William Bixler The World's Most Redundant Painter! 5,000 Old Swimming Hole Works
Artists often "find themselves" and repeat. Having a recognizable style is important to the career of any artist. After all, what's the use of spending money on a painting if when company comes, they don't recognize the work? "Oh THAT? That's just my VLAMINCK." A good example is Susan Rothenberg. By now she's probably done enough horses to fill Ted Turner's stable, which the last time I checked was about 1/3 of Colorado. I always admired Jasper Johns, because anytime he needed a house, he could paint an American Flag. Not to begrudge them...if you do something well, you should keep doing it.
The King of repeated work is certainly one William Allen Bixler. You've never walked into a room and seen a Bixler? Well, maybe you have but don't know it. His most prolific period was his "old swimming hole" period. Between 1912 and 1918 he painted it 5,000 times. Each was 20" x 30" That's right, 3 million square inches of it. The same painting. Over and Over and Over like a wild animal stuck in a cage too small.
Bixler was a poet and liked poetry. So when he read the James Whitcomb Riley poem "The Old Swimming Hole" he went to the spot which inspired it and painted it up. It was one of his first paintings. Why, i'm not sure, as one line in the poem reads "Whare the old divin'-log lays sunk and fergot and I stray down the banks whare the treese ust to be--" Well, you get it, but something struck a nerve in our prolific artist. A friend printed up a picture of the painting and sent it to the poet, who liked it enough to mail back a gift of his collected works to the painter.
Several years later, folks in Indiana decided to raise money to erect a statue of the Hoosier Bard but how to pay for the tribute? School children collected pennies, and for each school which raised a few dollars, Bixler came and painted the Old Swimming Hole in their school. The painting is adequate. You would NOT confuse it with the Eakins swimming hole. A stump in a pond. For each $12.50 raised, a school would receive a painting and a small bust of Riley. More than a million kids contributed.
When the depression hit, kid's pennies were now worth a meal. Bixley went on to publish several books and commenced a career as a speed-painter of sorts...a Chalk Talker! He would bring his easel anyplace which would put him and his wife up for the night. He gave lectures on the Lord and illustrated them with chalk drawings made on the spot with lightning speed. The book shown here, one of my favorite books of all time, was first published in his home state of Indiana in 1932.
Chalk Talk Made Easy by William Allen Bixler, 1932 (later edition 1948) Collection Jim Linderman