I first discovered Stewart's work through the FB group 'All Things Nautical', in which we are both members. What caught my attention to Stewart's 'All Things Nautical' postings was learning that he is the creator of the ship models in which he shares in the group. Stewart's attention to detail is highly impressive. Another fascinating aspect about Stewart is the extensive historical and personal content he provides with each ship model, or painting, or drawing. Stewart is a quintessential maritime artist, not only is he a supreme ship model maker, but he is also a highly skilled draftsman and painter as well.
And now without any further adieu here is Stewart's interview along with selected works ...
Artist on Artist Interview with Rex Stewart
New York / New England Maritime Artist and Craftsman.
Polly - Hi Rex, it's a great pleasure having you here, and thank you for being part of the 'AoA' interview project! Ok, let's get started ... How are you doing today? Would you mind giving us a little background about yourself, where you're from, where you live now, etc.
Rex - Today, I'm fine...and, upbeat as usual. There's no absolute place to begin. However, I am a native of Albany, New York, which is the last major city on the Hudson River and the Capital City of New York State. I currently live in my old neighborhood of Mansion Hill, just around the corner of Governor's Mansion and the large Cathedral Church where I once served as an altar boy during the 60's. Prior to home, I lived in Massachusetts for several years on the premise of exploring New England's antique centers, art facilities/galleries, and maritime.
Polly - Can you describe your earliest memories as to when you knew you were an artist, and how you discovered your affinity for model-making?
Rex - My interest in art began in Second Grade at Public School No.2 which was around the corner from the Capitol Building. I was fascinated with its architecture back then, always visiting before going home after school...especially the intricate carvings at the 'Million Dollar Stairs' area. When the Governor declared to have a one square mile area of our neighborhood removed to rebuild the Empire State Plaza, our family had to relocate and I was enrolled in Catholic School which was located four blocks on the same street where we formerly lived. It was there, at the Cathedral Academy, where my art advanced. It was also there that my ship modelling skills developed when one of our classroom assignments was a project to build a Viking Ship.
"Flight of the Gulls - Period: New England circa, 1904" . Wood Sculpture. Scale - 1:12.
Polly - What was it about the Viking Ship that intrigued you so much and could you tell us about your later art education and training; were you formally trained, or are you a self-taught artist?
Rex - What I found intriguing about the Viking Ship Project, while attending the Cathedral Academy, was that we were required to research this vessel and create a model of it, using whatever materials were available. Since the Russo brothers owned stores at each end of the our residential block, it wasn't difficult to get cardboard from them. I used that material to produce a detailed model of Leif Erickson's ship and won top honors. Sadly, this was in the Fall of 1963, two weeks before my 9th birthday, , and five days prior to President Kennedy's assassination.
It was the ship models in his Oval Office that inspired my maritime interest as a Fourth Grade student. I studied vessels even further after the tragedy, producing detailed drawings of sailing ships which caught the attention of the Nuns and Father Hubbard. That winter of '63 I was recommended by Hubbard to study art at the Cardinal McCloskey High School which was down the street adjacent to the Governors Mansion. Such a privilege granted me opportunity to develop skills which guided my direction to explore, research and experiment with materials at a higher level -eight grades in advance. In 1967, attending a predominantly Italian Catholic School, Saint Anthony's, I received a scholarship from the Women's Council of the Albany Institute of History and Art to study in the Adult Class system. I had just turned 13. I created my first nude from a live setting. The drawing was purchased by the model who was extremely impressed with the likeness. At first I felt awkward being in a room with talented adults; but after a small pep talk from instructor John Rosutto, everything worked. My greatest fascination was having the portrait bought by the subject before I left the studio. It was that event that made me aware that I was destined to be an artist. From that point on I decided to experiment with different mediums and taught myself with, of course, reference materials I bought from the art store and/or borrowed from the city libraries.
Original scale model of the famed Hudson River steamboat as she appeared in 1893 after her rebuild.
Polly - Tell us about the beginnings of your maritime art career and how it has evolved?
