In 1964, Doug Fiely was given a guitar which opened the door to both the visual and performing arts. That guitar served him well as he spent many weekends/evenings playing rock ‘n roll in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. For over 40 years, he raised chickens, goats, turkeys, and children while teaching at Stryker Local Schools. Upon retirement, he was asked to teach Printmaking, Painting, Drawing, Art History, Figure Drawing, Color and Design, Global Civilization and even the “History of Rock ‘n Roll”, retiring in 2013 as Professor Emeritus from Defiance College.
Dayton Artists United had the privilege of visiting with visual artist Doug Fiely in his new studio space in South Park Historic District.
DAU–Am I right in thinking you are not from the Dayton?
DF-That’s right. I grew up in Celina, OH, along the lake. The lake was my early inspiration.
DAU–Tell me about the first thing you remember creating.
DF–It was a picture of the Beatles George Harrison. In 1963, when the Beatles came out, I was interested in depicting things. I was a kid that always looked at things closely, you know. I would count the rings on a turtle’s back, examine bird tracks, and when I caught and cleaned a fish, I always paid attention to their scales.
DAU–So, you always knew you wanted to be an artist?
DF–Oh no. I just drew a lot. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I applied to college in art because a neighbor in Celina said my drawings were good. I got in to Bowling Green on probation–I had a bad class rank. There was a lot of competition for college then too because of people wanting to avoid the draft. So, because of the probation, I went to summer school there as an art major. It was hard. I had no arts education in high school, and all the other students knew stuff about art and art history that I didn’t. I was insecure about that—I liked all my other classes more than art.
My family ran a daily newspaper in St. Mary’s OH. I went there a lot as a kid and watched the print machines. In the fall, I got into a printmaking class at Bowling Green. I walked into that class feeling dejected about how behind I was in my arts knowledge. I smelled the ink. I saw the plates. Something just clicked, it was familiar, you know. I did my first etching. I rubbed the ink into a woodcut of an owl. I entered my print work in a student show, juried by the professors, and won second place. Printmaking became the focus of my attention, it was my comfort zone.
DAU-So, when did you start to paint?
DF–I thought the painters in my classes were brilliant. Especially the women painters. They could really see color. I struggled. The one of my professors, Bob Mazur, told me to treat my canvas as a print block.
DAU-What did that meant to you?
DF–Well you engrave a print block. I treat my painting like engraving. I build up modeling paste on heavy canvas and scratch into it, then I stain it with paint. It’s a more spontaneous way of working for me. I think in lines, like a printmaker. I wish I were more bold with color, that I could channel emotion into the paint the way my daughter Megan does. The scratch and stain method opens doors for me. I can see the lines in everything I am doing, fat fish, skinny fish, blackbirds, vegetables. I shape the lines and then let the color in.
DAU-You think your art is not emotional? I see it as very personal.
DF–My art will show a personal reaction to a subject. Like my blackbird series. I was painting these birds. I’ve got several blackbird canvases, but in this one the birds are dead. I was painting that at the time Tom Petty died, and there was that shooting in Las Vegas. I was painting these birds, and at that time I saw a dead blackbird in the yard. The details were just there. The same way you notice the details of George Harrison’s beard or Bob Dylan’s eyes, I noticed the details of that dead bird, it’s stiffness, the rigid claws. I was upset by the drug overdose and the shooting, and these dead bird details came through in the work. You can see how sensitive the lines of the work are–here (points).
DAU-You have mentioned famous rock musicians several times this morning. Do you think their music has influenced your art.
DF–They influenced me. All the musicians I like went to art school. Pete Townsend, John Lennon, Ray Davies of the Kinks, Bob Dylan–some people say his paintings are better than his songs–John Mellencamp, Joni Mitchell–she’s releasing a book of art with song lyrics–Patti Smith–who was with Robert Mapplethorpe. Artists and musicians. Because of them I took up the guitar.
DAU- Do you still play?
DF–I do, I even thought I might get some gigs, but when I looked around the music scene in Dayton, I thought, “I am not good enough.” You know, Dayton is powerhouse of diversity in the arts. In the visual arts you’ll see everything from urban non-objective to hyper-realism. There are so many strong arts organizations: The Dayton Society of Artists, The Contemporary Dayton, Front Street, the Dutoit Gallery, The printmakers Co-op. And the music is just as supported. There is really good music here. The musicians are way better than me.
DAU-That’s what you thought about yourself in art school too!
DF–Yeah, well, at the beginning. I got four B’s that first summer semester at BG. But after that first printmaking class, I found my way. I’ve continued to move forward. I’ve continued to win awards. I am confident about my art now. A lot of people look at my work and think Fiely is traditional, Fiely is folksy. I look at my paintings and see composition and line, balanced. My work is hanging in people’s homes and in galleries. I am doing what I always wanted to do. But, it’s a struggle. It’s work. It drains energy, like cutting down a tree, it’s physical. Art is a long haul. I don’t think I have gotten to the point where I’m done.