William Lee Golden is one of the most recognized personalities in Country and Gospel music, having garnered the highest accolades as a member of the legendary group The Oak Ridge Boys. Now, the renowned “Mountain Man” is climbing to new heights in the world of fine art. The Tennessee State Museum is hosting his paintings in Nashville June 3-13, 2010.
William and his wife Brenda graciously invited me to come see the paintings and honored me with the stories behind them, what inspired him to paint them and some personal history about the artwork.
Bev: William you have accomplished so many things with your music and now with this art exhibit, can you share how the Tennessee State Museum project came to be?
William: I have known Lois Riggins-Ezell for a lot of years, she is the Executive Director at the Tennessee State Museum. I had an exhibit at the Nashville International Airport and she was there. It started out for three months, then six months, then ten months. It was six of my large canvasses of landscapes. After that show I had one in Hendersonville at the Hendersonville Arts Council. It is a historic home here in Hendersonville. We had all of my paintings on display there. Lois came out the night we had our opening and through several conversations that followed, we soon were told that the Museum wanted to do a show during the CMA Festival. I am thrilled, because between fifty-thousand and sixty-thousand country music fans will be in Nashville. It worked out perfect for us.
Bev: Will you have some new paintings that have never before been on display elsewhere at this exhibit?
William: I have “Monet’s Water Garden”. One of the paintings I did while on vacation in St. Johns of the US Virgin Islands is of a little place we like to go; it is a Sunday jazz brunch right by the water’s edge called Lucy’s Place. I titled it “Lucy’s Cove”. The tables are right near the edge of the water and you sit right there. There is a nice tropical breeze in January, eighty five degrees, just so pleasant. It is near the house we rent in St. John, on the east side of the mountain.
Bev: Are most of the paintings you do landscapes?
William: All of them are landscapes.
Bev: Do you usually focus on a place you have been? Or do you sometimes let your imagination go and make up your own scenes?
William: So far, I have only painted things that I know, places I have been. My first painting was of hay bales right down the creek. Then I went back home where I grew up and took some photos of the home place. Our neighbor had a beautiful sandy lane with azaleas on each side of it. There were huge azaleas on the one side because she did not trim them and the other sides were two rows that were trimmed low. The ones behind just grew naturally tall, some of them were almost as tall as this room! Anyway, I painted that scene. That same trip I painted some lavender azaleas that were there by Pensacola Beach. I just stopped by a house where I saw them. They were pretty lavender azaleas that were all trimmed. I took some quick photos and worked from them. As I kept evolving I started reaching out further away from home. I painted some paintings of Brenda’s irises out in our yard and another set of irises over by the little side creek. But after the tornado, the tractors pretty well destroyed the irises and also the azaleas where I’d taken the photos of. The lady who owned them passed away a couple of years later and the family sold the property. I am not sure what happened with the people who bought it. Maybe it was because it was the time of the year when the azaleas were not in bloom but they came in with a bull dozer and just dozed it all out! So it seems like places that I’ve painted are changed now. I painted a scene at Calendars Lane that is now called Indian Lake Boulevard. Lady Bird Johnson had something which she initiated called Beautification Program. It was for roadside beautification. She wanted communities and states to beautify the roads. A lot of states planted flowers and trees that would be blooming at the entrances to their state to welcome visitors and travelers. Hendersonville had a program where they had wild flowers. They had a section where they would disk it in the winter and plant a wide variety of flowers. They had a lot of poppies. And there were a variety of different flowers growing amidst them. Within the first year or so that I started painting, I would drive by there and there would be artists out there with their easels, photographers there taking pictures. I stopped and met some of the artists from Nashville that would drive out every afternoon. There was one who painted several scenes. He would move and be painting in another spot the next time I saw him. He painted four or five paintings from that same setting. It was so vibrant. Every time you would drive by there it gave you a rush, it was so visually stimulating. I took several photos of the road and painted that setting too. Since then they have discontinued that wildflower program. I also painted the Grand Tetons. I think they will still be there for awhile. (chuckles)
Bev: You already had an established music career when you picked this up seriously, did you always dabble at it or did something inspire you?
William: I started about eight and a half years ago when my son, Solomon was an infant. Before he came along, Brenda and I would be riding around the countryside and on trips and when she was driving I would ask her to pull over to the side of the road so I could jump out of the car to take photographs of a scene. I would say how beautiful it was, that it could be a painting. Then I would say, “You know, one day I would like to try painting.” But I never went and bought the stuff to do it. I just kept putting it off. I seemed to always be doing other things. When Solomon was an infant, she had this big box under the Christmas tree. I saw my name on it and I thought “ The baby was about five months old then. On Christmas day I opened that box and inside was canvases, a pallet and brushes, paint and some books on painting and an envelope that had several photos in it and a card. It said “Okay, daddy. Now make us a picture. Brenda and Solomon.” So, I had no excuse not to pursue it. I had to figure out what to do and where to start. I took those photos and I would look at the horizons. Also, I am serious about trying to make it the best that I can. I feel like with each painting I grow and continue to grow as an artist. I have twenty-four paintings now I guess.
Bev: You have been a photographer for years and years also. Do you think that being a photographer first has given you an eye for being able to transport that into the paintings?
