From construction site to the easel

Published: Saturday, Dec. 14 2013 10:15 p.m. MST

Richard Horrocks poses with some of his work in his Holladay home on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

HOLLADAY — Richard Horrocks didn’t take up oil painting full time until late in life, when he had no choice and got painted into a corner, so to speak. After the fire and after the bankruptcy and after he broke his leg, only then did he make painting his day job.

“The only thing I had left was painting,” he says.

That was a decade ago, and since then Horrocks has sat at his easel painting some eight hours a day in a tiny cluttered shack that sits behind his Holladay home. His subjects are, well, everything — landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes, wildlifes, still lifes, portraits, cowboys, Indians and horses, executed in impressionist strokes of the brush and dashes of a knife (to see them for yourself, visit his website, richardhorrocksfineart.com).

His subjects come from everywhere — railroad yards in San Francisco, powwows on American Indian reservations, a rainy night in New York, quakies in Little Cottonwood Canyon and wooded hillsides in Heber Valley. He is rarely without a camera to record images that he will reference later when he sits at the easel. He makes a point of going for drives to look for inspiration.

“Sometimes I just go out there and paint until something happens,” says the 70-year-old Horrocks. “I get in a zone and time just goes by.”

His work has been published twice in three prestigious art magazines: American Art Collector, Southwest Art and Western Art. He has received an Award of Excellence and a cash prize from both the American Juried Art Salon and the National Oil and Acrylic Painters Society. He has received four Top 100 Finalist Awards from International Art Search, an Award of Excellence from the Society of Master Impressionists and awards from the Hagen Fine Art Museum and the Cape Code Art Association.

Horrocks didn’t come by his craft the usual way. For one thing, he was a brick mason and later a general contractor for 40 years and never had an art lesson of any kind in his life — he learned from books. He didn’t begin painting until his mid-20s.

He grew up in Salt Lake City, the oldest of seven children, then moved to Seattle and later Denver. He enrolled at the University of Utah, planning to become an architect, but changed his mind and dropped out of school, with a wife and children to support.

“I decided to become a rich and famous artist,” he says. “Then I found out my kids like to eat.”

He returned to construction work, which he had done throughout his youth. Starting at the bottom, he was a hod carrier — the worst of construction jobs — and worked his way up.

“Construction is not that far removed from art,” he says. “When you’re building, you’re creating. There’s a lot of fulfillment in creating something that will be around even after you’re dead.”

Since boyhood, he had sketched continually, drawing faces, athletes, classmates and animals — sometimes doodling them on the pages of his schoolbooks. But when he dropped out of college, he turned to a more marketable art form: painting.

After work each day, he went to the Salt Lake library and read everything he could find about artists, technique, composition, balance, design, color and light. He couldn’t even understand much of the terminology, so he had to read books just to learn the vocabulary necessary to read other books.

He began painting in the evening, fighting off fatigue after a day of physical labor. For four decades he worked construction, and, after a quick dinner, painted well into the night, sometimes into the wee hours. He sold his first painting when he was 24 and has been selling them ever since. He and his wife, Sara — his de facto business manager — travel to various art shows and conventions around the West to sell his work.

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