Gerald Brommer Interview
August 28th, 2015
Interviewer: Terry Henry
Gerald Brommer was born in 1927 in Berkeley, CA. Gerald grew up in Northern California then studied to be an educator in Nebraska where he earned a Master’s degree. After moving to Southern California, he received instruction in watercolor painting from Watson Cross, Noel Quinn and Robert E. Wood and since the 1950s, he has produced watercolors on a regular basis. The subjects he has chosen to paint vary widely from California coast views, to desert landscapes and European city scenes. Throughout his life he has been interested in geology and rock formations that are often included in his work. He finds their varied textures and unique shapes particularly interesting as subject matter.
Gerald has also become an internationally recognized teacher of watercolor painting and is the author of eighteen art instruction books and numerous articles in art magazines. He served as president of both the California Water Color Society and West Coast Watercolor Society. Through the years he has actively exhibited watercolors, holding 110 one-man shows and having his works displayed in 204 group exhibitions. Since the 1960s, he has been in demand as an instructor of watercolor workshops and has traveled all over the world conducting these classes. http://newmastersgallery.com/artists/painters/gerald-brommer/#
CJAS: Let’s begin our chat today with the question I have asked each artist I have interviewed: When did you first realize you were an “artist”?
GB: I was an elementary teacher for 5 years and taught high school students for 25 years and in the process of doing that, the art stuff was always there as far as the teaching of it was concerned. After I’d been married about 5 years, my wife gave me a set of oil paints for Christmas and I started to paint. However, I really didn’t enjoy oil painting that much and wasn’t that good at it either. Then I took my first watercolor class from Noel Quinn and began painting in that medium and really enjoyed it. So during my teaching career I was always doing watercolor at home after work. Noel Quinn was the president of the National Watercolor society at that time and he talked me into joining them and so I submitted a painting and became a member.
After that I started showing my work in a couple of galleries and though it might sound crass, I began making more money selling paintings than I was teaching school. At that point, I think during the seventies, I had to make a decision as to what I wanted to do. During that period of time I literally couldn’t paint fast enough and remember selling 100 paintings that year. That will never happen again. Now you are fortunate to sell ten paintings a year. What I think happened is that people were building houses and needed things to decorate them with and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. So I quit teaching school with the proposition to the principal that if I couldn’t stand working at home that I would come back and teach the next year. Well it only took a week for me to decide that I didn’t want to go back to school again, especially since my paintings were selling at that time.
So for the next couple of years I just painted and sold what I made. Workshops were just starting to happen and I kept getting calls to teach and I told them I was too busy. Then one day as I was driving down the freeway and listening to an interview of Steve Garvey, who used to play first base for the Dodgers. The interviewer asked him why he went to schools in order to talk with the kids after he quit playing and I will always remember his answer. Steve said, “Baseball has been so good to me I am impelled to put something back into the pot”. It was like he was talking directly to me. I just about drove off the road. So the next time I got a call to teach, I said yes. The class was in San Antonio, Texas and there were about 35 people in attendance and when I started talking, and everybody’s eyes were locked to mine, I realized that this was not like teaching high school. That’s really how I got started teaching workshops.
CJAS: That is a very interesting story and really leads me into my next question. Who has inspired you during your very interesting career. And if you could be any artist in history, who would that be.
GB: I probably would be Winslow Homer because I really like his work and he was very prolific and he has probably been more of an influence than any other artist.
CJAS: How would you describe your style of painting.
GB: Most artists don’t do what I do in the sense that I do both abstract and realistic art. When I teach I teach all of it. I might get really excited about doing abstracts and focus on that style when I get home. Over the years I have absorbed techniques from different teachers. As far as influences Robert E. Wood was a friend and incredible painter who I took a class from. I also studied with Millard Sheets and learned a lot from him as well. Whether I work from a realistic point of view or an abstract perspective I mostly paint landscapes. I can look out of the window here at Cheap Joe’s and literally see dozens of paintings.
CJAS: You have briefly described your journey and your style so my next question would be this: what do you want your 25 students this week to leave with at the end of the class.
GB: Excitement! I have never had any trouble motivating people. You didn’t get to see what we turned out yesterday but it was phenomenal what they did in one day. That’s what I feed off of. I get so excited seeing how the class is responding and what they are doing and learning in the process of taking a workshop. When I begin a workshop I have no idea how it is going to end up because there are twenty-five different people who are all at different skill levels. Some are struggling with their art and I have to work with them a lot more than those who are at the top of their journey. I only have each person for five days and all I can really do is try and motivate them and get them take what they have learned home and continue with their art.
CJAS: Have you ever had a low period where you struggled with making art.
GB: After I began painting full-time I can’t remember ever having a low period in that sense. I have always had a goal or a place I wanted to go with my art. The lowest I can remember being was when I broke my wrist last year and couldn’t paint for a couple of months. It hurt to hold a brush and it was really frustrating.
CJAS: You have had a long, successful career and are approaching 91. What’s in the future for Gerald Brommer?
GB: I thought that this (2015) was going to be my last year. I don’t think I even sent anything in for the Cheap Joe’s Workshopper magazine. But I already have six workshops lined up for 2016.
CJAS: In closing could you share with us a favorite story about Cheap Joe’s.
GB: I think getting together with Joe and his wife Lynda and going out to eat and telling stories is one of my favorite things to do. This place is phenomenal and what Joe has done for art and artists is a story I never get tired of telling. I remember visiting Boone after having done a workshop for North Carolina Watercolor Society in Charlotte. I had not met Joe at that time and one day my wife and I went looking for the store and we drove up and down the main drag looking for this big sign that would be Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff. I was thinking blinking lights and Las Vegas and when we finally saw the little sign at the bottom of the hill I thought that this can’t be Cheap Joe’s. So we found the store and learned the story of how it all began. We met Joe and he asked me to come back to Boone and do a workshop which I thought was really wonderful. It is a great success story and I am proud to be involved.
CJAS: Gerald, it’s been a pleasure talking with you today and we will see you next year.
Gerald will be back in Boone teaching September 11-15, 2017.
Some examples of Gerald’s work: