Romeo and Juliet had a rendezvous. Black-powder mountain men still do. Now a group of popular artists have joined the ranks with the annual Northwest Rendezvous near Kamas. For the past three years the group has gotten together for a four-day campout, cookout and paint-out.
And this past week's world of water and color was the most impressive to date. This is where Western painters let their hair down. Artists whose work is tightly controlled by galleries let loose with a few wild strokes. Last year painter Joseph Bohler tipped the camp cook with a small study later valued at $1,000.Here, your money's no good. All that matters is your presence.
"Every year we meet to have a little paint-out before the Northwest Rendezvous Show opens at the Kimball Gallery in Park City," says Jim C. Norton, a Santaquin artist. "We do a lot of little studies out here that we can take home and use as notes for future work. And a lot of things are kept in the memory from these four days that you don't even realize are there."
Finding the painters is a little like finding fishermen on a mountain stream. They're strung out for dozens of miles, holed up in little nooks and eddies, painting everything from trees to toads. Some stop on roadsides, prop up an easel and take a run at painting old barns, houses and pastures.
It's very peaceful, aside from an occasional tough in a pickup yelling, "Get a job!" at painters who make more than $500 an hour.
"It really is great," says Gary Kapp. "We paint, eat and sleep, and that's as close to heaven as it gets."
Adds Bob Morgan, a co-founder of the group: "You absorb a lot of things that come out later. I spend most of my time just looking. Standing in one place looking at something for two hours is more useful than any sketchbook I've seen."
The four-day getaway is a prelude of sorts to the monthlong show at Kimball. Major works by 42 major Western artists will be on display and on sale there through Sept. 28. (See related story in the Arts Section. For information phone 279-0140.)
And, truth to tell, many of the artists have been disappointed by the response.
"People haven't turned out the way we've hoped," says Norton. "In one Arizona show the artists will sell more than a million dollars worth of work in the first hour, but here we tend to struggle."
Even the wilderness "paint-out," with its incredible visuals and natural wonders, attracts little attention from the artistic community and even less from television and the print media.
Is the problem the word hasn't gotten out? Is there a built-in bias against popular art?
"I don't know," says Morgan. "I guess we'll have to look into it."
For collectors and fans who do get involved, however, the paint-out is a crash course in the painting life --a "Portrait of the Artist" in seven party colors. Around the campfire two old vets discuss the best brushes, conversations in other corners spin around topics of light, texture, bad motels, good restaurants, motorcycles, college professors and trout.
"When you're an outdoors painter you're up at 7 a.m. and go to bed at 9 p.m.," says Mitch Billis. "Sometimes weeks will go by when the only people I talk with are gas station attendants, so this is really good for me."
And the talk and visual aids get flying freely.
"We used to use newsprint as tablecloths," says cook Andy Goudy. "After dinner the paper would be covered with dozens of drawings where world-famous artists would demonstrate things for each other. Some of us would grab pocketknives, run over and slice out some wonderful things."
During the day, members of the group scatter like a covey of quail, some looking for light, some for color. Down on the old road to Francis, Lorenzo Chavez has wheeled his van onto the gravel and works fervently on a pastel rendition of a farmyard ("I like working quickly, and with pastel chalks there's no drying time," he explains.)
Down by the river Don Prechtel, a landscape painter and Civil War buff, is busy composing a study of trees. Tucked in a grove just off a rocky road, Jim Norton touches up a wrangler fording a river.
At night they all return like woodland creatures returning to the watering hole. The day's work is set out against a row of logs in a kind of back-to-nature Louvre. The artists stroll past, make comments, critique and sometimes even offer to swap. One artist once swapped a painting for the car he now drives.
The rendezvous painters are already gaining a reputation. Membership in the group is by invitation only, after a selection committee reviews an artist's work. Each year's guests are invited to the rendezvous to scope things out. This year nine were invited.
"It's a very unusual group," says Norton. "Art like this has been popular since the country has been alive. It's popular today. And in this group the subject matter doesn't matter. All that matters is if the work is good or not."
Judging by the array of oils, sculptures, drawings, and watercolors that will be on display next month at the Kimball, what this little rendezvous has to offer is very good indeed.