Rex - After the Albany Institute, there were no other art schools I attended. Much of my art began to develop as I was commissioned by the Albany citizens which started immediately after I acquired three paper routes. Two were morning routes before school; and the third, after school. On these routes I would occasionally bring my portfolio and show my work to my customers and receive commissions from them which varied in subject matter and mediums, re: pencil, pen and ink, acrylic and oils.
As these commissions prospered during my early teens, so did my reputation as an artist. Several articles were written in the Region's newspapers and more work came from areas beyond the Capital District. At 17, I quit school and was hired by the Albany Savings Bank. It was there, after having my first one man exhibition in the main lobby, that I began to receive corporate and private support. Many commissions came from bankers, lawyers, business executives and politicians during and after my tenure at the bank.
The Chairman of the bank encouraged me to further my art career with a paid scholarship to attend the local University where I remained for a year. During my year's tenure at the University, a board member from the Schenectady Museum learned of my work and arranged a visit to view the pieces. Impressed, he and the Director, offered a one man show, circa 1979.
"Washington Park." Pastel on Parchment. 24" x 36".
Polly - You are fortunate to have had a solo show early on in your artistic life (many congratulations to that!). Tell us about your studio atmosphere and your routine/approach: Is your studio at home or elsewhere? What's your studio like; naturally lit, tidy, and organised?, What is your work schedule like? Is most of your work commissioned based? Do you listen to music while you work and if so what?, etc ...
Rex - Regarding my studio, it's in-house with considerable natural lighting. I've always preferred this type of scenario for the purpose of producing 'fine' art. The artificial light only help when I need to pinpoint/highlight details. As for tidiness, this practice was developed in Catholic School. We always had to have everything proper and orderly, including how we positioned our books on the desk, etc. Such practices eventually fell over into how I created my art. Much of this can be seen in my miniature ship models -refined detail inspite of the antiqued and/or aged Having materials in order make it easier to get whatever I need rather quickly, but I usually preset everything ahead of time.
My work schedule varies, but I make every attempt to do most of my work at night (when our side of the world is sleeping). I can usually function on four to five hours of sleep, daily. This is due, impart, because of an science experiment we endeavored in grammar school. We had to roll back our sleep hours to find how much real sleep we needed to be effective in thought and physical strength. I could function on four to five hours sleep, which is why I was able to perform three paper routes during my youth...and endure as an athlete. Relative to my work, it has always been commissioned-based. However, there was a period when I consigned to galleries, circa 1985 - 2005. I have since returned back to commissioned work and make sales whenever there's a request for a certain art object.
While working, I usually focus quietly. However, there are moments when I listen to music to keep the momentum going. I usually like music that centers around Barry White. There's something about his orchestral type music that soothes the mind. Of course there are other artists, but his work is my favorite because of the trumpets, horns and cymbals...and, of course, drums. As a youth, when I heard Gogi Grants' "Wayward Wind" in the 60's, I immediately was passionate about the mentioned instruments. Later, little Peggy March's song "I Will Follow Him" caught my interest.
Polly - Is there a philosophy you have when it comes to creating your art?
Rex - There is no philosophy of any kind to me or my work. I make every effort to create on the basis of need. What I might feel, be enlightened by, and what the audience can absorb from it. Nothing more. Of course there has to be a direction and a vision. Both are dependent on the other. That being said, I can honestly say that I'm a artist. That's the vision. Where I take the art, that's the direction.
"Pirate's Peril - Caribbean Pirates c. 1720". Wood Sculpture. Scale - 1:24.
Polly - If you could try your hand at another medium or genre, what would it be and why?
Rex - There are no specific genres or mediums to pursue. I challenge myself where I'm the weakest. I don't compete, and have only used that endeavor to bring awareness to my failures. Much of the work centers on my ability to study the work and find a purpose for the work. It is then that I know what I'm capable of achieving at any given time.
Polly - I can appreciate your 'as a matter of fact' approach towards your art-making, and even though making art is a solitary endeavour, there are people in artist's lives on the side-lines cheering them on; who has been your greatest support?
