From construction site to the easel

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

Horrocks retired from the construction business in his early 60s and invested his life’s savings in a resort hotel in Glacial National Park. He planned to live off the income of the resort, but fate had other ideas. Forest fires broke out two years later and burned the entire summer, creating a blanket of smoke over the area for months and killing the tourist season in the process.

With his financial resources being drained thousands of dollars every month, Horrocks hoped the winter recreation season would save him, but there was no snow. He hung on until the following summer season only to see another forest fire break out. He ran out of money and lost everything, including his home. Returning to the construction business to survive, he broke his leg in more than a dozen places after falling off a foundation and was forced to retire again.

“I wondered how I was going to make a living,” he says. “I was desperate. My wife kept me from living in a cardboard box.”

Forced to try painting full time, he fell into a steady routine: He paints all morning, takes a break and studies the painting in progress, then picks up the brush again in the afternoon. He turns out two to three paintings a week.

“Sometimes I find myself sweating and grunting when the painting is flowing,” he says. “It’s like a fight. It’s high energy. It’s like, I gotta get this done.”

Horrocks comes off as the human incarnation of Eeyore — a little downcast and gruff — but really he’s a softhearted, generous sort who gives away some of his paintings and teaches free weekly painting classes in the evening. He has done the latter for 30 years.

“After one of my classes I saw a woman trying to squeeze paint back into a tube to save money,” he says. “How could you charge someone like that? This is just paying things forward.”

His home is a minigallery, with every empty space on the walls filled by paintings. More paintings are stacked in a back room. Surveying his work, he says, “You don’t hit a home run every time you bat, but every now and then you stand back and say: ‘Wow. I didn’t create this. Where did this come from?' I don’t understand it.”

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: drob@deseretnews.com

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