William: I think so. Being a lover of art and going to museums in our travels I have seen paintings and how they have been composed and are put into the setting. I think being a fan of art helped me get those compositions in my photos. Then doing the photographs I will think “this setting is what I want to accomplish” and I do the sky and the ground where I want it and then I zoom back and get a bigger view of it and then I will zoom in and get close-ups of all the different areas. I painted one down in St. John of a city on a hill overlooking a beach. I gave Kenny Chesney a smaller version of one of those. He pointed out that one of his two houses in St. John that he said was just over the hill. He said his house overlooks Cinnamon Bay.
Bev: How long does it take you to paint an average painting? Do you make time every day or is it something you just do in your “spare” or “down” time?
William: Well, “Monet’s Garden” I worked hard on everyday. When I was on the road, I could take it into the hotel with me and it took about three months. You work on it a little everyday and everything has several coats. The sky probably has eight or ten coats of paint . They may be thin layers. The water also has about ten coats to give it depth. Then at the end you start putting in different highlights like reflections of light. I had to paint the sky and the water first. I made a mark where they met so it actually starts out real abstract at first. Then you start putting layer upon layer on these abstracts and then you know where the land will actually be on the sides of the water. Then I start putting in the trees. There is a reflection on the water where they will be. There are several layers on each tree. You have to paint the other side of the tree first. After three or four hues of color in that particular setting, then I start putting the trunk into the tree and some limbs. Then I start putting the layers of foliage on them on my side so that the trunk is behind the foreground foliage on the tree so then it starts coming into its own. But then, with “Monet’s Water Garden“, I painted the little Japanese bridge at the far end of it, then you have to put the reflections of the bridge. Then there is the flowers growing around the bridge where you put a little reflection. The fun was when I got to all the different colors of flowers along the edge of the water. And the reflections into the water of the flowers and that starts to moving into the reflections of the shadow of the tree because the flowers are closer to the tree. The last thing that I painted in that was the water lilies on the water. It goes on top of the other things among the other flowers, in the shadow of a tree. When you paint a scene, you paint everything at a distance first. Then you slowly come forward.
Bev: You had mentioned that you take your artwork with you when you are on the road. Obviously when you are on the bus traveling you cannot paint due to the movement; and all of your paintings are on very big canvas, not small and easy to pack, is it difficult lugging all your painting tools along or do you have special accommodations on the bus?
William: I had something special built on the last bus we had. Now we have a brand new one and I do not have as much room, but I have a tray that was built under the piano where I can store my bags with all the paints and then I lay the canvass on top face up. I paint with acrylics so they are a fast drying medium. By the time I get packed up and take a load of all my painting supplies to the bus and get back, the canvass is dry. It does not bother it in any way. If something gets on it, it would not stick to it. Oil painting is a slower drying paint. It takes two or three days to pack those up. There are people who use a thing called liquid which thins the oil paint a little bit. It also makes oil dry overnight. Another words, you can paint today and tomorrow paint over it to do another coat.
Bev: Have you ever taken any formal art lessons?
William: Not really. Actually, I read about it while we are on the road. I have all these art books that I love. I am constantly absorbing what other artists are doing . I guess a lot of professional artists can flip through a book and be able to tell whose paintings are who’s without looking at a name. I can do that now as well. I have had people tell me that they can look at one my paintings and know it is mine even if I am not there. I do not know why that is.
Bev: Well, that is quite an honor! Do you have any kind of time frame or expectation of yourself when you start a new project?
William: As far as time goes, I guess I paint slower than most painters. Most paint much faster than I do, but I put several layers on everything. When I first started I was not that particular, but then as I read about other artists and realized their techniques, it is not unusual to have many layers building up in their work. I have gotten into taking my time and adding more layers to make it look a little better. I do not try and set a time limit.
Bev: I know you did something special with the CD that accompanies this art exhibit, what can you share about it?
William: The CD is titled "William Lee Golden - The Artist." It features and in-depth interview conducted by Kix Brooks about my art. There are six songs about painting featured during the interview. "The Singing Painter," "Paint Me A Birmingham," "I Go Back," "When I Paint My Masterpiece," and the classic, "Mona Lisa." Also featured on the CD singing back up are Jimmy Fortune (Statler Brothers), TG Sheppard, Kelly Lang, Sonja Isaac (The Isaacs) and Mark Lowry (Gaither Vocal Band). Jo-El Sonnier performs on a song as well. The CD will be released during my art exhibit, but what makes it even more special is you get two versions of each song! Kix Brooks narrates and interviews me about the story behind the song and the artwork, so it is a unique CD.
Bev: Is it hard for you to not sing as part of the group or does it seem strange to sing solo after having been part of a group for so long?
William: I love harmonies. I always have. That is the reason why I wanted to bring some friends of mine who are great singers and who offered to sing on the project with me. We invited them into sessions when I was cutting it and it really turned out great. It was fun mixing different harmonies with me, a lot different than with my singing partners, The Oakridge Boys. We work so much together, we do a hundred-fifty, a hundred sixty days on the road and I am sure that the last thing they want to do while they are home was to see me or be in a studio cutting some side project that I am doing. I am sparing them that. I would not want to lean on them.
Bev: Wm, what an honor and joy it has been today to visit with you and have a personal tour and showing of your artwork. I am truly amazed by your talents. Thank you.
William: My pleasure and I am looking forward to seeing you at the exhibit as well. Thank you for coming out here and letting me share some of the stories about the paintings.
For more information on William Lee Golden visit http://www.williamleegolden.com/
For more information on the Tennessee State Museum and how you can see William Lee Golden’s paintings visit http://www.tnmuseum.org/
Transcribed by Darlene McPherson