by Brooke Chilvers
It’s a (gun) dog’s life.
The meticulously conserved furnished rooms and artwork in the Elisabeth Ireland Poe Gallery at Pebble Hill Plantation and Museum in Thomasville, Georgia, evoke the golden age of southern sporting life. Then, amiable outdoor artists, including A. L. Ripley (1896–1969), Richard Bishop (1887–1975), and Ogden Pleissner (1905–1983) were welcomed guests at shooting estates such as Pebble Hill, where their works still decorate the walls.
Artist Lou Pasqua, born in Pittsburgh in 1952, is part of that ongoing tradition, appreciated by sportsmen for his depictions of upland wing shooting, especially its well-bred, well-trained gun dogs. Yet Pasqua recognizes a good rescue dog when he sees one, and borrowed the reprieved “Luke” from his Dallas owners for Yellow Lab, which appeared on the cover of The Retriever Journal and as a limited-edition print. “Each dog, each owner has a story that interests me,” says the artist whose specialty requires plenty of pleine aire time with his subjects at kennels, ranches, game fields, field trials, and plantations.
Interestingly, after he turned 40, Pasqua exchanged a successful career in graphic design for full-time, fine art painting. Since then, his bird dogs have appeared on the covers of Gray’s Sporting Journal, The Pointing Dog Journal, Texas Outdoors, among others. In 2012, he was named Featured Artist at the Plantation Wildlife Arts Festival, held each November at the Thomasville Center for the Arts; and his annual output of “gallery pieces” is usually sold out.
The eldest of three sons and a daughter, Lou was raised by a mechanic and a secretary in the steel-mill town of Etna, across the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh. He says already since first grade he wanted to be an artist. “When I won our school’s annual art contest titled ‘Be Kind to Animals,’ I knew I wanted to paint wildlife.”
But during high school, sports and the great outdoors out-weighed the pull of the art studio. Still, many of his teachers recognized his innate talent and recommended him for the prestigious Tam O’Shanter art program for young people at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum ofArt, whose graduates include Andy Warhol and author Annie Dillard. This rather strict multiyear pro-gram required dedication—and a long bus ride every Saturday to the Oakland Music Hall, during which Lou longingly eyed Carnegie Mellon students out- side playing sports.
The Tam O’Shanter, started in 1929 to foster budding talent, emphasized individual “creativity” over a fixed syllabus. It embraced the motto of its legendary teacher, the distinguished Joseph Fitzpatrick, who for 50 years counseled fledgling artists “to look, to see, to remember, to enjoy.” Expecting to learn how to paint, Pasqua attended Pittsburgh’s Ivy School of Professional Art, but the techniques he wanted to study were not part of the curriculum. “So I focused on design instead, which proved more valuable to my art than I could have imaged.”
Lou spent the next 20 years working as a commercial artist for studios and advertising agencies; it paid the bills while he and Patty raised their two sons. But under the surface he still simmered with inspiration from the works of Carl Rungius, Bob Kuhn, and Ken Carlson. Then, in now-or-never mode and supported by his wife, Lou decided to teach himself to paint from the books in the Carnegie Museum’s library.
There, he discovered Richard Schmid Paints Landscapes: Creative Techniques in Oil (1975). Written by a virtuoso “Grand Manner” artist, Schmid (b. 1934) explains the classical practices he’d learned under William B. Mosby, an expert on the methods used by the Flemish, Dutch, and Spanish masters. He also pored over a “modern-day Rembrandt” and art theorist, David Leffel, who commands the artist never to stop asking him- or herself: “What is stronger? What is simpler?” Easy to say but hard-earned in practice. “I struggled, literally for years, to understand and apply what these books taught,” says the veteran of trial and error.
Ultimately, it’s Lou’s sense of strong, attention-getting design that draws the viewer into the painting, inducing him to feel “he’s been there and felt that.” Design, says Pasqua, is the very foundation of his oeuvre. “In fact, I spend more time composing and critiquing a canvas than I actually do painting.”