Some of the things Dee Boyles sees aren’t visible to anyone but him, until he captures them with his pen, paintbrush or clay.
Take the character Boyles calls “Cowboy Bob,” as lean and rangy of a cowpoke as you’ve ever seen. In one whimsical sculpture, Cowboy Bob rides a frog that’s bucking and snorting like a wild bronco. In another, the frog takes his revenge; only Bob’s hat and boots are still visible outside the amphibian’s lips as it prepares to take one last swallow.
In another of his functional ceramics, the cowboy takes his last ride. En route to heaven, he gallops his frog over a scowling moon, in which a rocket is embedded a la the 1902 Georges Méliès film, “A Trip to the Moon.” The sculpture is a teapot, with the rocket as the spout.
Boyles, a longtime painter, illustrator and graphic artist, began creating 3-D works only after moving to McMinnville six years ago. He took a class in fantasy polymer sculpture led by Curt Chiarelli at Currents Gallery.
Although the sculptural form was new to him, Boyles said it reawakened him to “things I did as an illustrator ... absurd, weird things.”
Boyles first embraced the absurd and the visual as a boy growing up in Roseburg. He said he often “got away with a lot” by drawing instead of writing papers.
Recalling that, he laughed when he described his most recent project: writing a book using characters he developed as a backstory for his visual art. “Maybe it will be more of a graphic novel, or a screenplay for an animated film,” he said.
After a stint in the Army, he settled down in Portland where his brother had a woodworking shop. He did woodcarving and painting on his own. He taught art as an adjunct at Clackamas Community College, University of Portland and Portland State.
And, “to make a meager living,” he worked as a graphic designer and illustrator.
“In the early ’70s, graphic design hadn’t really developed that far,” he recalled.
He considered making the move to Seattle, where there would be more opportunities for full-time work as an illustrator. But a summer trip to Alaska changed the course of his life.
“It’s a beautiful place,” said Boyles, who found a job as the art director for an ad firm in Anchorage. He also did freelance work for several years and spent a lot of time hiking Alaska’s valleys and glaciers in search of scenery to paint.
Then he received a call from the Anchorage Daily News. The editor, who had seen his ad work, offered him a job not in advertising, but as art director.
Boyles created graphs and charts for new stories and page layouts and illustrations for features. He won numerous regional and national awards for his work.
And he was part of the staff, contributing illustrations, when the Daily News won a Pulitzer Prize for its series about fetal alcohol syndrome.
“It was an amazing newspaper,” he recalled. “I was very free there — management let people do what they did best.”
He might create a full-page layout for the food section showing Marco Polo bringing pasta back from China, for instance, or a sketch of Clint Eastwood for the entertainment section. Sometimes writers gave him detailed instruction, he said, but usually they told him about their topic and let him translate it visually.
The work was often last-minute. “A week would have made me happy,” he said.
During his tenure at the Daily News, 1983 to 1995, newspapers were becoming more visual, driven by the emergence of USA Today, competition from television and improving technology. It was a great time to be an art director, he said.
Still, newspapers then were far less computerized than they are today. Typesetting no longer was done by hand, but much of the work was.
Production staff cut up sections of printed type, coated the back with wax, and stuck it down on full-size pages. Graphics artists used screens, Amberlith and overlays to create different colors. Their graphics camera was so huge, it had to be mounted on rails to be moved.
“Now all that is done on a computer,” he said, somewhat envious at the flexibility and ease today’s designers enjoy.
Boyles said he loved working for newspapers. But it was a challenging job with constant deadlines and intense pressure.
He put some of that pressure on himself.
“I always wanted to do a better job,” he said. “I’m pretty obsessive.”
During his years in Alaska, Boyles continued painting watercolors. The medium was often a challenge there, since paint would freeze onto the paper immediately much of the year. However, when the sun was out, he had plentiful light almost around the clock.
He taught art while working at the newspaper, and became a full-time instructor at the University of Alaska during his last two years in the state.
But he was getting tired of the dark and cold. When the Orange County Register tempted him with a job in Southern California, he was interested.
“We went for the interview in February, when it was dark and snowy in Anchorage,” he said. “In Orange County, we stopped in Laguna Beach.
“It was the smell of jasmine and people on the beach in shorts. I said yes.”
At the Register, Boyles worked first as features art director, then art director supervising a staff of 35. The problem was, he spent his time overseeing others rather than creating art himself. “That didn’t suit me,” he said.
He finally left newspapers to pursue his first love, painting. He switched to oils and worked mostly in the plein air style, creating his paintings while on site in Laguna Beach and other parts of California. Some of his paintings is almost photographic; other pieces are more impressionistic.
As much as he and his wife loved the sunshine of Southern California, they kept thinking of the Northwest. They considered moving to Washington, then looked at homes in Newberg. When their Yamhill County real estate agent suggested they tour a home in McMinnville, they fell in love.
They moved into their bungalow six years ago. It features a basement art show where he can pursue any of his favorite media, including clay, polymer, wood block or painting — any style but plein air, of course.
He loves doing both two-dimensional and 3-D art, but plein air remains his first love. It’s an exciting challenge, he said, because when painting in the open, he must work quickly to capture the elusive light and shadows.
In Oregon, he goes out in all sorts of weather — in fact, the scene can be at its most dramatic when the weather is changing. The older he gets, though, the more he prefers sunny days, he joked.
Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or email@example.com.
BOYLES' WORK CAN BE SEEN IN 'THE WIZ'
Artist Dee Boyles designed scenic backgrounds, masks and Dorothy's house for Gallery's production of "The Wiz."
To get started, he said, he talked with the director, Mark Pederson, and looked at both the play script and the original "Wizard of Oz" book. Then he drew his impressions of Oz, Munchinland and other locations in the play.
For Dorothy's house, he created the exterior of a prairie farmhouse, then opened it up to show the interior, as well. The house is supposed to fly apart in a tornado, he explained.
Boyles also has done posters for Willamette Shakespeare, an outdoor theater company founded by his former McMinnville neighbors, Daniel and Sydney Sommerfield.