One day in 1964, three artist friends decided to go to the Big Bend to paint. Finis Collins, Ivan McDougal and Clay McGaughy were so pleased with their paintings, they decided to have an exhibit of them. The next year, they took another trip, this time journeying south into Mexico. Then a trip to northern New Mexico and another to the Gulf Coast, where they ventured into New Orleans and Cajun country.
Having enjoyed Mexico so much, they decided to go back. They asked another artist, Allen Richards, to join them on this trip. Allen thought the group should have a name, so he baptized them the Watercolor Gang. The name stuck, and their adventures continued. The Gang often invited a guest artist to join in, and, indeed, some of those guest artists became regular Gang members before long. The Watercolor Gang added and lost members over time, until now, 51 years later, the Watercolor Gang consists of four members, Finis Collins, my husband Clay McGaughy, Lee Ricks and E. Gordon West.
The Watercolor Gang will host an opening exhibit Thursday, 6-8 p.m. at Episcopal Church of Reconciliation, 8900 Starcrest Dr. They’ll be open again Saturday afternoon 1-4 p.m., and Sunday afternoon from noon to 3 p.m. The public is invited to attend.
Big Bend, other parts of Texas, Mexico, Arkansas, New Mexico, Kansas, New England, Alaska. How about Europe, guys? So, in Spring of 1994, Finis, Ivan, Clay, Gordon, and guest, Kuo Yen Ng, spent two weeks in Provence, experiencing a taste of Paris, as well. Suddenly, the wives took more interest and decided that when the Gang went on an exotic trip, they should go along. They accompanied them to Andalusia, in southern Spain, Polperro, a small village in Cornwall, with an appropriate side trip to London, and Tuscany, where they stayed in a seventh century monastery surrounded by olive groves, vineyards and fava bean fields.
Each trip is unique, of course, and at the same time, there are similarities. One tradition of every paint-out is the critique time. After several days of painting, the guys get together in the evening to show what each has done and critique each other. Suggestions are made as to how a painting may be improved. You have to have tough skin to be a part of this group. But the critiques are important — they are a way for each artist to share his personal viewpoint.
According to Clay, all areas are paintable — in the mind’s eye.
“Some places seem to scream, ‘paint me’ right away, and some take some time and require the artist’s imagination and interpretation,” he said. “Seward, Alaska, is especially accommodating to the artist’s eye. You can paint from the motel’s front porch, or look one direction for snow-covered mountains, and turn around and paint the colorful wharves and fishing boats — a day fishing for big Alaskan halibut, a nice extra as were the glass factories in Venice and the excellent art galleries in Santa Fe.
“All trips are unique and challenging in different ways for the artist. Adapting to the particular place is helpful to avoid getting in the dreaded ‘rut’ of repetition and to experience new ways of visualizing things,” he added. “Each artist’s style and interpretation is so different. From the same place on the same day, amazingly different paintings result — always interesting and valuable to the artists themselves.”
After each trip, the Gang schedules an exhibit of the paintings done on the trip. This year, the Gang and wives went back to Big Bend, the guys’ fourth trip, a first for the wives. Once again they stayed in the Easter Egg Motel in Terlingua, where you have a choice of blue, pink, green, or yellow cabins.
The traditional exhibition this year will have an added aspect. The show will be at the Episcopal Church of Reconciliation, and a percentage of the sales will go to benefit ABODE, a non-profit interfaith organization dedicated to providing a home and round-the-clock care for those in need in the last weeks and months of their lives — at no cost for those who stay there.
And what is the Gang’s next destination? There are a lot of possibilities but no decision yet.
Featured/top image: Terlingua Trading Co. watercolor by Finis Collins.