When Robert Reynolds prepared for his current exhibit, he didn't create a few new paintings and round up others from his 50-year career. With the exception of two portraits of friends, 24 paintings are all recent, the result of two solid years of work.
“I worked every day, seven to seven,” said Reynolds.
The large landscapes that fill the Gray Room at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art reflect the areas he loves: San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties, the Sierras and England, where he lived many summers while teaching art to his Cal Poly students.
A careful methodical painter, Reynolds is a perfectionist who takes his time. “Cuesta Light,” for example, took an entire month to complete. All of his recent paintings didn't make it into the show; some ended up in the trash, since they weren't up to his high standards.
“It really hurts when you spend three weeks on something and it doesn't work,” he said. His first attempt at “Moss Cove/Los Lobos” didn't make the cut, so he started it all over again. “I learned a lot from the one that failed,” said Reynolds. He realized some of the canvases were too rough textured to give him the desired results for his acrylics.
Reynolds, who also works in watercolor, sketches on site and takes photos for reference, especially for the light. “I would say the most important thing to me when I paint is the light,” he said.
As Reynolds seeks subjects, he's amazed how different one scene can look depending on the time of day. He captured the willows and standing water in a field for “Morning Quiet” at 6 a.m. “After the sun comes up, it's just ugly,” he said of the location.
Atascadero Lake is a favorite spot as it reflects seasonal changes. “Some neat things happen,” he said, such as the autumn scene, “Lake Side Radiance.”
He doesn't always have to travel for his subject matter. “That's right outside my front window” on Skyline Drive in San Luis Obispo, Reynolds said of “Gathering Clouds.”
Although he has many paintings of the Sierras, he no longer visits the area after 34 years of teaching workshops there. “I finally hung it up.” Other than living in Pasadena while getting his degree from the Art Center College of Design, Reynolds has spent his life on the Central Coast, growing up in Morro Bay. He shows a photo of himself in the 1970s painting the Morro Bay estuary. His silver hair was still dark then. He chuckles, remarking how his looks have changed, but the bay and sandspit still look the same.
After earning his master's degree at Cal Poly, Reynolds was hired as a staff artist, then taught in the Architecture Department, followed by the Art and Design Department. Forty years at Cal Poly earned him the title professor of art emeritus. His list of awards, accolades and accomplishments are as long as his career, as numerous as his paintings. Reynolds' work has been featured in many national art magazines and 20 books.
He designed the postage stamp honoring Hearst Castle and in 1971 designed the San Luis Obispo County Seal. Over the years he has put his mark on many local events, including posters for the city's Bicentennial, the SLO Symphony and Mozart Festival.
Along with cherishing the essence and beauty of nature, Reynolds feeds his spirit with classical music. When he shuts himself up in his studio to paint for 12 hours, he listens to Liszt.
At 7 p.m., his wife calls him to dinner.