Boswell, Marilee Klosterman, Nathaniel Flanagan, Debra Joyce Dawson, David Mueller, and a very special trade with Patrick Lee: one of his sketchbooks. If I could afford it I would love something by Marc Dalessio, Carl Bretzke, Marc Hanson, or Joaquin Sorolla! Well, while I’m dreaming, let’s throw in Sargent and Zorn and Levitan! At least I can collect them in good quality books.
To see more of Ray’s work, visit: www.rayhassard.com