Artist of the Month: Gilbert L. Stroker

The Swimmer (acrylic, 40×30) by Gilbert L. Stroker was a Landscape/Interior finalist in the 25th Annual Art Competition. Stroker is our July 2009 Artist of the Month.

Residence: Singer Island, Florida

His art career: My love of art began in grade school, where my teacher often had me do illustrations on the blackboards. I remember doing a scene in colored chalk for a geography lesson about Mexico. I won several awards in city school art exhibitions. I never had any formal art education—I’m basically self-taught.

I spent three years in the Marine Corps. After my discharge, I worked as a machinist, met my wife, married and had four children. I took some local art classes in the Pittsburgh area and joined the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

After my retirement, I moved from Pittsburgh to Singer Island, Florida. The atmosphere here is very inspirational—the sunsets, the clouds, the beaches. We live in a condo on the ocean. My easel is set up in the corner of our dining room with a lot of light and views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the intercoastal waterway on the other. The inspiration for this painting, The Swimmer, was from a photograph I’d taken from my balcony. I have a Sony SLR digital camera that I use to make references for my paintings.

His process: I usually start by applying a light tone to the background of the canvas. Then I quickly rough in the key subjects, focusing at this point on basic forms, shapes and the overall composition. Then I’ll work my core colors into the canvas from dark to light, adding the necessary detail as I paint.

About this painting: I mainly work in acrylics, and my palette usually consists of about seven colors. I love the warm colors of Florida, and that had a heavy influence on The Swimmer, which took about three months to complete. The time I spend on my paintings depends for the most part on the level of detail required to bring the subject matter to life.

I’m a controlled, meticulous painter. When something doesn’t feel right, I’ll set a painting aside and work on another project to clear my mind. While painting The Swimmer, I had to deal with some particularly difficult physical challenges. One month into the project I had open-heart surgery and was unable to paint for almost six months. Once my health improved, though, I started painting again and found it to be mentally and physically therapeutic.

His most rewarding moment: In 1993, I submitted a painting to a juried show in Pittsburgh and won Best of Show. Shortly after the show ended, the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts contacted me about a patron who wanted to buy the painting. While I anguished over the decision, I finally agreed to sell the painting. A few weeks later, I got a letter from the patron who purchased the painting. She said art was her passion and that over the years she’d visited many galleries and bought many works of art. She said my painting had found a gentle home as the centerpiece of her collection. When the challenges of life catch up with me, I remember back to the day I read the letter for the first time, and I think, “Every day is a good day to paint.”

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