Above the Banks of Wads Creek

25 Jan 2019

The fine art paintings of Carmen Drake Gordon


The rhythm of life at Oak Hollow Farm is sparked by the break of day. Carmen Drake Gordon awakens with a cup of hot tea while gathering brushes and then follows the path through a misty garden to her studio at the crest of the hill. She starts with carefully drawn lines, the play between shadow and light. In time comes an infusion of color that burst out of darkness in the ebb and flow of brush strokes on canvas.

North-facing windows illuminate the studio, sited above the waters of Wads Creek just south of Carthage, NC. The smell of turpentine sweetens the air and throughout the rooms are arrangements of natural or man-made objects. There are branches, leaves, and flowers in vases, carefully placed amid easels and stacks of books. These “slices of life” are the subjects of Gordon’s paintings – everything touched by history.

Gordon is a classically trained realist working in oil paints, charcoal, and graphite pencil. “I was always an artist,” she recalls. “My mother tells the story that when I was four, I drew the whole family on my bedroom wall. When I was eight or ten I had gotten a paint-by-numbers set and I remember waking up in the middle of the night to paint – I just couldn’t wait.”

A native New Englander, Gordon came to Moore County in the mid-1980s when her husband, Master Sargent Gary Gordon, was stationed at Fort Bragg. She took to art in earnest after Gary passed away in 1993, his heroism depicted in the award-winning book and film, “Black Hawk Down.”

As a single parent, Gordon enrolled at Mims Studios, a world-renowned academy of classical realism located in downtown Southern Pines. “I was there as soon as I dropped my kids off at school, at least eight hours a day Monday through Friday, for almost three years.” Her talent and commitment paid off, and she served as a student teacher for a good part of her time at the academy.

Moore County native, Paul Brown, ultimately taught her how to paint. “I will be forever grateful for that,” she acknowledges, “our studios were side-by-side for several years in Carthage.” Brown, a widely regarded classical realist painter, has continued to be a mentor.

Describing her renderings, Gordon says her “favorite thing to paint is nature,” and she enjoys perusing the farm to gather flowers from the garden and anything that piques her interest. “My hope is that my thoughts and feelings are transferred onto the canvas, that’s what I’m trying to capture. It’s not so much what I see, it’s the emotional or physical connection that I have to the subject matter in front of me.”

A recent work of beauty is a painting of a bird’s nest, found by her fiancé after one of the hurricanes this past fall. “In his rough hands was this perfect little nest that had weathered the storm intact. Looking at it, I could just imagine the birds gathering all these bits of twig and grass and moss, then intricately weaving them together. Birds don’t teach each other how to do this, it’s instinctive. All these things enter my mind and I want to express that though my painting.”

Campbell House Galleries in Southern Pines has featured Gordon’s work, along with Ann Long Fine Art in Charleston, SC and East Oaks Studio in Raleigh, NC. In addition to prestigious galleries, Instagram has become a great venue for the artists and Gordon sells a good deal of her work online.

An important aspect of Gordon’s career has been teaching and she has hosted workshops by notable realists such as Colleen Barry, Michael Klein, Rob Liberace, and Kate Stone. “I am inspired by these people. Learning through sharing, it’s one of my tools and I find it very gratifying. These artists are so giving and they’re not keeping secrets.”

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be at the point where I’ve reached my goal as an artist,” she says when asked about her creative future. “I will always continue to search for excellence. It gives me a lot of pleasure and to share that is very gratifying. As artists, we’re very critical of our work and it’s wonderful to be with others that experience those same struggles.”

Light fades early on winter afternoons as Gordon wipes the brushes and pallet before making her way towards home. Ducks glide across the pond just in time to feed with the other farm animals – held within the life of a remarkable artist – quietly centered above the banks of Wads Creek.

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