Paint: the final frontier

Lionel Dougy

Lionel Dougy travels 10 months out of the year in his utility truck fitted with all the painting equipment he needs.

Lionel Dougy travels 10 months out of the year in his utility truck fitted with all the painting equipment he needs.

Photo By David Robert

“Have brush, will travel.” That’s Lionel Dougy, an artist who makes the Reno area home but travels 10 months a year.

“Wherever I go, I set up a studio,” Dougy says in a barely discernible French accent. “I’ve built a special table so I can organize things a certain way. And I take that table wherever I go. I’ve also built an easel to fit my needs.”

Dougy took his first art class in Paris. His teacher saw potential in the then 13-year-old boy and supplied him with paints. Immigrating to the United States, he completed high school in Montana and worked in a restaurant that displayed his works.

A stint in the army during Vietnam provided Dougy the chance to paint. At first, it was just yellow lines down the middle of roads.

“There were blank walls in the mess hall, and to me any blank wall is like a canvas. I mentioned to the mess sergeant that I could do a mural,” Dougy says.

Given paints, he set to work.

“A general thought them good morale for the soldiers coming back from Vietnam and had my orders changed so I could keep painting murals. … Art’s been good to me and may have saved my life.”

Dougy’s early works, like the murals he painted, represented what people looking for calm in the world wanted to see, usually country scenes like log cabins, waterfalls or mountains: “I knew they would sell.”

Fellow artist Treas Atkinson, now Dougy’s wife, questioned his choice of subjects. She encouraged Dougy to paint what he wanted, assuring him that he would still have customers.

Surrealism became incorporated with his love of nature.

In “Trail of No End,” an off-centered rust-colored mitten in Monument Valley juts up from the desolate landscape. In the right foreground, the shuttle Discovery rests on the desert floor, while on the left an Indian holds the reigns of an unsaddled, piebald horse in his right hand. His left hand holds an arrow with a single white feather. Clad in shin-high boots and a loincloth, the Indian’s flowing black hair is held in place by a red headband. He looks toward the butte and the iridescent colors of a sunset against layers of indigo clouds.

Again, the desert plays a dominant role in “Vegas.” In the foreground, a limousine and a half dozen Royal White tigers from the Mirage rest amid the cracked desert floor. Standing proudly, the Statue of Liberty and the MGM lion flank a shattered New York-New York and MGM Grand. The Stratosphere and a setting sun emerge against the cloudy grayish sky.

“The desert has taken Las Vegas back,” Dougy explains.

Both “Vegas” and “Trail of No End” explore the disparity between minimalism and simplicity and complication and clutter.

“We make up inventions but we’re not living much better,” Dougy says. “We don’t seem to have time to be kind to nature. Art may very well be one’s last frontier.”

Dougy sometimes explores that frontier with his wife as they collaborate on paintings. She prefers fantasy—dragons, fairies, unicorns. But their styles meld when it comes to their reverence for nature.

Eventually, Dougy sees an end to his physical travels, however, he compares his paintings to a “long voyage.”

“Going into a painting is like going on a trip—I enter the canvas. The work is mostly done in my head, putting it on canvas is the technical part. I’m on cruise control.”

Regardless of when Dougy quits traveling literally, his metaphorical travels will continue as long as he’s got a place to put his paints and easel.