By Bob Bahr
At age 18, SKBer Andy Wei has seen one of his paintings sell for $235,000.
The talented Texas high schooler painted John Finley and his dog Merlin in oils on an 18″-x-24″ surface; this was picked as the Grand Champion at the 2017 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo School Art Auction on March 19. The auction price for the piece was $50,000 more than the previous record price. It was purchased by Mimi and Tom Dompier, Mary and Ken Hucherson, the Somerville family, and Jennifer and Joe Van Matre.
Wei pocketed $28,000 for the win. “The more one gives, the more one receives,” says Wei. “I’ve always maintained a tradition of giving back throughout these few years as I was able to auction off my pieces via the Houston Rodeo. Although a portion of the money will go toward my college tuition, I will definitely donate a portion of this fund to spread the blessing to more.”
Wei, who came to know the Susan Kathleen Black Foundation through the Western Art Academy and the SKBers who taught there, traces the painting’s genesis back to last September. “It all started from the 2016 SKB Conference which I had blessing of being able to attend,” he recalls. “That’s where I first met Mr. John Finley and his lovely companion, Merlin. Their relationship touched the heart of everyone they met, including mine, and I was able to snap a photo of their interaction. From there, it was just the usual painting process (underpainting with raw umber/turpentine, ~3 more layers of paint on top). I don’t usually like to do strict realism as I tend to get bored easily; however, it was the heartwarming story I was trying to capture that kept me engaged for two months. Some ~250 hours later, ‘Timeless’ was completed.”
Finley is a fond figure in the SKB community, so the appeal of Wei’s piece is a given among SKBers. What accounts for the painting’s draw in Houston, thousands of miles away in both distance and mindset from Dubois? “I believe the genuineness of the piece really shines through to elicit a candid, heartwarming experience to the viewers,” says Wei. “The original reference wasn’t staged, the subjects weren’t actors, and their connection wasn’t an act. As a narrator, depicting a real story always makes it that much more appealing than just a ‘pretty picture.'”
Wei attended the Susan K. Black Foundation Dubois workshop in 2015 and 2016, serving as a delightful addition to the proceedings. So will we see Wei again in Dubois? “Right now, I am still awaiting final decisions from some of the universities I applied to,” says the artist. “That being said, I will definitely try my hardest to attend this year’s conference, but it all depends on the college I end up attending. A huge thank you from the bottom of my heart to the Susan Kathleen Black Foundation and all that it has done for young, aspiring artists like myself. Every visit was truly inspiring in their unique ways and the people I encountered were some of the most down-to-earth individuals I’ve ever met. Specifically, thank you for being my mentors and shaping my life for the better: Ms. Wanda Mumm, Mr. Mort Solberg, Dr. John Phelps, Mr. Stephen Spears, Mr and Mrs. Knapp, Mr. and Mrs. Cable, Mr. Bob Koenke, Mr. David Rankin, Mr. And Mrs. Seerey-Lester, Ms. Nancy Foureman and many more.” Ω