Rockport legend, artist Steve Russell helped found and was an early President of the Rockport Art Association in 1967, with no thoughts other than hanging out with his fellow artists and supporting each other’s work. Fast forward to 2021 when it has evolved into the Rockport Center for the Arts, a creative sanctuary that houses gallery exhibits, pottery studios, painting facilities, a performance space, a sculpture garden, classes, contests, an artist-in-residence program, visiting lecturers, and even a gift shop. It’s also the host organization for Rockport’s Artfest, Spring Art Fair, and Film Festival.
Born and raised in Rockport, Steve’s unique artistic perspective on the area is fueled by his experiences working on a shrimp boat, a lifelong observation of the fishing culture, and being part of a colorful, coastal community whose beauty attracted artists the world over. “Rockport is a small town with a big bark,” Steve says reflecting on the fact that Rockport has an outsized reputation as one of the most unique, beautiful, and oldest, coastal art colonies in the country. The Rockport colony is distinctive from other colonies due to its picturesque small town atmosphere and supportive citizens, its history of conservation, and its hunting and fishing culture.
Steve uses watercolors, pastels, inks, acrylics, oils and has been most prolific as a painter, but has also worked in glass blowing, word carving, knife making, and ceramics.
He credits Ms. Kit Dinger for schooling him in the basics of art technique and later the more worldly William Brigl as a major influence on his work. Steve also studied with Wolf Kahn in New York and in Laguna Beach, California, the ‘big sky’ of Montana, and in the mountains of Colorado. Steve has also mentored young artists in the community such as Chance Yarborough, built booths for the first Art Festival, donated artwork for fundraising, and has supported conservation efforts throughout the area. He has twice been named Texas Ducks Unlimited Artist of the Year, and his work was featured on the cover of the Texas A&M University Press book, The Story of The Rockport-Fulton Art Colony: How a Coastal Texas Town Became an Art Enclave.
Commissioned by the Rockport Cultural Arts District, Steve’s work can be seen on a mural in downtown Rockport at Austin and North streets, entitled ‘Boats, Bays and Birds.’ The mural depicts the constant inspiration of the landscape for artists from the1940s to the present. Steve Russell was also the 1994 poster artist for the Rockport Center for the Arts Art Festival and a Gulf Coast Conservation Stamp Artist.
His work has been ascribed to a Regional Art Genre called the ‘Texas Coastal Aesthetic’, but Steve himself describes his art as primarily landscapes of saltwater, regional, and impressionistic-recognizable without being photographic in nature.
A favorite spot Steve likes to paint now is Cape Valero on the shores of Copano Bay, where the estuary has gorgeous sunsets and the marsh is full of color and inspiration.
Steve’s love of history and curiosity about Rockport in ages past adds a dimension to his art that is tangible when he paints the geography as he imagines it once was. It will also be apparent in Steve’s current project; sculptor of a series of six 9-foot-tall cast bronze figures that will be featured in the Rockport Harbor. The installation will depict a cultural interface between the arriving European explorers and the native Karankawa Indians. The Europeans are exemplified by a conquistador, a pirate, and a missionary monk and they will be emerging from the water, while three natives, a male, a female, and a child will be meeting them on shore. The Europeans will be 40 feet from the shore, mounted on an artificial hill created on 30 foot pilings covered with rock, oyster shell, and dirt that should be hurricane proof. The bronze statues will weather beautifully changing to a green-blue patina, and muses Steve, “possibly covered in contributions from seagulls.”
As Rockport’s most seminal creative genius, Steve is truly leaving his mark on the landscape just as much as the coastal landscape has left its mark on him.
For more on Steve Russell and his work, see his website: https://www.steverussellart.com/