Artist loves painting and simple life in Girard
When visiting the Girard apartment of painter Brad Lethaby, you would be struck by what isn’t there — art. His place is surprisingly devoid of pieces from Lethaby’s vocation and avocation.
Two recent works — a beautiful autumn landscape of a fisherman casting a line on nearby Elk Creek and a just-finished commissioned portrait — hang on one wall, but Lethaby admits he hung them for the benefit of Lake Erie LifeStyle.
Otherwise, the room would only have an unfinished canvas standing on an easel and some paints and brushes that indicate “here lives an artist.”
“The art I live with is the one I am working on”, Lethaby says. “Norman Rockwell once said, when asked which of his paintings was his favorite, he replied ‘the next one.’ That’s a pretty great answer.”
Painters are often portrayed in the media as rootless, beret-wearing bohemian types who lack social graces. The stereotype doesn’t fit the introspective and laconic Lethaby.
“You rarely see paint on me. And I don’t have a beret. There is something to that (bohemian) lifestyle and it is due to how much money you make in this business. The love of doing it is a lot more important than the money. That is another reason why I am out here — it is very affordable,” Lethaby says.
Maybe Spartan would better describe his life at the age of 60. He recently downsized, selling off or giving away many of his possessions. Lethaby says he found he didn’t need so much stuff and hasn’t missed most of it.
Lethaby also believes he doesn’t need as many possessions when a hike in the nearby woods or along a creek brings him more joy and closer to art. He is attuned to the subtle changes in nature that he then captures on canvas with paint. The resulting work lies somewhere between realism and impressionism as Lethaby tries “to do more with less.”
“I am always baffled by what I see (in nature). It is all so fascinating. I’m terrible at making stuff up. I know people who can draw cartoons, but nothing like that comes out of my head. So I really like to paint what’s there,” he says.
When he worked in commercial art — for businesses as diverse as a toy company, a print shop and an art studio — he imagined a much different living space for himself.
“When I was younger, I thought I would keep my own art just for myself. The idea was that someday, when I was 90 years old, I want all of my painting hanging around me,” he says.
But when Lethaby left the daily grind of commercial art in 2000, he realized people wanted to buy his work. “I gotta sell this stuff,” he said to himself. Now his work is owned by collectors, including one local man who buys most of Lethaby’s works for the walls in his house.
“He has most of the paintings that I would have had when I was 90,” Lethaby says.
Lethaby says he has never regretted taking up the brush as a full-time occupation. He seems content with life in small-town Girard, living on Main Street in an old building, where the smell of the nearby Girard Dinor wakes him as the cooks there prepare breakfast. He enjoys the fact he can park his car and not move it for two or three days.
“I love the feel of this little town. You stand across the street and look down the block at the tops of the buildings. They have such an interesting look about them. The pharmacist is across the street. The eye doctor is close. The tax lady is downstairs. And nature is right out the door,” Lethaby says.
His top-floor apartment, which includes a vintage claw foot tub from which he begins each day either reading or making telephone calls, does have one high-tech convenience that Lethaby says he once rejected. A new Mac computer is perched next to his easel and paints.
“Now instead of painting from photographs, I’m painting from computer images, which is more convenient. I thought I’d never want a computer in the room, in the same space where I painted because I thought they were so different. I just got used to it like any other tool,” he says.
But don’t think that he uses that computer to endlessly surf the web or for binge watching television shows on Hulu. He finds most popular entertainment insulting to human intelligence. Lethaby prefers looking out his windows. It is his “reality TV,” as he sadly notes the number of small businesses that have opened and closed on Girard’s Main Street over the past several years.
Lethaby doesn’t sell his art from his apartment, but he does envision his open space soon being used as a training area for future artists.
“I have thought about teaching workshops because I want to share what I have,” he says.
Lethaby says he only wants to work with four or five people at a time. It would be a chance to pass on his passion for painting whether it is landscapes, portraits or figures.
“I like the idea of that. I’m a pretty simple guy, I guess. It doesn’t take a lot to thrill me,” he says. LEL
Originally published at www.goerie.com on November 29, 2015.