It may be hard to imagine, but artist Robert Seabeck flunked his eighth-grade art class. The reason: He wasn't following the rules.
"I guess I wasn't good at taking the instructions and going step by step. I just did it my own way," he said. But unlike many artists whose talent is discouraged by a bad grade or an unkind word from an art teacher, Seabeck kept painting.
He didn't take another art class until college, but his older brother encouraged him.
"My brother was my earliest patron," Seabeck said. "He would pay me five and ten dollars to copy things for him (like the covers of magazines)."
Seabeck returned to the art classroom as a fine art major at California State University in Long Beach and later received a Master's of Fine Art from the University of Wyoming.
He built his career slowly by working in his father's plumbing shop in Casper, Wyo., until he had saved enough money to take time off to paint.
He worked as a plumber/artist for years until his paintings started to sell.
Seabeck's paintings of wildlife and landscape are in the permanent collections of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyo., and the National Wildlife Art Museum, in Jackson Hole, Wyo. In 1984, Seabeck was commissioned with three other artists to paint a portrait of Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro for the Democratic National Committee along with artists Andy Warhol and Fritz Scholder.
But Seabeck's best-known works are paintings of cars and trucks, ranging in size from 9 feet by 12 feet to a 40 feet by 60 feet painting of a truck owned by a museum in Cody.
"(Vehicles) were one of the earliest representational images I used," Seabeck said. "It came about as a problem-solving situation. I needed to learn how to paint what I saw."
He chose a chrome bumper as his subject, "one of the most difficult things to paint," he said. "It requires a lot of discipline and observation.
"And being an American male, we have a love affair with cars."
In his vehicle paintings, as well as his wildlife and landscape paintings, Seabeck often shows only a portion of the subject.
"By showing only a piece, it leaves the viewer to imagine the rest of the subject," he said.
In criticism and show curating, Seabeck often is called a photorealist, but he denies that title. Photorealism attempts to reproduce life exactly as it is, hiding the artist behind perfect brush strokes.
Seabeck is more heavy-handed with his brush and prefers to be called a photoexpressionist.
After years in other states trying to get his name known in art circles, Seabeck returned to Wyoming. He now lives in Laramie.
"I appreciate the open space and the lack of population," he said. "I raised two sons here and learned to send my work out of state in order to make a living."
Seabeck will be in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday, lecturing as part of the continuing Alpine Enrichment Program at Colorado Mountain College.
"I'm going to talk about my art and the transformation that I went through as an artist," he said. "I'll talk about the changes that occurred in my art and the road I took to get where I am."
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