Quirky and genuinely humble Louis Escobedo with his yellow trucker cap may try to pass himself off as one, but don’t let his self portrait Truck Driver” fool you. He paints out of a quiet studio in rural Maryland eschewing associations, honors and fame (though he surfaced to accept the Gold Medal Award at the National Oil Painters of America in 2014.) He is a contemporary master painter and an expert on modern figurative painting. Stashed on his shelves are his several-hundred collection of art books, many rare, from which he gleaned visual instruction during the pre-internet era like a monk poring over manuscripts. Color is his bailiwick, though you won’t hear him talk about primary or secondary triads, symbolism or formulas when he teaches. “Put some blue here, and a grey-green there, yeah that’s it,” he says, the red light from his laser pointer zigzagging across each canvas in his critiques. His approach draws on decades of observation from life and studying his heroes like English realist Euan Uglow (a similarly reticent individual), 20th century Russian realist virtuosos Nicolai Fechin and Sergei Bongart, among innumerable others.
Brilliant hues populate his palette, from which he banished earth tones and black years ago—when he needs these colors he mixes them from the chromatic ones. He believes that “color bounces everywhere” meaning that the colors of each object reflect into their neighbors and surroundings. Also, he maintains that one must “color outside the lines”, deliberately pushing the color of an object past its edge, enlarging the definition and boundaries of a thing’s object-ness. Like the best realist painters, Escobedo uses what he sees as a starting point and then imbues it with his personal and poetic vision. An example of this is his “High Plains Drifter” in which a wooden toy cowboy leans forward on his horse in a make-believe desert of mini-potted cactuses and potatoes fashioned to look like rocks. It is equal parts whimsy and nostalgia (he was born in Texas and he used to live in Denver), created with a riot of reds, greens, yellows and blues, all roped into harmony through his skill. Another self portrait of sorts, this lone rider irresistibly pulls us in to join him in Escobedo’s technicolor universe.