Photo by Temple Innis

Richard A Waters Painting History

My mother gave me my first watercolor lesson when we lived in Bermuda. I was 11 years old. I went with her to paint on location about 3 or 4 times. My next painting lesson was from the mother of a close friend who was with us on a day party to a remote beach on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. However, I was exposed to a wide range of the arts as my mother was a patron and hired people like Walter Anderson to do murals at the hotel in Ocean Springs, MS. where I was raised. There were also a musical groups and musicians who would perform nightly at the hotel lounge.

I did not paint again until my Junior year in college when I switched my Major for the 5th time into fine arts. Up until that point my grades were terrible as I had little interest in the subject matter. As soon as I began the art courses my grades picked up as did my attendance and I felt like I had found my niche. However, trying to make a living as an artist was beyond me at the time. After graduating I received an offer to work for a chain of hotels (Jack Tar) and after graduation I work in a number of locations in different capacities for this chain of hotels. However, at night, after work, I would paint until the wee hours of the morning. The more I painted, the more I realized I was unhappy in my current occupation even though the salary and work were good. So after a year or so, I resigned as assistant manger for a hotel in Biloxi, Ms. and left for California to develop my painting career. I first lived in Los Angeles and tried to break into the gallery scene there with no luck at all. I then moved to Sausalito and rented a half sunken house boat as it was all I could afford. When I ran out of money I worked as a dishwasher at Juanita’s Gallery at gate 5 in Sausalito. After painting rather intensively for a year I decided it would be best if I went to a good art school in the San Francisco Bay Area and selected the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland as the school. I spent two years there getting my Masters degree (MFA) and during that time expanded into sculpture and 3 dimensional paintings as in fiberglass wall reliefs. I was also doing figurative and abstract expressionism in oil paints and began a long series of stenciled painting utilizing words, phrases and poetry. In a painting competition I created a 4 X 8ft. panel using stenciled words/poetry based on street and freeway signs and won 1st place which was $1000. That spurred me onward.

After graduate school I moved to Dania, Florida to be close to my parents who lived in Ft. Lauderdale. I set up both a painting and sculpture studio and also did wood and linoleum block prints. I began exhibiting in and around Ft. Lauderdale and Miami and won a number of painting and sculpture awards from competitions and art shows. However, my work was not selling and I needed to make a living so my college roommate and I hatched a plan to begin building hurricane proof houses on the Mississippi Gulf Coast which we did and built a spec house there in Pass Christian. I had moved there for this purpose but had also set up a studio so I could continue my art work. A few people purchased my work and I had few shows but sales were down and the hurricane proof house would not sell. I was also looking for a teaching position in one of the coast colleges and settled for one night classes to teach art theory to mostly school teachers who were returning to pick up credits. Finally, I gave up on the Gulf Coast and decided my art fate would be better in California as there was an art renaissance going on there. At that time the flower children (hippies) had just emerged and San Francisco was their headquarters.

So, much to the disappointment of my hurricane house building partner, in 1968 I packed up and moved back to northern California just north of the San Francisco Bay Area. Within a year a huge hurricane, Camile, hit the Gulf Coast and came ashore right over our hurricane proof house in Pass Christian. Our house not only made it through the hurricane and storm surge but withstood the hurricane so well that the the local building code was rewritten using our house as the model. However, Hurricane Katrina which was extremely large and powerful semi destroyed it.

Meanwhile I was painting daily and had rented a studio in Sausalito while living in Laguanitas and eventually Fairfax. I was painting oils and watercolors and also making kinetic sculptures. The watercolors were for the most part my recollections of the bayou country on coastal Mississippi via moonlight/cloud/waterscapes. These I sent back to my gallery in Ocean Springs, Ms and they framed and sold them in quantity. I was also showing locally in the North Bay Area and joined with a group of artist to form the first and still going Sausalito Arts Festival. Even though I was primarily a painter I ended up as chairperson of the sculpture dept. of this organization. (Yes, there are politics in art.) We had made so much money during the festival(s) that we were able to lease a huge building and equipped it with all sorts of art tools and processes.

We then offered classes in a wide range of mediums and methods. By now I was living in Fairfax where I had both a painting and hot metal studio set up in an old barn. The watercolors I was sending to Ocean Springs, Ms. were selling rapidly at this point and this was my major income until that gallery closed . My sculptures had evolved into sound oriented pieces and through this process I developed a number of musical instruments with the Waterphone being the main one. My musician friends began inviting me to sit in on the sessions and play along with my oddities which I did often. Finally we formed a band called the Gravity Adjusters Expansion Band and began performing on new and unusual musical instruments throughout the Bay Area and Northern California.

In the early 70’s I borrowed enough money to purchase a 2 & 1/2 acre piece of land with a small cottage and a very small studio. This was near Sebastopol about 50 miles north of San Francisco. I was working in jazz and new music bands at night and painting and building musical instruments by day. The instruments had gained a certain amount of recognition among musicians and several well known recording artist from Los Angelos flew up to purchase Waterphones and other instruments and sound devices I was making.

Meanwhile I had shifted over from oils to painting acrylics and watercolors but had stopped painting the Mississippi swamp/bayou scenes and began painting the California hills, coast, and skies. Some of these were moonlight nights or misty, foggy landscapes. The acrylics were more into mandalas and abstract expressionism and I was also doing some figurative paintings.

My economic situation was not so good so I opened “A Bamboo Shoot” nursery and began propagating a wide range of bamboo which I sold and shipped world wide. I became very active in the American Bamboo Society and helped to form both the Northern California and the Hawaii chapter of the ABS and served on the board of directors for both groups.

My musical instrument business was getting some attention mostly due to the waterphone and its success on a number of sound tracks. There were also a number of touring groups utilizing the waterphone as well as other instruments I made. I became active in graphics on my computer and began first with bamboo drawings and then more complex abstractions as well as land/water scapes. Although I lead a life split between making musical instrument and painting, it seems to fit well as I do not like doing any one thing all of the time.