Rex - I must agree that in any profession, we all need sideline support of some kind. It first begins at home and branches from there. Unfortunately, many artists and/or prospective artists don't receive such and are at crossroads that they can't seem to grasp or understand relative to their skills and direction. There were many that supported me, so I can't really pinpoint any one individual. In recent times, these past 30 years, my sole support and encouragement stem from the Bible. Why? Because the support as I knew it began to fall off and my work was met with biases that I could not understand or fathom. Relationships became personal verses professional, so I felt a need to search deeper truths about who I was and my true purpose in the arts. The Bible helped to evaluate 'me'...something people could not do, regardless of their status. I knew that my work was extraordinary, based on the affiliations I endeavored in my early years. But I also knew that there would exist roadblocks that I witnessed some artists experiencing which strengthened me to push further. I was never one to embrace opinionated people, rather attached myself to those who shared similar viewpoints. These are, and continue to be, my supporters.
"Afternoon Arrival". Oil painting of Lake George steamboat HORICON. 24" x 36". 1991.
Polly - What has been the most challenging for you?
Rex - As for challenges, there never has been any per se. Each endeavor is a challenge and it is how we come out of that endeavor that gives us the foundation we establish for ourselves, whether it be success or failure. The choice is ultimately ours, alone.
Polly - I'm curious to know; what kinds of art resonates with your spirit ?, do you have any particular artists or genres that you admire, like or learn from?
Rex - There are no particular art styles that touch or ignite my spirit. Working at the former Albany City Arts Office (1975-1980) offered much by way of interacting with other artists and observing their styles and techniques. I didn't have to explore beyond this facility to know and understand creative procedure and genres. However, in lieu of genres, this word didn't exist at the time. We usually were identified by theme or category which I specialized in several and became diversified as a result. These were landscapes, oceanscapes, portraits, etc. I did very well in all of them. Maritime was the most challenging because of the prejudice and biases I had to encounter. But as you can clearly observe, I overcame with perseverance...especially with my 20 year tenure with Mystic Seaport, among other notable galleries. No one artist influenced me, per se. However, I was drawn to two UK artists whom I admired in the late 60's and early 70's. These were Montague Dawson and Carl Evers.
"The Mark of Calvary" - Sectional view of the Wood Sculpture. Scale - 1:12.
Polly - And in the field of maritime art; who in your mind of the maritime artists, dead or alive, would you consider to be the masters?
Rex - Relative to identifying maritime 'masters', I really can't answer that. I honestly believe that a master is anyone who has developed a track record of excellence in their field of endeavor. Not by popularity but by excellence. Prejudice has garnished false 'masters' -placing them in the spotlight while those of true renown have perished undiscovered. I don't identify with this because of my experience, but identify because of what I've witnessed. Mystic Seaport invited me to show in their Masters, twice. That being said, how can I identify with other 'masters' when I'm in the same family? I can't.
Polly - I’m curious to know, what are your thoughts about being an artist that is active online and has your time online helped your career as an artist, and if so, in what ways?
Rex - I never had any thoughts on being an artist. I identified with my calling years ago and considered remaining with it, even though family, friends, and others spoke against it and attempted to discourage those interests. I realized what I had was a gift and when I read in the Bible about the Parable of the Talents, about one individual not using his ability to double his portion, I received a greater awakening. Art, like anything else is a passion, and it is 'work'. Why it is classified as a source of struggle is foolish. We see, breathe, and live art every day. Our cars, homes, clothes, utensils, devices, etc., stems from art and design. All those items had to be 'worked' in order for enjoyment to be its cornerstone. If anything, this is not my thoughts on being an artist but rather the acknowledgement of knowing I am. Having an online presence in today's society is crucial for any business. It takes work, dedication, and a firm belief in what needs to be addressed to the viewer. Not everyone will like 'you' or your work, but that's fine. Work is not subjected to a popularity contest. It is knowing what you have and how you want to bring it to the masses. And, it is how your work is received by those who support it. The internet is a tool that can work, provided time is invested there. I belong to several networks and I'm appalled at the complaining on these networks. The bottom like remains with one word which is -diligence. This is the measuring rod to whether or not the internet will serve you. I can't be specific and reveal how it's helped me, as each one of us have our own methods of promotion. However, it would be in the best interest of every artist to re-evaluate their skills and get support from those who are willing to work with them.
