Five minutes with… Dr. W. Baxter Perkinson Jr.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. W. Baxter Perkinson Jr. entered a new phase of his painting and began working with acrylic paints, which he poured onto canvas and manipulated by rotating the surface. ASH DANIEL

Question: How did you get started painting and what can you tell us about your new acrylic paintings, some of which were on display in the “Quarantine Expressions” exhibit when the Perkinson Center for Arts and Education opened in July ?

Perkinson: My wife, Elaine, and I were both poor when we started out. She lived in Washington, DC, in The Projects, and I lived in Powhatan County. She and her family would go to free concerts and free museums and all that – she liked art and I didn’t. So, we got married, and I was all about practicing dentistry and making a living. But at 35 – I had been a dentist for 10 years – my wife wanted me to take a watercolor class. So having no history of learning art, nor any commitment, I took a class with her. It was 10 ladies and I in a garage at night, every Tuesday night. The courses lasted 10 weeks. And I… I was bitten. I mean, I loved it. I just thought it was magic. And so after these 10 lessons I had enough experience and then I continued, I learned on my own and diversified my activities so that for the next 40 years I painted the watercolors.

Art was not part of my education or anything, but I think because of the hand-eye coordination of dentistry, there is no doubt that if you are a good dentist you have the potential. to be a good sculptor or artist. This is how I started to paint.

I am now retired and had the hardest time retiring because I loved what I was doing. The practice of dentistry was right for me. And then I found the art along the way. And art and dentistry went hand in hand. So I was a happy camper.

I am 76 years old now. I retired at 72.

For 40 years, I have painted watercolors. And around the time I got to where I was ready to quit dentistry, I was also ready to quit watercolors.

I mean, I just painted so many pictures and just wanted to do something else. So around this time – it was like November, December 2019 – these are the hits of COVID. So all of a sudden, not only was I retired, but I couldn’t go anywhere. I could not do anything. And I’m used to being busy. So I took oil painting lessons and found out that I didn’t like it. It wasn’t my style.

With the oil paint I had left, I diluted it with turpentine and tried to pour it. Had some good bits but when I got back down the next day it was just as wet as when I had.

So I looked it up on the internet and they said, there you go, you can’t dilute it to pour it or it won’t settle. So I learned this lesson. Now, okay, that’s the point. As I was browsing this YouTube to view my oil painting, I was first exposed to acrylic paint. I had never used acrylic paint. It never occurred to me to pour paint – and some people had heard of pouring paint before, but I hadn’t.

With acrylic, you can’t reflect a bit and let it dry and paint a bit like most painters. You have to paint all of this at the same time. You don’t go back to retouch, which suits me very well because it matches my personality.

So by the time COVID really hit, and that was February 2020, I started painting greedily, like seven days a week. Just like I was working. But what am I going to do with all these paintings?

VCU [Health System] was constructing a new building, called the AOP building – the adult outpatient pavilion. It was going to be 17 floors. And all kinds of doctors are going to have their offices in this high building. Well I called them up and asked if I would give them any framed original paintings, would they want them? And they said, “Of course. So I said, “Well, I’m going to paint a lot. “

On December 6, when it opened, I painted 520 paintings – framed, ready to hang. VCU didn’t have to spend a dime. It was a really good time between me and them, and it gave me something really fun to do that was going to be good too.

Without COVID, I never would have done this. It just worked that the acrylic paints fell on my lap. ??

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