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A positive Surrealist: Vernon Finney's inventive take on Surrealism blends nature with fantasy while lifting the spirit emotionally. (Artist Profile).

Vernon Finney is not your average Surrealist. His work, highly-imaginative life-sized paintings, is concerned with themes that are more uplifting and hopeful than those found in a typical Dali.

As the artist explained during a recent phone interview from his home in Palm Springs, Calif., "I consider myself to be a positive Surrealist of sorts. In comparison with the older Surrealists who depended on disembowelment and disfigurement, my themes, like `Creation,' are positive. That's why I make the distinction and refrain from calling myself simply a Surrealist."

"I believe all perceived problems can be solved by a feeling of love, and consequently I paint that way," he continued. "I like happy situations and dislike unhappy ones unless I can prove something positive from it."

And finding something positive in an unhappy situation is what Finney does best. In response to the events of Sept. 11, the artist has used his success to help others in need by establishing the Reach for Art Fund, with the goal of raising $500,000 for the rebuilding and renewing of the New York art community. To do so, Finney has released 5,000 copies of his open edition lithograph "Reach"--an image painted more than a decade ago but one that still resonates with viewers. "Some people cry when they see it," he said. "Following Sept. 11, I received many e-mails that equated this painting with the New York situation. Even though it wasn't intended for that, I'm glad people can relate to it," he said. "I figure it's the least I can do to help refurbish the art scene in New York."

Finney's Road to Success

Born and raised in Oklahoma, Finney was one of seven children and always displayed a special interest in art. When he entered college at Oklahoma University, however, his plan was to become a radio journalist. Then, during his sophomore year, he realized he was uncertain of his choice. As he explained, "I suddenly began asking myself the right questions--about what I wanted to do, if I was starving, how could I be happy? And art was the only thing that came forward. So that was how I decided my course."

Having received a BFA in fine art, Finney moved to California in 1956. To support himself, he took a job in advertising while pursuing art classes at UCLA and Otis. He achieved a great deal of success at his job during the 1960s and '70s, but he still felt something was missing. Painting in his spare time was no longer enough. Finally, when he turned 50, Finney decided it was time for a change. "I decided I didn't want to do commercial work anymore. I wanted to be a starving artist," he said. This realization turned out to be the turning point in his artistic career.

A Developing Style

While Finney never exactly went hungry, he did struggle in other ways--one of which was the struggle to develop his own, distinct style.

"I went through troubles just like everyone," mused Finney. "I had drawn my entire life, but for a time I got discouraged. Everything I did seemed to look like someone else's style. So I just withdrew for a while, cancelled my art associations and didn't go to galleries. Then I bought a sketchbook and started making these quick sketches and did all kinds of things out of my head. Five years and six sketchbooks later, I discovered I had a style."

"Art became so engrossing that I gave up all other distractions," he continued. "My life used to be consumed with music, but when I started to paint realistically, I began painting in silence. I didn't want any interruptions ... and this freed my mind. I forgot about everyone else and concentrated on my own thoughts," he said. "I realized that in order to be a painter and to express myself truly, I needed to look inside myself."

It was during this period that Finney also began painting on a larger, life-sized scale--typically 7 by 10 feet. "I think the larger a painting is, the more there is a one-on-one confrontation, so that you have more of a feeling of actuality. When you see a life-sized figure as opposed to one half that size, you feel different." he said. "And besides, the Old Masters painted life-sized, and I love that."

Two distractions Finney didn't give up were nature and the relationships with his friends. As an avid camper for the past 30 years, he has explored numerous uninhabited places, and these experiences have shown up in his work. "Nature has influenced my paintings remarkably," he said.

Still, Finney works mostly from his imagination and returns to the live model only occasionally to refresh himself.

When Finney found his own style, the challenge was now bringing his art to the attention of others. The initial response to his work, however, was unexpected.

"People liked my work, galleries and publishers liked my work, but it was always out of step with the style of the time. It wasn't in their direction," he said. "But then, after the Cold War, peace became more a way of life, and then my work started getting more and more popular. Realism was also making a comeback."

Things really started coming together about two years ago following a successful show at the L.G.O. Gallery in Palm Springs, Calif. "It was quite a turnout," he said. "I had a friend come down from L.A., and he was so fascinated by the interaction of the people with my work that he decided he would fund me. He started a company called Art Vision and next thing I knew, we were at Artexpo New York [in 2000], and Kolibri Fine Art Prints found me and we signed a deal. Now we're producing giclees and everything is going great."

To date, Finney has sold more than two-thirds of the original work--some 170 paintings--he has created during the last 26 years. "That may not sound like a lot of paintings--I know some artists who complete that many each year but--mine are very time consuming ... on average it takes me 2,000 hours to complete a single canvas," he explained. "I don't believe in shortcuts. Otherwise, the art suffers. Lack of time means lack of thought for me."

If there is one thing that Finney prides himself on, it is his ability to completely immerse himself in the painting process. Still, said Finney, "I keep my mind flexible. Art for me is a personal pleasure that no one else can take away."
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Author:Silberman, Vanessa
Publication:Art Business News
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2001
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