For most of his 87 years, Arthur Blanchard has been putting pencil and paint to paper.
The Dallas man makes art almost every day. He’s created thousands of sketches and paintings, most of them portraits.
And now, finally, after decades of creating art, he’s showing off his work at his first gallery show in Dallas. “The World of Arthur Blanchard” is at Beaux Arts in the Dallas Design District.
So many artists yearn to have their own show. But Blanchard has been more focused on making art, not showing it off.
“I’m so old that I don’t want to fool with it, really,” he said. “My idea is you’ll die pretty soon and your kids can take it. They can clean up the mess.”
But he added: “If anyone can enjoy it, let them enjoy it. I can’t do anything with it. I’m 87.”
While he hasn’t sought publicity for his work, he doesn’t mind the attention.
“I’m kind of flattered by all this,” Blanchard said. “I’m not immune to the publicity side of this thing. It’s kind of nice.”
His show includes drawings of Dallas residents that he created while riding city buses. For four decades, Blanchard, an attorney, hopped on a DART bus to head to work at the law office he helped found, Payne and Blanchard. He had time to kill, and so he whipped out a pad and started drawing portraits of people he noticed during his daily commute.
He figures he created about 1,000 bus portraits in his “Bus People” series. He continued the series – and his bus riding – after he retired in 1984 to pursue his art.
“The word ‘series’ is barely applicable,” He said. “I was simply filling time. Call it doodling if you want to. … [It was] something to do as you’re riding home.”
Drawing people quickly on a bumpy bus ride required a strategy.
“I try to sit a couple seats back from them because I don’t want to draw attention to myself,” he said. “Because people freeze if they realize what you’re doing. I don’t think I was ever caught – except on one occasion.”
Lots of lonely people
During a recent visit to his studio near Fair Park, Blanchard looked at some of his “Bus People,” including a woman with pink and purple hair, small glasses on her nose and a pair of huge dark-rimmed glasses on her head.
“Faces are fascinating,” he said. “There are things about their attire or what they have with them that makes them appealing.”
Blanchard’s studio is a cluttered place. Several coffee cans are filled with dozens of paintbrushes. The walls are covered with artwork placed haphazardly on the walls.
One day, a woman roamed into his studio, asking him to paint her picture. She brought in some photographs.
But then she vanished. Blanchard never saw her again.
Still, he still painted her picture, a beautiful blond woman with gorgeous blue eyes.
He named the piece “Victim.”
“I found out she had either been pushed or jumped out of a window around here somewhere,” Blanchard said. “Somebody told me that she had been hauling narcotics from New Orleans up here. And I don’t even know her. … Lots of tragedy around. Lots of sadness and loneliness. You find some of it in this neighborhood.”
You find the loneliness in his pictures, too.
“Loneliness is really besetting,” he said. “A lot of people in our society, I think, are terribly lonely.”
“My saucy pencil”
Blanchard has been drawing since he was a boy. His mother was a talented drawer. She got him a few drawing lessons when he was a kid. But money was tight.
He preferred watching Saturday cowboy movies.
But, in school, he drew. He drew portraits of his teachers, all women.
“I alienated more than one to my sorrow (to this day) with my saucy pencil,” Blanchard wrote in a piece for Beaux Arts.
Later, he drew in high school and college. He drew in law school. He drew in church.
Nothing stops Blanchard from drawing. When he was in the hospital, he drew for the nurses’ kids. When he was a lawyer, he drew in meetings.
Sometimes he gave his sketches to his colleagues. They thought his work was “quaint, eccentric.”
“But that’s a pretty tricky business giving people your drawings of them, particularly if you have a bent toward humor or exaggeration,” he said.
Blanchard’s art has evolved as he’s gotten older.
“It’s a little looser, I’m easier with it,” he said. “Less intent on full-fledged realism. The purpose is really to get people to read what you want them to see there. If you can get the impression with less effort, that’s more artistic than it is if you sweat and strain to get each detail right.
“It’s a marvelous business.”
Listen to the piece that aired on KERA Radio: