When Richard Van De Water and I arrived at the beautifully restored Arcade building to photograph Blue Sky for this month’s feature, the man we met exuded “cool artist” vibes with a cowboyish swagger. “When referring to you as the celebrity you are,” I began, “those of us out on the street always just refer to you as Blue Sky, but how do you prefer to be addressed? Mr. Sky?” He paused to consider a moment before replying without the trace of a smile, “Your Majesty will suffice.”
He continued, “I changed my name back in the ’70s. Not sure why I did that. But then it was crazy in California.” He explained that he had been living in Santa Monica but decided six years was enough. “I wanted to come back to Columbia,” he said. “This is home. My family’s family is from here; we’ve been here hundreds of years. Things have meaning here for me — the creeks, the rivers, the forests, the swamps, the lakes, the farms. Even living by the Santa Monica Pier, the ‘Eiffel Tower of America,’ I’d still rather be in Columbia. How many cities have rivers like Columbia? I just love it.”
As Richard set up his lights, I asked if we could start with him seated at his chess board, centered in the gallery. “Okay, but I hate chess. Even if I was in jail I wouldn’t want to play it. Waste of time.”
As we moved around his studio, shooting various portrait poses as well as pictures of his art, I paused in front of Foggy Dome, a misty, moody painting of the State House from Main Street (see page 78). “The wires weren’t there in real life, but the painting needed them,” he volunteered. “Why?” I asked. “Because when you have a hazy, foggy scene, something magical happens when you add a crisp line like that.” “I dabble in watercolors,” I replied, “so I will have to remember that.”
In August, I received a text inviting me to come do a still life exercise in his gallery. It was fascinating to see his approach to beginning a piece. “When you back up, everything falls onto a similar plane and eliminates awkward angles,” he explained, “so back up and then crop in on the photo if you want to frame it close up. It’s also good to cut off something symmetrical. The eye knows what the rest of it looks like, and it adds interest.” Pointing to the bottom of the vase, he said, “Always give your subject roots. The eye wants to see the base where it is anchored.”
As we sketched from the gallery sofa, looking alternatively at the photos on our phones as well as the still life in front of us, he talked about his love of cats, cars, and music. Read more about this accomplished artist who has become a legend in our community on page 78.