Currently, art lovers are enjoying a showing of 24 works by Tubac artist Bobb Vann, whose oil paintings are collected and displayed around the United States. The Tubac Center of the Arts has created a special solo exhibit titled “A Slice of Life.”
For his entire life, Vann has been an artist, an illustrator and at times, a teacher. His choice of subject, most often, is an individual person, or a group of just a few people. He’s drawn to showing their innermost thoughts, and encouraging the viewer to connect.
“I just see a lot in the figures that I chose to paint. They all seem to say something to me, as far as attitude goes,” Vann said.
In the show at the art center, the facial expressions of his subjects range from solemn to delighted, and draw in the viewer. Vann said he enjoys focusing on that. “Faces give off so much information. If that person is about something, they’re going to carry an expression.
“I like to give the painting some soul, some depth as to what that figure might be contemplating. I always try to let others read into that expression.”
Vann’s formal training was at the Philadelphia College of Art and was followed by a successful career as a graphic artist and illustrator in the advertising business. He became known for his paintings of Buffalo Soldiers, the first Black professional soldiers dating to 1866 when Congress acted to created six all-African American Army units.
The painting on the cover of the October “Tubac Villager,” featuring tones of red, white and blue, is titled “The Americans.” It’s called that because the three men, based on historical figures, “all played a significant part in what was going on, especially out here in the West. They represent what was going on at the time America was being formed.
“I chose to do it as a vignette, not a complete canvas, so it’s a segment of the time. I didn’t feel I had to fill the whole canvas with it in order for you to understand what was going on,” he said.
Vann, who has lived in Tubac with his wife, Pat, for 20 years, is highly regarded. Mike Jacoby, president of the board of directors of the Tubac Center of the Arts, said, “It was indeed an honor for the Tubac Center of the Arts to be able to welcome acclaimed local artist, Bobb Vann, in our inaugural exhibit featuring local artists in the new Studio Gallery at TCA.
“To see Bobb’s extraordinary work on display in a solo exhibit reinforces the board’s decision to initiate a tradition of featuring a local artist at Tubac Center of the Arts.”
Several of the paintings feature children, and it’s a delight to come upon a boy wearing a green t-shirt and red baseball pants. You feel as if you’ve just arrived at a Little League game and walked up behind the team because the boy’s back is toward the viewer.
“I paint a lot of my figures from the back. The back has a lot of expression in it. It causes you to wonder what the figure is doing or thinking about and the gesture or the pose sometimes lets you think maybe what they’re actually doing,” Vann said.
“I chose that one of the little kid because he was waiting either to come up to bat or maybe to go out on the field, but he was thinking and the pose suggested to me that he was contemplating what he was going to do next.”
African scenes have been a favorite of Vann’s over the years. One striking painting, named “Soon,” is bathed in a soft, warm golden glow. A Maasai woman in a cloak and skirt of gold and tan colors gazes to her right.
Slightly different gold tones are employed in the background. “It’s a matter of values, what you want people to focus on first. Even though the colors are similar, there’s enough of a difference to separate the front from the background,” he said.
In the painting “Street Angel,” an aged man stands outside a bank and the shopping bags gathered near his feet make him appear homeless. But Vann included two aspects to underline the potential this man had of being a divine messenger – you may see a halo around his head the window’s reflection.
As well, a deep shadow on the man’s right side might be expected, but look a second time and it appears to be a very large wing, possibly that of an angel. “There’s a dignity about the man; he’s just trying to make it through life.” Vann noted.
The paintings he creates “all have messages in them and that’s what I try to get out of these different paintings that I do. I guess my gift was being able to capture facial expressions. The clarity in them is what you can see.”
On Thursday, Oct. 22, at 5 p.m. Vann will speak at the Tubac Center of the Arts on the topic of illustration, which he majored in and what his career was based on. “My talk will be on the form of illustration and what it’s done for the public.” This talk, free and open to the public, will be the first time he’s given a presentation about art in Tubac, he said.
The show at the Tubac Center of the Arts concludes Sunday, Nov. 15.
Vann’s working studio is in his Tubac home, which is also the location of the gallery which displays his art work. Anyone interested is invited to visit.