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The City Journals

Artist of the Month Robert Wright evokes warmth in his paintings

Mar 02, 2021 12:04PM ● By Sona Schmidt Harris

“There are plenty of horrible things in this world that have a dark, lifeless existence, yet all that is needed is some light,” Robert Wright said. (Photo courtesy Brian Wright)

By Sona Schmidt-Harris | [email protected]

The best word to describe Robert Wright’s paintings is warm. Warm is also who he is and how he treats others.

Wright attempts to paint “…those things that are emotionally mine or are heartfelt to bring out the warmth with color that defines what's in my heart.” He does this with not only vineyards but with other subjects you might not think of as warm.

“I think it's the emotional attachment you have for the subject matter,” he said. “A painting example is knowing every square inch of a FrontRunner train and how it fits into the Wasatch Front.”

When he was 64 years old, Wright began work at UTA as an engineer for FrontRunner trains. He continued to work until the fall of 2017.

A painting of the train he loves so much immediately draws the viewer in. It contains not only golden grasses and other vegetation, but snowcapped mountains and a moody sky one does not always associate with happiness.

“It's the sky, background or atmosphere that sets the stage for everything else,” Wright said.

Born in Camden, New Jersey and raised in a military family, Wright himself was on active duty in the Air Force from 1969 to 1975 as an air traffic controller. “I spent time in various good locations and some bad but none as bad as time spent in Vietnam,” he said. He moved with his wife and son to Utah in 1976 and has been in Holladay for about 15 years.

In 1977, he enrolled at the University of Utah with the help of the GI Bill. He graduated in sociology and psychology and took “every elective or minor” in art courses. It was a strong base for his future in art.

Later, he joined the Air National Guard and was deployed to the Balkans, Kuwait, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. In all, he had 24 years of service in the military and 20 years of service as a civilian.

While in Vietnam, he was exposed to Agent Orange, which has affected his health to this day. Additionally, in a couple of deployments, Wright was exposed to “burn pits,” which, among other things, contain human waste doused in fuel. From this exposure, he contracted bio-pneumonia, which also affects his health.

In 2008, Wright, looking for something to help with his PTSD, began working in his yard and taking art classes. He then saw an ad in the Holladay Journal requesting applications from those interested to work on the Holladay Arts Council. He is in part responsible for the revival of the annual art show where he enjoyed promoting the work for “as many artists as possible.”  

Wright worked in different genres of art including murals, a world map 19 feet tall and 23 feet wide and sets for plays.

“I have liked to draw and sketch since I was in elementary school,” he said. “Throughout grade school, my teachers on a consistent basis would send notes home requiring a parental signature to stop me from drawing in class.” The availability of art classes in junior high school provided an outlet and direction for his artistic impulses.

Wright is generous with his time and talents and teaches art classes for free. “It's fun to see them grow in their art and oftentimes their personal confidence. I just enjoy art, period and those that enjoy doing it,” he said.

“There are plenty of horrible things in this world that have a dark, lifeless existence, yet all that is needed is some light,” Wright said.

With both the horror of war and the grandeur of art in his past, Wright chooses to focus on the latter.

Wright’s paintings will be on display at City Hall in March.

If you would like to see more of Wright’s work, visit: https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/9-robert-wright?tab=artworkgalleries

If you would like to nominate a Holladay resident for Artist of the Month, please visit: https://holladayarts.org/suggest-an-artist