Butch Peace (Herman Peace, Jr.) knew as a small boy in the hill country of Texas that he was destined to be an artist. His parents, both schoolteachers, would “do anything for a kid” especially if it involved education, so they exposed him to artwork. As a child, though, he was overwhelmed by the work he saw – not realizing that creating art is in part a learn-able skill.
He put artwork on the back burner for years, and pursued a different career. At the age of 35 he was a helicopter pilot, ferrying oil workers to offshore rigs. Once on the rig he had time on his hands, and one day picked up a book from the oil rig coffee table: The Natural Way to Draw. He read that you have to make 10,000 mistakes, see them, recognize them, and correct them, in order to order to learn. And for the first time it all made sense.
From that point on, he started taking week-long workshops. “Then I was gaining altitude,” he says. Thanks to his flying career he was able to save up some money, and decided it was time to pursue art more intensively. He contacted the Art Students’ League and asked where to study. He also wanted to learn to speak French,, so was hoping for an opportunity to study there. The League told him there was a man who’d taught there for 27 years, and who was a very strict teacher, but that he’d just move to France. So Butch quit his job and moved to France. He believed: “If you’re going to do it, get the hardest situation you can and within a month or so you’ll know whether it’s a wast or not.”
Butch studied with Ted Jacobs for four years, and stayed in France an additional year, teaching at Les Ateliers Sans Frontieres. He then set up a studio in Dallas, Texas for a while before settling in Wilmington.
Butch credits his rigorous training with Jacobs as having prepared him to move on to any painting he wishes to do. He spent a lot of time studying the Old Masters, such as Reubens and Van Dyke. There are dead solid immutable rules. These guys knew the rules. “Now, no matter what painting problem he’s trying to solve, he’s got the mental tool box to solve it. If he’s not finding a solution, it’s because, he’s “jousting with his own personal dragons,” not concentrating as hard as he should. The realistic works he knows how to paint are not necessarily the end point, but he thinks everyone should learn all the can about realistic painting before the go find their own painting voice.
When he is not painting, Butch likes to create mezzotints. He learned to make prints during a summer in France; he later used his “George W. rebate check” to buy himself a little press, Printmaking gives him a break from painting, and he can work on copper plates at home in the evening. And since he can make multiple prints from one plate, he can sell the resulting mezzotint pieces at an affordable price. He also likes working with machines.
Describing what he considers great art, Butch referred to a Titian painting, “the one of the old man with his grand-daughter, shielding the candle flame, and you can see his hand illuminated like we would today with a flashlight; that’s great; that’s a technique thing. But what you also realize is that grandfathers 300 years ago felt about grand-daughters the same way I feel about mine. That’s what a painting should be.”
Artistic talent makes itself known in some of least likely places. In this case, it was the Saudi Arabian desert, right after one of those many forlorn wars over there, when I first encountered the amazing art of Herman Peace (known in that way Texans have, simply as Butch). They were paintings of such raw, and stunning talent that you could only wonder what he doing as a helicopter pilot in the Persian Gulf. That was a lifetime or two ago, and since then I have had a ringside seat to all that talent wrestling itself free from whatever has been thrown in its way. It simply will not be kept down. Butch has clamored aboard the art world express, fueled with a healthy sense of what truly matters in life and in art. With stops in France and various ateliers across America, he has surveyed the world with a wry eye, turning out works of visual art that never cease to please, challenge and amaze. And, I am blessed to have several of them in my home in California. I look forward to seeing what comes next.