DAVID REDMOND saw lots of “Old Friends” at the Customs House Museum Thursday, and so did guests at the reception for his show. The Clarksville native who studied art at Austin Peay State University made a huge leap for his first art exhibit, displaying 20 original watercolors in a one-man show, “Old Friends: Watercolors by David Redmond.”

Redmond, 54, has lived near Memphis for more than 30 years. It was his wife, Dawn Redmond, who suggested the title, referring both to the human old friends her husband would see on his return to his hometown and to the paintings themselves, some completed as long as 18 years ago.

“When one of our favorite animals passes on, I do a painting so Dawn can remember it,” says Redmond, who now shares his home with six dogs, four cats and three birds. “When you have a painting around the house a long time, it kind of becomes an old friend.”

Redmond says he was helped along as an artist by Max Hochstetler and other art professors at Austin Peay State University. But it was a Clarksville High School teacher who really opened his eyes to the art within him.

“Upon entering high school, I was influenced by a young art teacher who introduced me to watercolor,” Redmond says. “That art teacher was Clarksville artist Dan Hanley. He took a real interest in me, in all of his students. He was the favorite teacher.”

Redmond graduated from Clarksville High School in 1972.

He remembers with admiration Hanley taking bus loads of students to see art shows at the Parthenon in Nashville and other venues, going beyond the call of duty in many ways as a teacher.

“We had funding for experimental programs. It was a golden moment for art,” Hanley says. “I opened a door, and he walked through it.”

A year in the making, “Old Friends: Watercolors by David Redmond” was proposed to staff at Customs House Museum by Redmond's mother-in-law, local gardener extraordinaire Joanne Hackman. Redmond and Hanley were delighted to see so many people at Thursday’s opening reception for the show, and that people were still gazing into Redmond’s watercolors at 9 p.m., an hour after the reception officially ended.

Along with other old friends, the exhibition brought about a reunion between student and teacher, who have kept up with each other for decades. Hanley, respected as one of Clarksville’s finest watercolorists, is delighted to see his former student achieve so much in his dark, mystery-imbued paintings.

“If your heart is really a teacher’s heart, you want to see your students excel beyond what you’ve been able to do, and David has done that,” Hanley says.

Listening to the two men talk about the nature of watercolors, it becomes obvious why watercolor is thought by many to be the most challenging paint medium.

“In watercolor, it’s really hard to achieve the dark darks without losing the luminosity of the paper underneath,” Hanley says. “I find people have a lot of interest in watercolor. They’re mystified by it, and they want to try it. Achieving those dark, mysterious tones and still having the paper show through (is difficult). The idea is to let that paper speak from under the surface.”

Hanley says Redmond meets that considerable challenge beautifully.

“He captures the real essence of the subject in the light it was occurring in,” Hanley says. “And it’s not contrived. I hate to see a painting that’s too contrived. How do you get that happy, serendipitous nature of the painting and still express those elements of realism that you find important?”

Redmond’s art is characterized by an area of photo-realistic detail surrounded by a composition that is in softer focus.

“If you can capture one part of a subject with high realism, the rest of it can be serendipitous,” Hanley says.

Redmond says it was actually the freedom that comes from failure that allowed serendipity to rule his work.

“There was a point in every one of them that I had conceded this is a failure and I’m going to go on to something else,” Redmond says. “It’s almost a good thing that I concede this one’s not a keeper”

“Then you get loose with it,” Hanley adds.

The two artists feed off each other, excited to discuss a mutual passion.

“If I don’t watch it , I’ll actually take it too far,” Redmond says.

“The magic is knowing when to stop. If you take it too far, you’ve overstated the case, and you’ve lost it.” Hanley says. “I look at watercolor like a poem compared to a novel. Watercolor has to be to some degree pretty quick and spontaneous. David takes it pretty far down the pike but he knows when it’s done. He has a real good sense of when enough has been said.”

Redmond’s art is in several private collections, including that of musician Steve Winwood. He has been selected to paint the Signature painting for Customs House Museum’s Flying High next year, a 25-year tradition that includes the finest artists in Clarksville.

Redmond worked as a dentist for 27 years and is now on the faculty at University of Tennessee College of Dentistry in Memphis. He says his art training was not as unrelated to his dental profession as one might think.

“Lemme tell you, it came in handy because there’s an art to dentistry,” Redmond says, grinning.

Hanley and other fans — old and new — are happy that Redmond’s retirement a year ago from full-time dental practice allows him more time to paint.

“After the show, I went home and thought about it a lot. The consistency in the paintings–that tells me you really have developed your technique and your methodology and you’re comfortable with it,” Hanley says to Redmond.

Redmond smiles, flattered, but Hanley isn’t finished praising him.

“David has pushed watercolor further than just about anybody has pushed watercolor,” Hanley says. “I’m not exaggerating. It blew me away!”

“Old Friends” is on display at Customs House through February 15, 2009.

Article by Stacy Smith Segovia; Published in The Leaf Chronicle, Monday, November 24, 2008