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Wichita dads see children follow in their artistic footsteps

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, June 13, 2014, at 3:21 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, June 15, 2014, at 2:23 p.m.

Photos

Fathers of aspiring artists tend to worry more than fathers of budding doctors and lawyers.

Is art as a career realistic? Will their children actually be able to make a living, support their families? Or are they setting themselves up for a lifetime of disappointment and poverty?

For fathers of budding artists who are artists themselves, that worry is double. They’ve already been there, painted that, and felt the physical and financial strain of a life dedicated to one of the most fickle and unpredictable – but often most rewarding – professions there is.

“I kept telling them, ‘Don’t get into art. Do something you can make money at,’ ” said Wayne Clark, an iconic Wichita painter who saw six of his seven children pursue careers in the arts. “But do kids listen to their parents?”

In honor of Father’s Day, we are profiling three well-known Wichita artists – Clark, Steve Murillo and Ed Pointer – who built careers, had families and then watched their children follow in their creative footsteps.

Years of observation, the fathers say, made them realize that the talent their children possess is likely genetic, and that when they worry, they have only themselves to blame.

And that’s not so bad.

Steve and Thomas Murillo: From father and son to fellow artists

Steve Murillo’s father, Tony, loved to do pen and ink drawings, and he was good at it.

But as a young family man, Tony considered his art just a hobby and set out to make money opening his own appliance business. He eventually owned and operated several locations of The Electric Home store across Wichita.

About that time, Tony noticed that his son, Steve, had taken an interest in art. But he made sure Steve knew that art was not a career.

“I think he felt artists were at the low end of the totem pole in terms of professional hierarchy,” said Steve, who over the years thought about pursuing careers in mathematics and medicine, much to his father’s delight, before settling into life as an artist, much to his father’s dismay.

When he had his own children, Steve took a different approach. He taught his four children what he knew when they expressed interest. He encouraged their artistic pursuits as long as it appeared that was what they wanted.

Today, Steve – a prolific painter, muralist and sculptor – is one of Wichita’s best-known artists and is responsible for some of Wichita’s best-known public art, from the glowing columns at Central and McLean to the neon-lit sculptures in Old Town Square to the solar calendar at Central Riverside Park. At the moment, he’s in the middle of installing a commissioned mosaic featuring more than 25,000 pieces of glass onto the Douglas-facing side of Abode Venue, 1330 E. Douglas. That piece will be revealed during a final Friday event on June 27.

Steve, 65, is a gallery owner – Murillo Studios at 119 N. Mead – who earned bachelor’s and master’s of fine arts degrees from Wichita State University. He’s also a professional artist who has been able to sustain himself through teaching, commissioned works and public art jobs for years.

He also is a proud father who now shares his studio space with his youngest son, Thomas, 23, who is beginning to make an artistic name for himself in Wichita.

On one side of Murillo’s giant basement studio are the pieces he’s working on. On one wall is an enormous, almost-complete wall-sized piece commissioned by Grant and Janet Rine. On another wall is a painting that was supposed to be Steve’s 18th birthday gift to Thomas, who simply asked that his father paint him something. Five years later, it’s almost done, and it’s huge.

“I’ll put it up in my mansion someday,” jokes Thomas, who also works as a barista at Reverie Coffee Roasters.

Thomas remembers that his childhood with his artist dad was lots of fun. He loved to watch his dad make things, and he loved arts and crafts time at his house.

He remembers many early conversations about art that both Murillos now believe shaped Thomas’ ability to identify its deeper meaning.

“Ever since I was really little, Dad gave me rides everywhere,” Thomas remembers. “We’d pass a lot of public art or even just look at graphic design. He’d always ask me, even when I was really little, what I thought about that or what I thought about that.”

Thomas always loved to draw, and when he began attending Northeast Magnet, he enrolled in the art program and began creating graffiti art. When he entered his portfolio in the Scholastic Art Competition during his senior year, he received an unexpectedly large number of prestigious Gold Key awards. Just one year out of high school, in 2010, he had his first solo exhibition at Newman’s Steckline Gallery, which featured pieces that combined his love of photography and graffiti art.

It was then that father realized son might share his path.

