I ‘m not jealous of Jeff Legg. Really.
Sure, a Jeff Legg painting sells for about 12 times what a Scott Freeman painting of comparable size sells for, but I’m not jealous. It is true that Jeff bears the title of “Signature-Master-Royal-Highness-Whoop-tee-Doo-Painter,” (or something like that,) in the OPA, an organization that has never accepted any of my work in either its national or regional shows. But how could I be jealous of a guy who would do something like what I’m about to tell you?
For the past several years I’ve participated in an autumn plein air painting event in Estes Park, Colorado. Like me, Jeff is pretty much a local guy, when he’s not off winning top awards, or rolling around in the storehouse full of 100 dollar bills, which I assume he has somewhere. Jeff is not primarily a plein air painter. My guess is that he does the plein air event just for the fun of it, and to enjoy the camaraderie of little people, like myself. For a painting god, Jeff is a humble and down-to-earth guy.
At these national plein air painting festivals there is an event that bears the embarrassing name of “The Quick Draw” event. (Get it? Like a cowboy? ‘Cause a lot of these festivals happen out West?) Except that we don’t draw. We paint. Some organizers have noticed this and called their events “The Quick Paint,” which is only slightly less embarrassing, because it’s still awkward but without the clever, cowboy double entendre. But now nothing can ever be done about this because Quick Draw events are big crowd pleasers and a lot of fun, and the plein air crowd is familiar with the term. I think they should call it “The Stress Out” event.
The way it works is, all of the participating artists gather together at one location and set up their easels. Usually there are a couple of models dressed up and posed, but artists are free to paint whatever they want to. The caveat is that we can’t work from photographs, and we must all start with a bare canvas. We start when the gun goes off. (OK…the whistle, but this is theoretically the only time an actual gun could be used in the event. If they’re going to call it a Quick Draw, I think they should at least use a gun, so I’m going to say “gun.”) An hour and a half later, when the gun goes off again, we lay our brushes down, frame our completed paintings, and the work goes up for public auction. It’s all live plein air and alla prima; often impasto and sometimes contrapposto with chiaroscuro, but only rarely trompe l’ oeil. With Antipasto typically following. (This sentence exhausts my entire repertoire of pretentious French and Italian art terms.)
Quick Draw events are actually quite fascinating if you are interested in art. Patrons can walk from artist to artist and see how different artists approach the craft of painting. Often little crowds will gather around artists as their paintings begin to take shape. It’s quite fun. It is not forbidden to feed or talk to the artists. Plein air painting is kind of my thing, and I’ve won several awards at Quick Draw events. Since I’ve done quite a bit of portrait painting, I usually paint a model because the public seems to enjoy watching a portrait take shape.
Jeff Legg, on the other hand, is known for his sumptuous still life painting. One year he brought his own blue vase and a cut cantaloupe to the Quick Draw event, and set up a small still life on a rock ledge. I thought this was a cop out, but I didn’t say anything. But one of the participating gallery owners did say something. The complaint was along the lines of, “That’s not fair because he might’ve painted that vase before.”
This was a ridiculous complaint, because all of the landscape painters had painted mountains and trees before and nobody was complaining. Apparently, Jeff quietly made a mental note. It didn’t help matters that Jeff’s painting won an award. Third place. I took second. Just sayin’. Yes, the OPA reject placed ahead of the awesome OPA Master painting god. But in all fairness I should probably mention that my starting bid was $400, and his was $2400. And he sold his. Not bad for an hour and half of work. Then he went over and tried to buy it back from the buyer because he could’ve gotten more for it in a gallery, which only further proves that Jeff Legg inhabits a different reality than do I.
After the Antipasto we all went home, Estes Park closed down, snow fell, spring came, summer went, and the next plein air event rolled around. The morning of the Quick Draw event arrived. The park in downtown Estes buzzed excitedly and filled up with art lovers. Jeff Legg arrived and set up his easel in front of a freaking bush. When the starting gun went off, Jeff stared into the bush and began to paint intently. As the hour wore on, the hushed voices of onlookers expressed puzzlement that Jeff seemed to be painting not a bush, but a turquoise vase and cantaloupe on a ledge! They stared into the bush, but there was no cantaloupe. No vase. They walked around the bush. It was like some sort of smart-alecky miracle! For me it was one of the finest moments in the history of poorly named events. I don’t think Jeff won an award that year because everyone was so confused, but more importantly, he didn’t break any rules!
I spoke with Jeff a couple of years later, trying to express how that story has made my life better. He humbly justified his actions, saying, “Well…all painting is done from memory. I just remembered what I was painting for a longer period than everyone else.” Brilliant. How could I ever be jealous of Jeff Legg?
I regret that I have no photos of Jeff, but you can view his work at http://www.jefflegg.com (There is no charge for viewing Jeff’s work online.)