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Bayou Artist | Walter Green

By Nathan Coker
In Bayou Artist
Jul 1st, 2024
0 Comments
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ARTICLE BY STARLA GATSON
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLY MOORE CLARK

New Mexico native Walter Green, now residing in Ruston, LA, finds creative inspiration in his extensive travels and diverse life experiences, blending memories of his youth with reflections on the world around him through his art.

WHILE SEEING THE WORLD another’s eyes isn’t totally possible, looking at one of Walter Green’s paintings gets you pretty close.Though the New Mexico native draws inspiration from the things he’s seen and the long list of places he has visited, he doesn’t paint exactly what he sees. Instead, Green paints the subject matter as he remembers it, allowing the viewer to see something like a desert scene or marshy, bayou landscape from his point-of-view.

Though he did not begin pursuing art professionally until he met his wife — “She encouraged me to become a working artist,” he explains,” — Green had already been creating for years prior. He says his artistic ability was noticeable from a young age, noting with a chuckle, “I always excelled in biology because I could draw the specimens so well.” At just 12 years old, his uncle gifted Green his old paint box, paintbrushes, and a few pointers. He was an artist who had just returned from studying in Paris, Green recalls, adding, “He saw I had some talent, I guess.” 

From that day on, Green was hooked. He began painting the things he was enthralled by — sunsets, animals, plants, and landscapes characteristic to the U.S. Southwest, the region he called home at the time — and continued doing so throughout his high school years. When Green graduated from high school, he headed to the Army. But active duty did not make him put his paintbrush down. He created when he could, even doing poster work for the military while he served. 

When Green’s military career ended, he relocated to Denver, Colorado, where he met his now-wife, Ramona. Not long after, the pair made their way to Ruston. Thanks to G.I. Bill Benefits, he could enroll at Louisiana Tech University and earn the first of his two art degrees. The second he would earn at the Allende Institute in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico. 

The combination of Green’s formal art education and his immersion in Mexican culture caused his art to evolve. Elements of the pre-Columbian art he encountered in Mexico crept into his pieces, and artists like Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, and Diego Rivera influenced Green and his work heavily. 

“It all kind of comes together,” Green says, referring to the people and places that influence his work and inspire him to create. 

Green had a few shows in Mexico before he and his wife returned to the United States, back to his roots in New Mexico. They settled in the mountains, he tells BayouLife, and stayed there for several years, showing art in galleries in Taos and Santa Fe. Green was making a living with his art, and things were going well — until they weren’t.

“I think there was a drought in the art market,” Green says, recalling the point when he and his wife decided to move again. This time, they were heading east, back to North Louisiana to be near Ramona’s family. Unfortunately, returning to Louisiana didn’t alleviate the financial strain the art market drought put on him and his family. His work wasn’t selling like it once had, seemingly because Ruston residents didn’t connect to the images he was painting. 

“I wasn’t finding the interest I found earlier,” Green says. “I was still painting desert scenes and mountains and nudes. And [nudes] aren’t quite as acceptable in certain areas of the country as they are in others.”

When painting alone wasn’t enough to support his family, Green began working as a carpenter. He also applied for a position at his alma mater, Louisiana Tech. Green was hired as an adjunct instructor — later, he’d be promoted to Professional-in-Residence —  in the university’s architecture department. 

Green says accepting the job was the right move at the time, explaining, “I enjoyed teaching. I had done a lot of building design and build work in New Mexico. I had gotten interested in architecture a little bit. So, that helped with getting into the department here.” 

This position at Louisiana Tech was not Green’s first experience as an instructor. He taught at the Allende Art Institute and Northern New Mexico Community College in the late seventies and early eighties, respectively. However, his time in the university’s School of Design was by far his longest term as an educator. Green was hired in 1999 and taught classes like Communication Skills, Foundation Design, and Studio Problems/Water Media until his retirement in 2021.

Green continued making art while teaching, sharing, “I maintained my studio here at home and had works on the easel all the time. I continued to paint just to keep my own interests alive.” But now, since retiring, he has time to focus more of his energy on his paintings.

Just as he always has, Green draws much of his inspiration from his environment. Of course, he can’t forget where he came from. That’s why desert scenes still make their way into his artwork. Besides, he adds, the desert is a highly spiritual place, so it’s no wonder he’s still so drawn to it.

“You can feel the vibration of what individual plants are putting off,” he explains. “It’s almost like they’re speaking to me from a time long, long ago.” 

But now, having lived happily and comfortably in Ruston for so many years, depictions of swamps and southern greenery have shown up in Green’s paintings. He also finds himself painting more figures than he used to, often enlisting his wife or granddaughter to model for his work.

He sums up his work, a combination of his past and present, succinctly, musing, “I’d say I’m sort of trying to bring in the world around me to mingle with the world of my youth that I remember.” 

As he mingles worlds, Green pays careful attention to the more technical aspects of painting. It’s these little, more intentional decisions that bring his artwork to life.

“I work with trying to keep the flatness of the material, and then I work with the fact that you can create this sense of depth and move into something where you can actually walk into my canvas and walk around,” he says. “The people, plants, and animals almost appear to come alive.” 

The ability to bring his images to life is another reason he’s partial to oil paints, he explains, adding, “[Oil paint] gives me time to work with it and move the paint around on the canvas and work with different brushstrokes that bring out a sense of liveliness. The light reflects off the colors in different ways and creates an image that each viewer’s going to see a little differently because of the way each person perceives color. I like to experiment with that and bring out my own visions as well.” 

The visions Green has and puts onto canvases tend to be a bit idealistic. But he isn’t naive. He knows the world isn’t perfect and has its tragic, dark, and messy sides. However, he chooses not to bring them into his art. Instead, he focuses on the more picturesque, encouraging aspects of whatever he’s painting.

“I try to find things that are uplifting to give people a sense that there is some hope for humanity,” he explains. “I just hope I can create something beautiful in this world that can last.”