Interview with Vernon Finney
arternity: When you were young or at some point in your life you realized that you were an artist. When was that?
Finney: Well I did draw most of my life. I really didn’t think of myself as an artist until I got in college. Then, in my sophomore year at the University of Oklahoma, I decided I would pursue radio journalism. As a mirage, I think (smiles), something that was glamorous. Then I changed from there to art. It was the first time I came to grips with it.
arternity: What are your memories of your first paintings?
Finney: I painted a couple of miserable paintings in the late 40’s. First attempts at oils. I don’t know who wound up with those.
arternity: And the late 40’s would have made you how old?
Finney: In my twenties. But then again I didn’t paint until college.
arternity: And then what happened?
Finney: I took a course in painting and learned a little bit better how to apply paint. But from that point, since I was already self-taught in other areas, it was easy to adapt to that.
arternity: You looked forward to going to those classes?
Finney: Oh yes, for two reasons: One was for scholastic another was that I had three very close friends. All four of us were at the top of our class. We had a very friendly competition going, which gave us a little more incentive to excel.
arternity: And then?
Finney: And then I decided to go into advertising.
Finney: Oklahoma City (laughs) a short jaunt. I still painted but not seriously. Advertising was quite exciting.
arternity: If you had to put a time in your life when you began to paint seriously, when would that time had been?
Finney: Well that would have to be in 1974.
arternity: What took place that year?
Finney: A number of things kinda came together, in various aspects of my life. There was a chance of getting out of advertising. I felt I had been there long enough. I wasn’t learning anything anymore. So I decided to jump into deep water and become a starving artist.
arternity: Began your professional life. Is that when you started InnerSparks?
Finney: I started InnerSparks in the mid-eighties.
arternity: What does InnerSpark mean?
Finney: An inner idea. Inner concept. An inner spark.
arternity: Do you think that artists go through stages? If so, what are they?
Finney: Yes: the beginning, the middle, the end! (laughs). I guess I’ve gone through stages, but they are very difficult to define. In some ways, such as finished technique, I have loosened up considerably. They’re not as photographic as they used to be. I’m more impatient, but at the same time I realized that it’s not all that necessary to give it all that much attention. So I guess in that way I have had a transition. I look back at some of the earliest things I have done and I think I’ve always wanted to paint. I think I have always wanted to paint the way I paint and there were few instances when I did. They are always the ones that got noticed, and always the ones that sold.
arternity: Art is a big word. It’s three letters. Same as the word color, another big word. How do you and color communicate? When you see color, are you seeing color differently than others?
Finney: I think I probably have a different perspective. I don’t see it differently, only in the respect that everything I see, I see as a painting: not just a tree, but light, shadows, colors. I analyze it more than most people. In that respect I probably see color differently.
arternity: Do you have a favorite color or colors?
Finney: No (pause) well if I had to say a favorite it would probably be orange and pthalo blue.
arternity: Do you use any geometric shapes in your art?
Finney: Very little.
arternity: I notice your shapes and your figures seem to be almost perfect. Your circles and squares are exact and perfect. Are there any special tools you use to create your art?
Finney: Yes (smile) a pushpin, pencil and string.
arternity: What artists inspire you?
Finney: A bunch.
arternity: Name a few.
Finney: If I had to name anyone in particular it would be Michelangelo. His tumultuous figures were rather overwhelming to me when I was young. Most old art was staid and posed. His just seemed to be so free.
arternity: At what age was this?
Finney: I don’t know. I found an old art history book and learned how to copy, learned how to sketch like the old masters did. But his figures were very difficult to draw because he had a lot of foreshortening in his figures and they were so expressive. They just turned and twisted.
arternity: Would they be as equally hard for you to draw today?
Finney: Oh yeah… (pause) as a matter of fact, I am just getting into that.. (pause) stage (laugh) if that’s a stage.
arternity: Do you use models?
Finney: I use models as much as I can, which is infrequently. I need them just to renew my memory. I don’t necessarily need them to pose for the pose I’m looking for.
arternity: The painting ‘Creator,’ you had that in your mind for many years. Correct?
arternity: How many?
