Lou Pasqua

autumn setter pasqua
"Autumn Setter"

Although Schmid preaches working exclusively from life, once Lou conceives of a painting or situation in his head, he begins to assemble it from his collection of field images in photos and sketches. Without the facility of working from a staged still-life arrangement or single photograph of a hunting scene, “I arrange and rearrange and reposition the various sketched paper elements in the layout until it feels right and I’m satisfied with the composition.”

In Hidden Jewel, the glorious pheasant brashly occupies the entire space. In Southern Classics, Pasqua sets the horizon high, expanding the forefront to accommodate the two quickened, taut-bodied pointers and their wary quarry. Against a deep stretch of longleaf and loblolly pines that cover  the distance, the quail explode in blurry-winged flight, head on toward the viewer—the momentum alone connects the eyes to the narrative.

This quote about Leffel also applies to Pasqua’s paintings of startling action, such as Little Dynamo: “His objects only appear to be solid when you step back to where you can no longer see the motion.” In Sudden Surprise, the loose, impressionistic brushwork on the desiccated leaves matches the trembling brrrr of the bobwhites’ wings that on canvas resonate with activity; the Boykin spaniel’s long-haired ears dance with the speed and spirit of the hunt, the quail whirling ahead of him.

In the loosely painted composition The Scratch, Pasqua mimics motion—the agitated leg and ticking foot of an itchy foxhound expressed by haloes of movement over several time frames at once.

The Scratch

Pasqua started painting hunting dogs, he says, “because they were there” and readily available as models. This included his tricolored English setter, Zak, now deceased, whose image has appeared in many a magazine. “With a family, I couldn’t afford expensive trips out West or safaris in Africa in my quest for outdoor images,” says Pasqua. His bird dogs quickly got the attention of sporting-art gallerists M. F. “Bubba” Wood, Russell Fink, and Michael Paderewski, who all encouraged him to continue, “for which I am forever grateful.”

“As a Northerner, when I first heard the word ‘plantation,’ I thought of bobwhite quail, piney woods, and pointers,” as he portrays in Southern Beauties. But soon, Pasqua put a Boykin on the mule-drawn wagon (Early Start), and placed splendid wild turkeys against the vegetal hues of southeastern coniferous forests (Spring Ritual).

“For whatever reason, I’d always thought ‘setters- North,’ and ‘pointers-South,’” he continued. So when Lou attended his first grouse trial, he was surprised to see the field split 50–50 between setters and pointers.

Since then, pointers like Hunter and Dot also flush grouse from the mixed aspen, spruce, and birch cover typical of their northern range. They chase quail in the “cactus and plum thicket reaches of West Texas.” For Somewhere in Texas, conceived during a 1,800-mile road trip, Lou experienced the parched landscape, bleached skies, and long winter shadows in the painting. He places a gray, wind-dried tree in the mid-ground to set off the white-coated dogs, and increases the scene’s drama by positioning them in a strong diagonal across the canvas.

Pasqua alternates between working on canvas and Masonite hardboard, to which he adds various surface textures with a palette knife or large house-paint brush loaded with modeling paste. He utilizes the strategically placed sculptural effects to  enhance the swish of a dog’s tail, as in Autumn Setter; or the windswept ears and fur of the English setter, Dixie, featured on the cover of the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine.

Southern Beauties

Although he aims for a “predictable accident,” exactly how a surface will pick up pigment is somewhat hit and miss. “You have an idea of what’s going to happen, but not complete control.” His bold strokes over areas of almost three-dimensional depth are well suited to stretches of palmettos, bare branches, and sun-dried stalks of grass.

Lou confesses that he’s still experimenting with brushstrokes to match his style that he calls impressionistic realism. “I’m not interested in painting every hair on a dog,” says Pasqua, who rarely uses small brushes. In fact, he strives to apply as little brushwork as possible to create the illusion of detail in his “less is more” compositions.

He doesn’t adhere to any particular color theories and goes instead by his gut. “I’m not trying to re-create nature,” says Pasqua, “but to make an interesting painting, whether or not the colors are real.” That said, he is presently exploring the palette of contemporary portrait artist Mark Carder, who was strongly influenced by Velásquez and John Singer Sargent.

He works in Liquitex or Golden Open Acrylics, laying out a simple palette of white, cadmium yellow, alzarin crimson, French ultra-marine blue, and burnt umber. For brushes, he likes the responsive, semi-stiff but soft-tipped Masters Choice line from Rosemary & Co. in England, and whatever bristle brushes pass the “feel test.”

To complete a painting, Lou employs old-world techniques to make  his own burnished, water-gilded gold frames, or hand-distressed wood frames. “It’s labor intensive and time consuming, but it’s the best way to control the overall presentation of my work,” confides the painter, who doesn’t like leaving anything to chance.

Although a mere 25 years into his career, the much-in-demand artist is done now with painting portraits of long-dead pets from Polaroids. Yet he modestly shrugs off the significance of being commissioned by T. Boone Pickens to paint some of his 40 bird dogs, flying the late-flowering artist in his private jet to his 101-square-mile ranch in the Texas Panhandle.

Gratified to have opted for life as a sporting artist, Lou Pasqua likes the folks he meets along the way—almost as much as their dogs.

Brooke Chilvers thanks Gail Lansing of The Sportsman’s Gallery/Paderewski Fine Art in Charleston, South Carolina, for arranging her viewing of Lou Pasqua’s work. And Whitney White of Pebble Hill Plantation for introducing her to Thomasville.