Carol Fairlie is a nationally recognized artist for her watercolors of glass reflections with striking colors. I interviewed her recently in her studio in Alpine but had previously viewed her hotel presentation at the Ellen Noel Art Museum, in Odessa. The presentation at the Ellen Noel, entitled “They Practice What They Teach,” was part of an absolutely outstanding display of works by teachers and professors at colleges and universities in West Texas.
Carol is professor of art and program head at Sul Ross University since 1996, where she enthusiastically states that she love Sul Ross and loves her students. It must be an amazing and enriching experience to study under someone so accomplished, so well recognized throughout the art world, yet so positive and outgoing.
Throughout her life, she has painted large oils of interiors of famous hotels, from Texas to New York (as well as Europe) — her favorite being the Edison of 47th and Broadway at Times Square — but it was the time of bringing down the Berlin Wall that became a seminal period of breakthrough in a new direction for Carol. Six months after the Wall fell, she and her husband, a refugee from the Communist takeover of the Czech Republic, were in Eastern Europe, and then revisited Amsterdam. In Bohemia, she saw the beautiful glass and its interplay of light, so unusual and different from plain glass.
As she says, “It was an ‘ah-ha’ moment!” Dreamlike, but based in reality. She started painting “reflections” from that trip. As she created, it became abstraction to the point you almost couldn’t tell what the core subject was, but it was there if you looked close enough. Then, later, she would play with the bright colors of refractive light. The pieces would “just happily evolve” from reflection to abstraction.
There have been numerous showings of Carol’s “Reflections,” the latest at the Clyde H. Wells Fine Arts Center Gallery at Tarleton State University. To me, however, one of her most intriguing series is that of famous Texas hotels. She has painted the Adolphus, Dallas; the Driskill, Austin; the Camino Real, El Paso; the Menger, San Antonio, and she is on commission to paint several others. The interiors are basically still life, yet she will slide in a metaphor or allegory for the senses. Part of the fun is searching for them.
My favorite is the Menger Hotel in San Antonio. It has a rich history of ghosts from historical times appearing in the hotel, like Robert King, owner of the King Ranch. Or the maid Sally White, who is said to be seen carrying a stack of towels down the hall. When you request one, there is no response. Or a number of people from the Civil War who stayed at the Menger but periodically return. In her paintings of the Menger, you find metaphoric clues to such history, while viewing the beautiful display of color and the way Carol uses light and reflection in her artistic representation.
These are huge paintings, 54″ x 80.” There is much more that can be said about them and the intriguing artist who painted them. One can easily see why Carol Fairlie is nationally acclaimed. Should you have a chance to view one of her series, it is well worth the experience.