Finney: A dozen or so.
arternity: And the painting ‘Polka Dot Hills,’ you had been to that place some 25 years earlier. Yes?
Finney: About that.
arternity: Why is it then that so much of your art seems to be stored in your memory and then comes out many years later?
Finney: All of those came from very strong memories that were planted in my head. And at that time were turned into a painting. They went into my [mental] index file. Every now and then one will pop up and I’ll say ‘oh, I’ve got to paint that.’
arternity: You have a strong index file then?
Finney: Oh yeah’ about a hundred or more that I haven’t painted.
arternity: What are your dreams like? One would think that a man who creates paintings, which are so moving, might even dream differently. Are your dreams interconnected with your paintings?
Finney: No. They’re just weird dreams.
arternity: What would you say is the state of the art world today?
arternity: The business art world?
arternity: How about the creative end?
Finney: Stagnant. All aspects of the art world are stagnant. I don’t care whether it is theater, movies, TV, visual arts, sculpture, architecture’ it’s DULL, stagnant.
arternity: Are people just accepting less? Why are we stagnant?
Finney: I don’t think that artists, in all of their wide definition, have come to grips with the fact that we’re really in an era of peace not war. I think that mentality is just now beginning to be felt where we do have some flexibility to do whatever we really want to do and stop conforming to the status quo. All the arts have been status quo. Nothing’s changed in the last 40 year. But (pause)… that’s about to change.
arternity: So you think it’s an overwhelming paranoia remaining from the post-war era?
Finney: I think it’s just confusion. I don’t think artists, because of their quest for money, have been all that tuned to the public and what’s going on and what the world’s really like. They’re in their own little worlds, but not the whole world.
arternity: They create for their own worlds?
Finney: Their little world. I think you have to get a little broader than that to really express what’s really going on today.
arternity: Why is art important?
Finney: It stretches the mind if anything.
arternity: Why is it important for young people to create art?
Finney: I think that all children for the first eight grades, should undergo, not only visual but theater, dance, music, imaginative writing, all of it, to stimulate their thinking. To reach out, to get beyond what they read in the books and see on TV. I think it’s absolutely necessary for them to learn that, and they’re not learning that. No one is showing them how to reach beyond the ‘boob tube.’
arternity: It could have an enormous effect on the art world if attention isn’t brought to the matter?
Finney: The whole world knows about it. They just could care less. I don’t think artists as a whole, are dedicated enough to their ‘art.’ I just don’t think they are. It’s their avenue to making a living and a slight hope to become famous. They don’t value their art.
arternity: Dedicated to their art. How are you dedicated to your art? How are YOU driven?
Finney: I haven’t the faintest idea. I just am. I get an idea and it overwhelms me and I just have to try and capture it on canvas. (long pause) Unfortunately not with the same colors and the same impact as what my mind sees. (grin) Who knows, maybe if I practice long enough.
arternity: You have a lot of things in your mind that you want to create?
Finney: A good hundred things.
arternity: You paint a lot of subliminal and hidden images such as faces and animals in your art. Why do you do that?
Finney: Partly because it’s just fun. When I feel whimsical with my art, I just kinda let it come on through. If someone else discovers it, they’ll feel somewhat the same, since I am painting feelings anyway, why not?
arternity: Painting feelings, you’ve mentioned that before, you’ve been quoted as saying ‘I paint mostly feelings,’ what does that mean?
Finney: I paint paintings to try and evoke the same feelings I have felt in people who look at my art.
arternity: Good and bad feelings?
Finney: I don’t paint many bad feelings.
arternity: What is your relationship with Mother Nature?
Finney: Well’ it’s MOTHER Nature. Yeah, the great teacher. And people are part of Mother Nature.
arternity: How have relationships with friends and family affected your art?
Finney: In the broad sense that my relationships with them have helped me become a better person, which in turn has helped me clarify a lot of my ideas and my directions.
arternity: And has that affected the people around you?
Finney: I think we all benefited.