Rex Stewart, working on the miniature ship model of the "BATAVIA" in his New York studio.
Polly - For the most part, artists tend to be a bit of an enigma to the outside world; how would you describe yourself as a person and could you tell us a little about your life outside the studio; what are some activities that you enjoying doing, could be art related or not, etc.
Rex - I wouldn't consider or embrace the world's opinion about my identity as an artist. You mention that the world "tends to see us as an enigma; a mystery and/or puzzle. I must agree that artists are frowned upon and are deemed unintelligent to the 'real world'. The fact of the matter is that I'm very intelligent and have been since I can remember. Again, we live in an opinionated society; but it's not my world by any stretch of the imagination. It has to be understood that no one can please everyone; yet, we all have a purpose in this life to do and be whatever we're destined to be -artists, included. I can't put any description to myself other than what is written. However, I can say that I enjoy being a parent and I work well with people, whether or not they wish to work well with me. In essence, people will know me by my work and will understand me from my work. I love this approach, because it gives me leverage to know if I have a friend or an adversary.
Polly - I agree with your wonderful response to that last question, you are very intelligent! As you know, artists, get asked all sorts of questions. Recently I was asked a question which I'd never been asked before and it got me thinking, which I would like to propose to you; what is your ultimate goal with your art?
Rex - As an artist, I explore, research and create. There are no ultimate goals I set for what I do. There does exist the question of knowing where I want to take my direction, but it doesn't embrace any sure end. Whatever the subject, I pursue it to the best of my ability and then move on to the next.
Polly - Changing topics ... This is a question I ask all the artists I interview; if you could spend the day with one person, dead or alive, famous or not, who would it be and why?
Rex - The answer would be President John F. Kennedy. I was fascinated by this man, his naval heroics on PT 109, and his short-lived career as Commander-in-Chief at the White House. I always pondered my thoughts as to why he was liked by many Americans and how he was well-received at international events. I remember building my first and only Aurora kit of him sitting, legs crossed, at the fireplace. When at Catholic School, I and a group of classmates would visit the Mom and Pop Store up the street and purchase collector cards on him which were published in black and white at the time. When he made his Inaugural speech, the words "Ask not what your Country can do for you; ask what you can do for your Country." I knew exactly what he meant by those words. It was the secret for unlocking any and all possibilities for being anything you wanted to be. When I walk past the Capitol steps here in Albany, I can almost hear him speaking when he was running for the Presidency in the late 50's. Many notable people stood on those steps, but Kennedy was the one who garnished the spotlight there. If I could spend a day with anyone, it would be with this man.
Polly - And lastly, what words of wisdom do you have to offer to young, and aspiring artists?
Rex -Everyone has some form of wisdom to share, based on one's experience and/or the experience of others. I tend to find that personal experience in any matter is the best teacher because you are taught from that experience. For artists, like any other profession, there exist pros and cons. It's a matter of choice and direction that will be the conclusion for the journey which is ultimately the experience. I would tell every artist, amateur and professional, to endure the experience ... to go the extra mile and (BELIEVE) that there will be an end -provided something is done, and that is to create. Furthermore, divorce opinionated people and pointless debates. Nothing can be gained by either and such will only pollute the process of the growth in your endeavor(s). In essence, value and be a good steward of your time -and be patient with your time to develop your qualities. Doing this, there won't be any room for pride and jealousy to suffocate the inner beauty that you want seen and appreciated by others. We all have a timetable for expressing ourselves. Time is priceless. Use it the right way and you, as well as your work, will become equally priceless. This is hard to fathom by most, but it is the wise who can see, live, and understand this truth. And last, be with only those who will understand (stand under) your beliefs and convictions. With this type of support you will reach and meet your objective as an artist. It's a no-brainer.
Polly - Thank you, Rex, for this unique insight into your artistic life! I wish you continued success and happiness with your work!
To learn more about Rex Stewart and to see more of his works please visit his website ...