“All of the sudden, it was like, ‘Holy smokes,’ ” Steve Murillo remembered.

In a separate spot in Steve’s basement studio is Thomas’ work space. Last year, Thomas and his friend and fellow painter Josh Tripoli received a $7,764 Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission grant through the Kansas Department of Commerce to create four outdoor murals for the Douglas Design District. which stretches about three miles along Douglas from Old Town to Oliver. One of Thomas’ murals, representing water, is already hanging on the west-facing wall of The Anchor at 1109 E. Douglas. The two artists are in the process of finishing the others, which will represent fire, wind and earth. Those should be put in place throughout the summer and fall. Thomas also is now regularly designing album covers for bands he loves.

Thomas said that his chosen career path has changed his relationship with his father, which has always been strong. If Steve gets stuck on a project, he’ll ask his son for input and finds that Thomas is able to think differently about art.

“I’m not just his son in the studio,” Thomas said. “He looks at me as a fellow artist.”

Steve said his own father eventually became more accepting of his chosen career. As Steve gained notoriety, his name would often appear in the newspaper, and that impressed Tony.

Just before he died, Steve said, his father made a surprising admission.

“He said, ‘If I were reincarnated, I think I’d possibly like to come back as an artist.’ 

Wayne Clark: ‘Make sure you learn to type’

High school art teachers didn’t really want Wayne Clark’s kids in their classes.

There were a lot of them, and they all knew too much. They’d grown up watching their father work, listening closely as he taught them about proper perspective and vanishing points. They often knew more than their teachers did, and they had a hard time not speaking up.

“I can remember going to art school and teaching the art teacher how to take care of the brushes because my dad had taught me,” said artist Jonathan Clark, Wayne’s youngest of seven children.

Clark, 87, is one of Wichita’s most accomplished painters, with a body of work stretching back to the 1940s.

He was born in 1926 in Vesper, Kan., but didn’t fully discover his love of art until he enrolled at what was then the Municipal University of Wichita. (Clark played football there, as a wingback, with another famous Wichitan, Linwood Sexton, and he has the yearbook photos to prove it.)

While in school, handsome young Clark served as a model for art teacher Clayton Staples. He served in the Army Air Corps, and in 1947 returned to college and enrolled in an art appreciation class.

Soon, he was at the Kansas City Art Institute, studying under the famous painter Thomas Hart Benton. He finished his fine arts degree at Wichita University in 1950 and had a family. His career included stints teaching art in public schools, and he worked at Boeing as a production illustrator. He also spent years working as a commercial artist and textbook illustrator.

Through it all, he spent all the time he could painting, and his life’s work is a collection of pieces focused on the beauty of his surroundings. A trip through his portfolio reveals barns and bridges, sunsets and storm clouds, flowers and birds, and recognizable sites from all over Wichita. Despite a Parkinson’s diagnosis in 1999, Clark continues to paint and produces at least one new piece every couple of weeks, his children say.

His children describe their childhood as wonderfully chaotic, their farmhouse on Pershing as a place where all the neighborhood kids wanted to be. Their parents were both artists, and their house was full of fun. The kids’ artistic abilities began to emerge early.

Oldest daughter Cyndie Wooley, who now owns a marketing and communications company in California, is a celebrated technical illustrator. She remembers as a child watching over her father’s shoulder as he worked, and more important, she remembers him watching over hers.

“I can remember sitting at my desk working on drawings,” she said. “He’d watch me over my shoulder, and all of the sudden he’d say, ‘You’re done.’ 

Daughter Karin Clark also is a painter and earned her bachelor of fine arts from WSU in 2012.

Their father’s tutelage cursed all of the children with the inability to look at a painting with a perspective problem and not recognize it. It drives them all crazy.

Nonetheless, their dad would warmly encourage them to develop their talents elsewhere.

“He’d say, ‘You can become an artist, but make sure you learn to type, too,’ ” Wooley said.

Wayne’s youngest is Jonathan Clark, who is a painter and muralist and has many recognizable pieces around Wichita. He painted the buffalo mural that adorned the recently demolished Clark Uniform building on East Central and the cat that decorates Aida’s at 920 E. First St. in Old Town, and he teamed up with sister Karin to paint the sunflower and bicycle mural outside the Donut Whole at 1720 E. Douglas.

