OF PAUL BUXMAN
and images by Andrew Shinn
white-ish clouds float lazily overhead in a blue
sky, as Paul Buxman is busy pulling colors from
the scene in front of him and applying them to
his canvas. Paul is a farmer, musician,
teacher, and one-time grade school principal,
but today he’s only thinking about painting.
Standing behind him, I occasionally pick up the
scent of brandy-fermented toasted Cavendish tobacco.
The scent wafts my direction on the gentle breeze.
Just like the colors in his paintings, Paul Buxman
lives a vibrant, colorful life.
is an impressionistic Plein Air artist.
But mostly he’s known for his use of color.
The plein air part means that he works on location,
painting very quickly to capture the light he
sees in the scene in front of him. Some
artists claim this creates a sense of honesty
in a painting that is hard to achieve working
indoors, painting from a photograph. The
impressionistic part means that he captures a
scene that preserves the general visual feel without
painting minute details that are too realistic.
Famous impressionists include Pierre-Auguste Renoir,
Edgar Degas, and Claude Monet.
that same day, as Paul and I scouted a location
for today’s painting, he talked through
the season, time of day, what’s happening
in nature this time of year, the light, and all
the other factors that produce the colors he’s
so attuned to. This isn’t unique to
his painting; Paul seemingly enjoys talking through
the reasons for everything he does, from his farming
practices to his choice of the pipe tobacco he
takes with him while painting. As he talks,
he reveals the colors of his own life.
before we arrive at his chosen destination, Buxman
displays a comprehensive knowledge of the colors
we’ll see. He knows the mountains
and what gives them their varying colors. He approaches
the landscape with a farmer’s sensibility,
anticipating colors that will appear as the light
drive east, and Paul displays an impressive knowledge
of each road and vista. He points out hills and
orchards, and I recognize them from his work.
He could easily be a tour guide for the area.
He claims that every square acre within a 20-mile
radius of his house appears in at least one of
his paintings. From anyone else I’d doubt
this, but Paul’s painting career has been
prolific: he’s managed an impressive 50
paintings per year for the last 35 years.
we choose a spot to paint, I’m not impressed
with the view. Paul says, “There’s
nothing grand; I like these simplistic spots.”
But Paul knows what he’s looking for, and
a painting is already taking shape in his mind.
We drive over a rough dirt road, up a hill next
to an orange grove. He starts pulling supplies
from the trunk of his 1994 Honda Prelude. His
painting kit is sparse but well-planned, and includes
items like boots, a black t-shirt, an umbrella,
miniature bungee cords, and a cheap, collapsible
easel. He climbs a hill and sets up the easel,
using the umbrella and black t-shirt to block
the afternoon sun from falling on his canvas.
It’s critical to his painting that he sees
the colors accurately, and he takes the setup
time to make that possible. He’s already
prepared the 16x20-inch canvas he’ll use
for today’s artwork. Though vibrant colors
are his trademark, his starting point is a bleak
own colorful career started at Wheaton College
in Wheaton, Illinois, near Chicago. He had been
planning to go to art school in San Francisco
or Los Angeles, but in those days California schools
were only teaching modern art, not the impressionist
style Paul wanted to pursue. His older brother
and sister were Wheaton graduates, and he met
Karl Steele, an art professor, during a trip to
see them. Steele was an impressionist painter
who had studied under the famous Robert Henri.
Showing a great deal of pluck, Buxman eschewed
all talk of classes and programs, asking instead
to see Steele’s own paintings. What he saw
evidently impressed him, as Buxman finished his
Bachelor’s degree in fine art from Wheaton
four years later.
After setting up his easel and paints, Paul starts
describing the scene in front of us using colors.
I don’t see the colors in front of me until
he illuminates them. Robert Henri said, “It
is harder to see than it is to express. The whole
value of art rests in the artist’s ability
to see well into what is before him.” After
Buxman describes the colors he sees, I find that
after hearing them described, they’re unavoidable.
works very quickly, sketching a blue frame of
the scene in front of him. He moves a rock in
the foreground of the painting. “It’s
pretty easy to move mountains in this business,”
he says. He tosses the comment over his shoulder,
enjoying his own colorful irony. His hand flits
from canvas to palette, deftly choosing and mixing
colors. He seems to decide which colors to use
based on instinct. He says he doesn’t think
in terms of color theory. He internalized those
rules a long time ago, he said.
college, Paul taught at General Grant Middle School
in Reedley for two years. He told the principal
he wanted to teach art, and the principal just
laughed. He went on to teach, then serve as principal
at Miramonte Elementary School, which at that
time housed kindergarten through 8th grade classes.
He still teaches today, though not in a classroom
setting. He brings people along to paint with
him whenever he’s asked. He also lectures
and shows paintings for groups as close as Fowler
and as far away as Portland, Oregon. He has paintings
hanging in the halls of Congress and the world
headquarters of Chevron in Texas.
spending the afternoon with him, I’ve concluded
that the incredible colors in Paul Buxman’s
paintings don’t come from nature; they come
from Paul’s vision, personality and unique
view of the world. Robert Henri said, “Paint
what you feel. Paint what you see. Paint what
is real to you.” It’s a gift to all
of us that Paul Buxman shares his colors with