“My specialty is creating,” says Wheat Ridge artist Gregory Block. “I paint everything – figures, landscapes, portraits, still life – because inspiration comes in so many different forms.” Block’s most recent inspiration takes form in the collection of his paintings of doughnuts, now showing through Aug. 21 at Gallery 1261 in Denver’s Golden Triangle neighborhood. “I like to think that anything that jumps out at me is worthy of painting. And that’s been interesting over the years in terms of navigating what my brand is. I’m inspired by so many things at any given moment.”
Block paints in the contemporary realism style created in the 1960-70s. He does not strive to paint photorealistically, although at first glance you could easily mistake his paintings for photographs. He achieves this effect through a painstaking process of applying layer upon layer of oil paints until he is satisfied. “With each thing I look at, I decide what moves me, and why I would be willing to look at a particular object for two weeks straight, 10 hours a day. What is it about that object that is so uniquely fascinating? Throughout the painting process, I can interpret that fascination and send it out to see how other people respond to it.”
To prepare for his solo show at Gallery 1261, he painted doughnuts for six months. “I was in a 7-Eleven getting a doughnut for a still life, and I spent a little time at the case, looking at the doughnuts, choosing just the right one to paint, and the guy behind me said, ‘Wow, you’re putting a lot of thought into this, aren’t you?’ He was in a bit of a rush, I could tell. I told him I’m a painter, and I’m trying to get just the right one with sprinkles all over it.”
Block typically spends about two weeks, eight hours a day, every day, to complete a painting. “About 200 hours is as long as I spend on most pieces, although the larger ones might take three weeks.”
He is often asked how he knows when a painting is done. “I think it was [Leonardo da Vinci] who said art is never finished, only abandoned, and I subscribe to that. Quite often I end up stopping because there’s an idea bubbling up that leads me to abandon the first one.”
Until age 11, Block lived in Fort Collins, where he attended River Song Waldorf School, which his parents helped to create. “We lived by a private lake, where I spent almost all my waking hours outside, playing with bugs and doing pencil sketches of them, and of trees and roots” – the perfect place for a young boy with a curious mind and an urge to draw. The next eight years would be spent between the towns of Steamboat Springs and Oak Creek. He said the transition from a Waldorf school to a rural public school was difficult at first. “I was scorned as the weird kid and quite literally stoned on the playground – kids threw rocks at me. Eventually, some of the bullies started to look at my drawings and realized I had a talent they didn’t. Over time, I became one of the popular kids.”
That experience taught him the importance of his passion and instilled in him the confidence to follow his heart, he said. At Colorado College, in Colorado Springs, he pursued a degree in biology rather than fine art because of his curious mind. “I really admired people like da Vinci, and his sketchbooks. He’s an artist, but he’s a scientist; he investigates, and experiments and pries open the mystery in the world by visualizing it through his own eyes then putting it onto paper. Science was a way of deeply investigating the world around me. That’s what I consider I’ve always done and am doing in terms of art, like the painting of a doughnut where I find all the related angles of the sprinkles on it; and which doughnuts should go next to it, to create a composition that functions as a vibrant ecosystem. I have an insatiable appetite to figure out how things work.”
After graduating from Colorado College in 2009, he felt a yearning toward getting back into art and resolved to take one year to just paint and see if he could make a living from it. “And, more importantly, to see if after that year I would hate it and feel burnt out – it being a profession of sorts where you’d have to show up for work and thereby it becomes a burden. After that first year, I made $3,000, gross income. But I loved art even more and wanted to keep going. “To be honest, I never thought, ‘20 years down the line when I’m grown up I want to be an artist.’ This is just what I do. I’m able to get up every day and do what I love, and go to sleep at night feeling fulfilled, like I’ve made a mark on the world that will be there in perpetuity and for the better.
“After people see my art, I hope they will take away with them the same sense of curiosity that I have about the world, and the willingness to pause and breathe and look closely at something they otherwise wouldn’t. “Like a doughnut.”
For more about the artist, visit gregoryfblock.com.