Daughter Judy Skere is a fiber artist, Ruthie Howell is a graphic designer, and Carl Clark is a musician. Son Parry Clark is a lawyer.

The artist genes continue in Wayne Clark’s family. Two of his grandchildren, Cyndie’s daughter, Maryssa Wooley, and Jonathan’s son Chris Clark, are aspiring artists. Chris, a photographer pursuing a degree from Santa Fe University of Art and Design, had his own show at Murillo Studios in 2012.

Wayne’s children now care for him and help him find subject matter to feed his desire to paint. Jonathan helped arrange a show, hanging now at Friends University’s Riney Fine Arts Center, that will showcase the work of his father and fellow artist Don Weddle. It will hang through the summer, and the artists will be at a Final Friday reception there on June 27.

“Dad is very inspirational,” Karin Clark says. “Even with his Parkinson’s, he still outpaints me.”

And in the end, Wayne said, he’s pleased that he has so many artists surrounding him and speak his language – especially since they also know how to type.

“I’ve enjoyed watching them produce things,” he said. “It’s fun.”

Michael and Ed Pointer: Nature vs. nurture

Michael Pointer’s favorite moments from his childhood are still vivid in his memory.

On the weekends, his father – well-known Wichita painter Ed Pointer, who has painted professionally for more than 50 years – would pull out a stack of jazz records: Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis and the like.

Ed would pick up his paintbrush and get to work, and Michael would watch.

“I loved it. I thought it was so cool,” Michael remembers. “He’d paint, and I’d watch as long as my attention would hold. He’d talk and explain elements of composition and how this works as a metaphor.”

Later, they’d go to the Wichita Art Museum.

“We spent a lot of time there going through and looking at work,” said Michael, who recently relocated to the Kansas City area. “He’d talk about each piece in the collection as we went through, and I think I picked up a lot from that.”

Young Michael wanted to do what his father did, so he got a little sketchbook and took his father’s instruction. As soon as he was old enough, he signed up for art classes and soaked up even more. When Michael was in junior high school, though, his father was busy at his second career – running his own graphic design firm called Visual Graphics.

But that’s when Ed, now 82, helped his son discover his true artistic talent.

“I had an extra Pentax, and I was into photography myself,” Ed said. “In fact, half of my business was doing my own professional photography. I noticed he had some natural ability at composition, and he always had an inclination toward art.

“I gave him this Pentax and a couple of rolls of film, and I said, ‘You take this out and shoot a couple of rolls and come back, and I’ll teach you how to develop and print it.’ He came back with two rolls of film, and there wasn’t a bad shot on either one of them. I thought, ‘This is worth training.’ I took him under my wing and taught him about photography.”

Michael, 59, stuck with photography and got serious about it around 2000. He had a solo show at Trish Higgins Fine Art gallery, and WSU invited him to teach photography. He’s been steadily exhibiting his work, a mix of traditional black and white and more abstract work, ever since, he said.

As he’s gotten older, Michael said, he’s pondered the nature vs. nurture question when it comes to his talent. He’s a product of both, he said.

There’s obviously something to genetics. People often tell him that they see hints of his work in his father’s and vice versa. Even though their mediums are different, they both agree that it’s there.

He also had the benefit of growing up in an artistic environment.

“I had all this creative energy, and I had something to do with it. I drew all the time, painted while I could. I made photographs. It was a very rich youth. It was great. At the time, it didn’t seem extraordinary to me, but when I look back on it now, it was a highly unusual childhood.”

Looking back, Ed said, he’s glad he encouraged his son.

Though his work is in private collections all over Wichita and Kansas and he became well-known locally and nationally during his career, Ed says he never reached the stature as a painter that he dreamed he would.

But Michael still has time.

“I’m very excited about his career. The sad thing is that it’s very difficult to make a living doing it. You have to really have a name before you can do anything, and age has caught up with me,” Ed said. “But Mike is young enough that he will be able to do something and he can be very successful at it.”

The Pointers have a father-son show, likely their last, scheduled for CityArts in December.

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