The news that Houston artistic force Richard Stout died on April 5 has rippled through the art community over the last week. A presence in the Bayou City art world for six decades, Stout’s abstract expressionist paintings and sculptures made him one of the most important Texas modernists.
“He had a beautiful, sophisticated way of creating a composition that melded together such bravura and a visual sensation of vibrancy through color, line, and brushstroke,” says Art League Houston’s Sarah Beth Wilson, who contributed to the 2017 monograph on Stout’s art. “Even the most subtle of paintings were instilled with a quiet power that only comes from a true understanding of artistic form and an innate desire to create.”
Despite his international following, Stout remained firmly rooted in the Gulf Coast until his death at the age of 85, teaching at both the Museum School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and at the University of Houston throughout a career that spanned more than 35 years. During that time, he mentored hundreds of artists, both in and out of an educational setting.
Because of the current stay-at-home guidelines due to COVID-19, Stout’s friends and family can’t gather en masse to remember him and celebrate his life—at least not for now. But that doesn’t mean those in the arts community don’t have the late painter on their minds.
We spoke with Wilson and Randy Tibbits, former art critic for the Houston Press, about their personal interactions with the legendary painter and the impact his death on the Texas art community.
How did you first come to know Richard Stout and his work?
Sarah Beth Wilson: I was in my early twenties and working for an art gallery, Foltz Fine Art. Richard came in the door one Saturday morning and sat down with us. We shared coffee and talked for hours about Houston art history. He had so much knowledge, but also a passion behind what he was saying. I think one of the main things I remembered is that he took me seriously, despite my youth, and wanted to teach me what he knew. This continued for years.
Randy Tibbits: Though I'd heard his name before, I first became aware of Richard Stout in a personal way when I saw his painting titled Nest, from 1958, in a 2004 exhibition at Brazos Bookstore. Seeing Nest was one of the most thrilling art viewing experiences of my life. The painting itself is a literal explosion of color and shape—pink, gold, orange, green, ocher—which stunned and captivated me, not least because it had been made by a Houston artist. That seeing it was such a powerful experience for me proved somewhat intimidating, and I was too timid to actually talk to Richard for some years thereafter. When I did, of course, I found, as so many have over the decades, that he was as brilliant as his spectacular painting and happy to bring me into the art aura that surrounded him.
What was it about his work that especially caught your attention? What about his work stood out to you?
RT: Richard was deeply devoted to the landscape of the Gulf Coast. His recent retrospective was called A Sense of Home but might also have been called A Sense of Place because the place in which he lived, this place we call Southeast Texas, was such a fundamental part of himself and his work. His paintings could not have happened anywhere else, because they came out of this place, thorough him, onto the canvas. Richard's work is abstract, but always anchored in the real. He was a landscape painter, though the landscape was sometimes an interior one—either inside a structure or himself. And he was a history painter, painting for history the here and now in which he lived, and in which those still alive in him had lived before him.
What have we lost with Richard Stout’s passing?
SBW: Richard’s skills as an artist were mirrored by his knowledge of Houston art history. He often shared stories from the past and delighted in engaging anyone who was interested with discussions on the art world and Houston art scene. He took everyone seriously and was kind. You do not often find this in artists of his stature. This is what we have lost. We've lost one of the two or three really great Houston painters of the later 20th Century. An artist, teacher, mentor on a par with the few others before and since who make the uniquely Houston art continuity.