As we continue our new blog series, Meet the Artist, we believe it would be an absolute pleasure for our community to get to know its hometown artists of all disciplines and what awesome feats they are accomplishing to transform our 318! This week, we had the privilege of interviewing local artist and architect, Doug Breckenridge.
Q: Tell me about your background; where are you from, what was your childhood like, what is your family like?
A: I was born and raised in Monroe, but spent several years in both Longview and Houston, Texas. I have been around the building industry all my life; my grandfather owned a building supply business and my Dad was a commercial building contractor. My father had studied architecture before going to WWII, but finished in Industrial Management in order to get out of school and start life, as he put it – in essence, he had a high degree of design talent that you do not typically find in a contractor. My early homes were designed by my Dad and were what is referred to today as “Mid-Century Modern”. When we would travel, we usually spent a good bit of time evaluating the local architecture. I guess you could say that I cultivated a sense of design from a very early age. My mother was always in the process of re-educating herself and taking on new careers when it was not the norm for women to do so. She did not retire until she was 88 and probably had 5 or 6 careers under her belt. She did everything from teach English at Neville High School to manage an office building in Atlanta.
Q: When did your passion for painting begin, and why are you so passionate about it?
A: I had a passion for art and architecture beginning at a very early age. For my 7th birthday, I got an easel, a pad of paper and some water colors, where I proceeded to unintentionally paint abstracts not fully understanding gravity and the nature of water colors. The school system in those days had an art appreciation program where students learned 5 paintings and their artist, and were then presented with a little painting in a booklet. I absolutely loved this and recall getting “View of Toledo” by El Greco in the first grade. I have loved landscapes ever since. Through the years I never lost interest in art, especially when it pertained to cityscapes and landscapes. Later, I would sit for hours drawing people from my mother’s magazines and got where I could draw people from memory – this came in handy when I became an architect and began to do renderings to illustrate my designs. I briefly painted in the mid 70’s and then picked it up again early in this century. I have noticed that with me, any kind of creative process sets off some kind of chemistry in my brain that is highly addictive. A doctor friend of mine, once told me that he had this internal passion to help people; I have found that I have an internal passion to create, whether it be through art, architecture or writing. I have also noticed that every hobby in which I am involved, has to have some level of artistic quality. For example, I prefer sailing to motor boating and fly fishing to bait casting.
View of Toledo by El Greco
Q: Can you talk about your affiliation with the Downtown Gallery Crawl and what the Crawl means to you?
A: I became involved in the Art Crawl in October of 2017 and was uncertain about it at first in that I did not think that I would have the time to keep up with my painting; however, I have found that you can just about find time for anything if you challenge yourself to do so. I think that it is important for anyone involved in art to have a community presence no matter if they sell something or not and that is what the Art Crawl does – it puts you out there in all your glory or lack of. I love to talk with people who are looking at my art and quiz them on what they like or do not like. I like to see where they are coming from and if I ever hear the statement, “It speaks to me”, then I have a sell – not that I hear that a lot. Another aspect of the Art Crawl I have found is that while my on site sales are very limited, I get a fair amount of people calling me at later dates who have been either thinking of a piece they saw or are curious to see other pieces I have done. This actually happens quite often.
Q: What made you decide to pursue a career in architecture?
A: As stated before, I have had a lifelong experience with architecture and it is a true passion. I originally graduated in Business and went to work for my Dad’s construction firm, but he unfortunately passed away shortly after I began work. My family sold the construction firm roughly 4 years later and I then decided to return to school in architecture. I found that my passion for architecture and design in general far exceeded that for construction. I just had the aptitudes for it. I don’t think it is as financially lucrative as construction, but you can’t fight innate desires. I have heard architecture described as the most lucrative of the arts and the least lucrative of the professions – I agree with this from both sides. Architecture is an art when practiced to its most sincere level. I read a piece in the back of an Art’s magazine where they interviewed several young artist and asked them, “If you were not an artist, what would you be?” To my surprise, well over half of them said either an architect or a writer – there is a common thread here.
Q: How would you describe your personal style for art and architecture?
A: I definitely like certain styles and such, but I am really not hung up in following trends of any kind. In both regards, I kind of set my own path and have found varying degrees of success with both disciplines. I designed shopping malls and life style centers all across the country for many years and while most legitimate architects did not really consider this to be “true” architecture; I had a blast, because I could come up with any design I wished and most developers would buy off on it. Being creative is very important in highly competitive retail arenas. Before doing a life style center in Lake Havasu, Arizona, I rode around in the desert and photographed the desert landscape and then by computer arranged a color palette of 16 colors derived from the photos. I applied these colors to my buildings and when completed, the center looked like it emerged directly from the desert. In my painting, and since it is basically an avocation and not a profession, I really apply my rule of doing what I want and what makes me feel good in lieu of attempting to set the art world on fire. I like genre painting in the since of painting everyday people doing everyday things and knowing just who these people are. I like local cityscapes and I adore landscapes, particularly those out West where I do most of my fly fishing. This certainly not to say that I don’t appreciate “non-objective art” because I really do, as I do all design; it just does not satisfy whatever in me needs to be satisfied.
Q: I know you serve on the board for the Cooley House Foundation; can you tell me about the Foundation’s mission and your involvement?
A: I am the current President of the Cooley House Foundation and this piece of architecture is truly one of the most important buildings in Louisiana. It is the 1908 collaboration of the husband/wife architectural team of Walter B. Griffin and Marion Mahony, who were out of Frank L. Wrights Oak Park Studio. It is not a steamboat as per local folk lore, but Prairie Style, which is the only true American architectural style. I once had a guy ask me just how they got that boat out of the river and up here on dry land. Most importantly, we at the Cooley House Foundation serve the community by teaching the significance of architectural style and preservation. It is our contribution to the arts of Northeast Louisiana.
Q: What was the first piece of art you ever sold?
A: Several years back I came up with the idea of taking photos of people at the Blend of the Bayou and doing little oil sketches of them to sell at the coming years event. Well, it went over like wildfire, much to my amazement. I continued to do this for several years or until I noticed people running from me when they saw me with my camera; I figured that this was a good sign that I needed to find a new protocol.
Q: What are some things most people do not know you are passionate about?
A: Most people who know me know exactly what I am passionate about – this is a difficult thing for me to hide. I have written poetry. I saw on Facebook the other day where this big brawny guy I know writes poetry, so I guess I can say this now. I actually gave it up for painting, much like I once gave up golf for helping my sons at T-Ball. Everyone has their priorities.
Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to all the artists out there?
A: I am not sure I would be qualified to address professional artist, but here goes – work like hell. I read once in one of Malcolm Gladwell’s books about the “Rule of Ten Thousand Hours”, which in essence, means work so hard at something that it becomes second nature.
The Northeast Louisiana Arts Council is unbelievably thankful for what Doug is doing to promote our area, and we admire his hard work and dedication to what he is so passionate about.