Finney: My participation was done with only love in mind. I found that every time I offered that, I get it back.
arternity: How do you feel about selling your art, making money off of it?
Finney: Well, that’s kind of weird. It hasn’t been until just recently that I’ve come to the realization that I do have a valuable asset. Which is both good and bad.
arternity: You’ve recently entered into a business agreement with a large printing and distribution company, which has taken you on as one of their premier artists. You’ve now released some of your work. It’s a different time for you, how do you feel?
Finney: Wonderful. Wonderful. I feel like I’m starting again. In fact I’ve yet to finish a painting that might be a turning point in my art approach.
arternity: Is change coming?
Finney: Subtle changes are coming. To me they are changes. To others, they probably won’t be.
arternity: What’s the differences between a person that enjoys art, sees a piece of art and just has to have it, whips out their Visa, takes it home, adores it, and a person who just looks at art?
Finney: I think that person has learned how to spend his money wisely. To put the money forward to spend on those things, which you like have around you that please you.
arternity: Is it safe to say that there are many people in the “art world” who don’t know anything about art?
Finney: I think most people are scared to death of it. Not that they don’t like it. I think they love it, but they don’t know what to do with it. It’s because of the weird stereotypes that art has gone through the last 40 years. The pop movement really took all legitimacy out of art, but like all humor, it wears thin after a while. And now art is on a resurgence again. People keep saying, ‘oh we’ve already created everything that can be created.'(laugh)That’s not true.
arternity: Do you find a lot of people redoing old art, not being original?
Finney: Yes, I can see where a lot of those people are coming from because that’s where I used to come from. When I was younger, trying to stretch my wings into art I kept having this feeling that my art just kept looking like everyone else’s. Just a variation. Until I would do something stupid and it would come out different and really wild. So I withdrew from art for six years and filled up books of “instant ideas” with my mind. Then I started to paint.
arternity: How do you feel when you sign a painting?
Finney: RELIEVED. Relief.
arternity: Why relieved?
Finney: Well because most of them are very time consuming. The creative juices have long passed; it’s just rigorous work. Not much exciting going on there.
arternity: What stimulates you today? What’s stimuli for Vernon Finney today?
Finney: My primary is people. Nature. How I feel about it, feel about them. I am not so much interested in how they feel as how I feel.
arternity: If anyone were to look at your work, other than possibly a few commissioned pieces, you have no art in which any of your subjects have any hair or clothing. Can you explain that?
Finney: Those are the two things that would tie anything that I painted into some point in history. Either past, present or future. But without them, they exist in time, and they’re timeless. This way they can become more symbolic and representational.
arternity: Do a lot of people ask you about that?
Finney: Surprisingly enough, no.
arternity: How do you feel when people ask you to explain your art?
Finney: I don’t explain my art, I turn my question around to them. I don’t really care how they feel about it, as long as they feel. If I can get some response, that’s fine. I don’t care if they like it or not. I didn’t paint it for them to like.
arternity: You have a few paintings that are larger than life, literally. They took a ton of time. One of them is ‘Reach,’ another one is called ‘Creator.’ Some pretty powerful paintings, I might add. When you pass by one of these pieces, does it say anything to you?
Finney: Not much. I spent most of my emotions while I was painting it.
arternity: Is there some reason why those pieces had to be those sizes?
Finney: The large pieces, yes. Mainly I felt they could not achieve the maximum effect unless it was a sort of one-on-one relationship. Same size.
Finney: Equal. That was one of the powers of some of the old renaissance paintings, people were painted larger than life. Even though they weren’t doing anything, they gave them an impact in stature alone. I do the same thing.
arternity: Is that the case with almost everything?
Finney: Almost everything. I don’t have much affection for most of my work.
arternity: How do you feel when someone is watching your work for first time and they’re taken by it?
Finney: Oh I am pleased. At the same time I am astounded by how much they get out of it that I wasn’t aware of. That freaks me out. Philosophically, It’s nice to know I’m communicating.
This interview was taken on July 15, 2001, at Oak Creek, Sedona, Arizona.