Artist Elizabeth O’Rear

by Barney Quick
photo by George Bredewater

When you acquire an Elizabeth O’Rear work you have a record of her evolution. She’s not one to coast, so your painting won’t be a knockoff of anyone else’s O’Rear piece. Each one documents a segment of forward movement.

Her career started in such a way that she had to make every painting session count. She was a civilian staff person at Fort Knox in Kentucky, as well as a mother, pursuing art on the side. She took classes whenever possible and began making connections in Brown County.

In 1994, she took early retirement and married her present husband Don, who was from the Indianapolis area. After some years in Brownsburg and the Columbus area they built their present home, which houses her studio on State Road 135, three and a half miles south of Story.

She began working in oil and expanded to acrylic. The same year she made art her full-time profession and married she took her first watercolor classes.

Her first effort in that medium was featured in the Hoosier Salon and won the 1995 Ft. Wayne Art Guild’s Memorial Prize. It is a light-and-shadow study of some pottery alongside a fence in Arizona. The desert southwest and the visual power of specifically directed light would be recurring elements in her work.

O’Rear has been prolific in portraits, still lifes, and landscapes but it is in these latter two categories that the viewer can really detect her interest in light and vantage point. In “Shadows of Fatima,” a watercolor of a stairway in Portugal, a shadow looms on the wall below the stairway. It tells the viewer volumes about the shape and proximity of nearby buildings. “Just Picked” is a close look at a bushel of peaches at a market in San Francisco’s Chinatown. When asked why, out of all the fruit that must have been displayed there, she chose this particular group, she exclaims, “Just look at that brilliant light!”

She attributes much of her mastery of light and dark to Brown County classes she took with watercolor instructor Zoltan Szabo. “He explained it better than anybody I’ve encountered,” she says.

Her latest work, as yet unnamed, depicts a Brown County scene off Valley Branch Road. It demonstrates perhaps the most masterful treatment of this light-and-vantage-point inquiry so far. It was done at the time of the first snow in late 2005. In combination with the particular textures of the overcast sky, it becomes clear to the viewer that there is a break in the clouds somewhere to the right of the canvas’s edge. O’Rear has conveyed the time of day, late afternoon, in a most subtle way.

This work also points up another facet of her growth: the trend toward “painting loose.” “When you examine it close up it can seem messy and imprecise,” she says. “From a couple of feet away you can see how everything in the picture really is concrete.”

She calls this “letting the viewer finish the painting.” “Everybody in oil starts out painting ‘tight’,” she says. “Eventually, you use your artist‘s prerogative and simplify. Einstein said, ‘Do everything as simply as possible, but not any simpler.’”

Plein air painting is a particular delight for O’Rear. She loves to participate in the Indiana Plein Air Painters Association’s paint-outs. In March 2005, she took a workshop from renowned plein air teacher Camile Przewodek at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson.

A recent oil piece she did in her back yard, “January Storm,” demonstrates her flair for conveying nature’s quiet drama. For a focal point, she chose a stand of trees of a kind that keeps its leaves in winter. One could surmise that the season shown was mid-autumn or very early spring, but there is a certain upper-atmosphere chill in the bluish-white spaces between her gathering clouds that places the scene in winter.

She sees her current environs as the culmination of what she’s been moving toward throughout life—a lake of stunning blue ripples in front of the house. She and her husband have five cats, soon to be joined by two horses. “I have a clothesline, too,” she adds with a laugh. “Some people wonder why that would be important but I love the sight and smell of sheets drying in the breeze. This place is where I’ll do the rest of my work.”

O’Rear will be featured in a show called “Poetry in Nature” at the Hoosier Salon Gallery in Indianapolis. It runs from June 16 to July 22.

She can be contacted at (812)988-1090,

<> or e-mail: <>. Her studio is located at 8850 State Road 135 South in southern Brown County.