KTWU Sunflower Journeys 1608C - Anthony Benton Gude
Produced by Dave Kendall
Anthony Gude, Marshall County, KS: I've drawn and painted just on my own pretty much all my life since I was a small child. But after finishing school and trying odd jobs here and there -- construction, whatever -- it was my mother's suggestion -- why don't I go to art school and see if I liked it. So I figured 'yeah, that sounds like a good idea … I don't know what else to do!'
Narrator: Born in New England on the island of Martha's Vineyard, Anthony Benton Gude attended art school in Boston. After graduating, he decided to return to Kansas, where he'd lived during his teenage years.
Anthony Gude: I came back here to Kansas and just saw the light on the native grass in the fall and the way the sunlight just kind of reflects off the land and melts into it. In contrast to the cold blue light of New England, the warm golden light of Kansan was just what I was looking for. And I said 'This is it. I've got to paint here.'
Narrator: Anthony and his family live in the hills of southeastern Marshall County on a small farm that Thomas Hart Benton, Anthony's grandfather, purchased in the early '70s.
Anthony Gude: We looked and this farm was for sale. And so Granddad came out; he looked it over; he made some sketches. He went back to his studio and he painted a picture of the barnyard with old silo in there and sold the painting to a fellow in Kansas City and then used the proceeds from the sale of the painting to buy the land … so he bought this farm with a painting of it. He would come out … oh, for the last few years of his life he'd always come out at least a couple times a year. He'd like to come out looking for morels and in the fall he'd like to come out and do sketches -- enjoying the fall colors.
Fall colors, I think … especially having known New England … the fall colors of Kansas I find to be as beautiful if not more beautiful. They're subtle and there's a softness that is not as bright in your face, almost gaudy qualities of the New England fall with the intense reds and oranges. That slow quality of the yellow in the cottonwoods when the oaks are still green, then the prairie grass turns orange and with all the colors in the prairie grasses. That color combination you just can't beat as an artist, as far as I'm concerned. You have a full color spectrum right there and it's all happening at once. If you wanted to imagine that, you know to come up with the perfect color spectrum of pattern in a painting, I don't think you get any better than what we have here.
Narrator: Living in the country and being actively engaged with the daily chores and seasonal activities around this organic farming operation, Anthony has developed a special affinity for farm life and the bucolic scenes that surround him.
Anthony Gude: I've done a lot of farm scenes over the last few years. I wanted to capture -- while it's still in existence -- the essence of the family farm. It may be nostalgic, but I figured it was something worth painting … and I've done those works, which unfortunately are now all scattered in private collections and not all can be shown or seen as a single show. With the amount of work I've done, my bread-and-butter has been in the commissions and large pieces. I've gotten into doing murals, which I didn't think I would be interested in doing murals. That's something that kind of fell into my lap.
Narrator: As if he'd hit the jackpot, a casino gave Anthony his first big commission as a muralist. Located adjacent to the Missouri River near St. Joe, the Frontier Casino commissioned him to paint a series of murals that now line the entryway leading in to the casino. These murals depict various aspects of local history.
Anthony Gude: I researched the history for about 3 months. I really kind of absorbed it -- the early history -- and let the images come back at me. What I was going to use. Started making sketches. I love history. I'm a student of history. I studied history. I studied American history all my life. So actually doing these murals where I am depicting it or painting it is something I really enjoy. I definitely enjoy painting historical pieces.
Narrator: The casino had originally commissioned Anthony to paint three murals, but that changed after his work began to take shape.
Anthony Gude: They liked the first three so much, they contracted me to do another one as well, so it ended up as four large panels that they were very satisfied with and I cut my teeth on that job as a muralist. After that, my gallery in Kansas City got me the job with Western Resources.
Narrator: The headquarters of Western Resources, now known as Westar Energy, are located in downtown Topeka. In the lobby of this building, Anthony Gude has created another large mural that presents images reminiscent of the electrical utility's past as well as contemporary scenes. Those familiar with the murals of Thomas Hart Benton may find some similarities, but Anthony says he's not attempting to mimic his grandfather's style.
Anthony Gude: Although a lot of people have said 'yeah, I see Benton or you see Benton in here,' I don't see that. I'm not trying to emulate that style at all. This, to me, is my style, and if there's similarities, well that's natural. And in my murals I like to have a dynamic relationship happening between the figures as kind of the glue that connects the collage of images that are happening and it's the relationship between the characters within the mural that I find are very interesting to paint although it's challenging. It has been a challenge for me.
I guess I'm my worst critic and living out here in the country I don't have too many people come down. The artists I know live in Lawrence or Topeka or Kansas City or beyond. So, I'm isolated out here, which I guess is pretty good because I've been successful doing what I do without being influenced by some of the trends that go on in the art world. Certainly if I listened to the trends of the day I shouldn't be painting representation paintings; I should be into the abstract. But over the last ten years the representational painters have gotten more respect and have hung on and survived and continue to survive pretty well.
I don't think you can get any better than what we have here. There are some beautiful places in this country, and there are plenty of more places that I want to paint, but Kansas … I'll be painting for the rest of my life. I don't think I can run out of ideas or situations that need painting.
Reprinted on this site by permission of Dave Kendall, May 10, 2004.
This transcript is from KTWU's Sunflower Journeys 2003 season.
A production of:
KTWU Channel 11
Topeka, KS 66621