02 Jun 2019
Nestled inside The Design Market, Harry Neely hones his craft with colors that bring canvas to life
By Ray Owen
The aromatic smell of oil paint colors the air in Harry Neely’s Studio 590. Friendly but serious as he works on a rendering, his quick wit delivered with a Southern accent and generous smile. Canvases span walls like the fabric life, reflecting a love of family and the natural world – and the beauty one might encounter on any given day.
“I work every day here,” says Neely, “two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, more or less, and if I’m painting really well it could be six hours. I always go to sleep thinking about the problems I've got to solve the next day with a piece.”
“Painting is a very solitary occupation because you really have to understand what you’re doing and you have to be ‘in the moment.’ If there’s too much conversation going on around you or too many people passing by, you'll never get there. But I get a nice traffic through here, never enough to be troublesome.”
Neely began his life as an artist after “flunking” out of band in the eighth grade. “Everyone in my family was a musician. My mother was a piano, voice, and organ teacher, and my father played the fiddle, but I couldn't play two notes straight. I was playing the bassoon in the marching band and I forgot to check it out over the summer.”
“My mother said: ‘If you can't learn to play an instrument, maybe we can get you some art lessons.’ So, I started studying with this old man, a portrait painter in Charlotte, North Carolina. About twenty-five years later, I found out he was one of the artists that studied in the circle around Monet, in Paris at the turn of the 20th century.”“I was serious about being an artist, as serious as any junior high school student could be. But I had problems with the teacher because he wanted me to work in a classical manner exactly like he had been trained. I was a young kid and wanted to use color, and I didn’t care much about drawing with charcoal.”
It would be many years before Neely took up the brush as his sole profession. “Perhaps I always was an artist, but you have to understand, I grew up just after the Great Depression and artists didn't make a whole lot of money. My parents would never support sending me to an art school, so I went to North Carolina State University.”
He graduated from college and entered the army, and although he’s primarily self-taught, Neely ended up studying with masters across the U.S. and in Italy. Today, he teaches and paints full-time in the Sandhills area and his paintings hang in collections around the world.
His work reflects the optimism of 19th century American artists and he is best known for his still life paintings. “I like to see what’s there,” says Neely. “To me, if you're looking at something, it’s almost like going down the ‘rabbit hole,’ because once you start looking, you see so many more things. You don’t get that from a photograph, and it’s hard to get that out of your head if you're just kind of dreaming it.”
“When you look at a real still life set-up, you see so many more colors and nuances and twists in it. We think maybe an apple is red, but an apple is never really red because so many other things influence the color. It can be almost any color you have on the palette. It has to do with what's around the apple ― there’s just a ton of colors there.”
“I guess my most important artist tool is my mind, because I have to see and translate things for it to come out in the brush. It’s a learned process, an eye, hand and mind situation. I used to think I had to have the best brushes, and while the best brushes really help, you don’t need them. Instead, you have to understand how to put the paint where it needs to go.”
“The best piece of advice that I’ve ever been given is that you can really do most anything you want, but you have to decide what you need to give up to get that. All artists have to give up things. And while it’s really nice to hear someone say they like your painting, the nicest thing is if they remember that painting.” Studio 590, 910-639-0904
Calling all Visual Artists!
The Arts Council of Moore County would like to showcase your work at their 39th annual Fine Arts Festival. Artwork is judged in five categories with over $2,000 in cash prizes.
Dates: Aug. 2 - 30, 2019
Opening Reception: Aug. 2 (6-8pm), Ceremony begins at 7pm.
Location: Campbell House Galleries, 482 E. Connecticut Ave., Southern Pines
Eligibility: Artist (16+ years old), Categories: Painting (includes acrylic, oil, & watercolor); Drawing/Pastel; Photography; Printmaking/Mixed Media; 3-D.
Delivery Dates: Mon-Fri, July 15-19 (10am-4pm) and Sat, July 20, 2019 (2-4pm).
Entry Fees: ACMC Member $15/entry; Non-members $25/entry.