Visual Arts » 2D

When Pigs Fly!

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If you’ve ever wanted a painting of a hippo with a shark’s fin, zipping underwater behind a clownfish and riding in a propeller-powered nest, artist Gregory Potter is your man.

The painting, the first in a series of animals-in-nests compositions that Potter is currently working on, is one of the most popular pieces in the collection of this Franklin, Indiana, artist.

“Hippos Kill More People Than Sharks” is the result of Potter watching a nature documentary with his daughter. He only believed the fact when his daughter confirmed it was something she had learned in school. (For the record: Death by shark amounts to one person per year, on average. Hippos take out 2,900 people annually.)

Hippos Kill More People than Sharks inspired Potter's floating animals series.  - IMAGE BY GREGORY POTTER
  • Image by Gregory Potter
  • Hippos Kill More People than Sharks inspired Potter's floating animals series.

The evolution of the painting seemed to come from Potter being one-upped by his daughter. He countered her suggestion to paint a hippo in a nest with his idea to add the fear-inspiring fin. Then came the underwater location and the hippo’s fish friends. Soon, Potter had the first in a series of quirky animal configurations that includes penguins wearing goggles, sweaters and scarves; a pig channeling Napoleon Bonaparte; and a flamingo in a top hat riding on the back of a zebra. Which is standing in a nest powered by a propeller.

Potter is adamant when he says he isn’t a religious person, but he believes that “something pushed him in an artistic direction” early in life. He doesn’t think he was born an artist.

Potter pauses for a photo during one of his four military tours abroad. - COURTESY GREGORY POTTER
  • Courtesy Gregory Potter
  • Potter pauses for a photo during one of his four military tours abroad.

“I couldn’t draw when I was younger,” he confesses, simply stating that he thinks people who want to pursue the arts have to do the work.

“No one is born into it,” he says. “If that’s the path you’re going to choose, get good at it.”

While attending a small high school in Louisville, Illinois, Potter attended art classes at a nearby grade school; art simply wasn’t a part of the high school’s curriculum. During his last year of school, Potter’s family moved to Indiana. He found out about Saturday classes being offered at Herron and, likely due to his talent, found the beginning of his art training financed by his high school.

Then Potter looked into attending Herron or a similar art school following graduation, but he couldn’t really afford it. So he continued learning on his own for about a year, at which point he enlisted in the Army and journeyed to the Middle East for Desert Storm, the first of four tours he would be involved in before retiring in 2012.

While in the Army, Potter painted during his time off. He also attended art workshops and did “a lot of drawing” for soldiers who wanted tattoos. Potter bears no ink himself, but would go with his friends to “make sure the tattoo artist did it right.” His artwork also appeared on barrack walls at the behest of commanders.

After retiring from military service, Potter picked art back up full-time. He experimented with various techniques, benefiting from instruction in airbrushing that was offered as part of a collision repair course at Lincoln Tech. For about a year after the program, he specialized in adding custom airbrush designs to motorcycles and vintage cars.

The latest in Potter's floating animals series, VieCoons reimagines raccoons as Vikings. - IMAGE BY GREGORY POTTER
  • Image by Gregory Potter
  • The latest in Potter's floating animals series, VieCoons reimagines raccoons as Vikings.

Potter then shifted to working with acrylics and oils on canvas, which eventually led to the purchase of a painting party franchise (similar to events like Wine and Canvas). The business venture didn’t end up working in Potter’s favor, due in part to substantial competition from other painting studios. Franchise rules also prevented him from renting a dedicated space for teaching, preferring instead he remain mobile and conduct classes in restaurants. After a few years, Potter closed up shop and got a studio in Seymour, Indiana, where he spends three or four days a week. He’s glad for the time away from home, where he is distracted from making art by “everything that needs to get done.”

About a year ago, Potter began painting random animals in nests and notes that “they’ve kind of taken off.” He’s gotten good feedback from arts lovers at various events, including the recent Monument Circle Art Fair, and loves that his work often makes people burst out laughing. He enjoys the community and networking opportunities at fairs around the state, such as Greenwood’s WAMMfest and the Columbus Indiana ArtFest.

In his Seymour, Indiana, studio Potter distances himself from distractions to focus on his work. - COURTESY GREGORY POTTER
  • Courtesy Gregory Potter
  • In his Seymour, Indiana, studio Potter distances himself from distractions to focus on his work.

“I’m not sure where it’s going,” he says of his otherwise flightless animals. One suspects he will have the same laid-back approach to any change in his style as he does with various media he’s used: “If it works, great. If not, I had a good time.”

Potter paints a lot of commissions, many from people who want their beloved pets immortalized in a fun portrait. He enjoys the work, much as he does teaching. “Doing small classes is great therapy for [me],” he says. His relaxed approach surely inspires other artists, no matter their skill level, because he leaves art open to interpretation.

He also lets people “put their own sense of whatever” on his paintings, leading others to guess that his aloft animals are “above all the B.S.” or “leaving without knowing where [they’re] going.” Potter just shrugs it off: “Ninety-five percent of what you see at art fairs is landscapes. I’m not looking for anything deep or subversive – just humor.”

Potter only began exhibiting in 2014 and participated in about four shows this year. His goal is to return to the Monument Circle fair and WAMMfest next year, as well as participate in the Broad Ripple Art Fair and Penrod.

He learned the hard way some good lessons from owning his painting franchise, including the fact that it’s very difficult to create art and simultaneously market it.

“I’m perfectly happy passing out cards at fairs,” he says, adding that he loves interacting with attendees. While sales are important, Potter also appreciates people taking the time to stop and look at his art. “I like the sociable setting, even if [the people] are strangers. I like being surrounded by artists and people who enjoy art and like to laugh with me.”

Flamingo on My Back highlights Potter's humorous sense of the absurd. - IMAGE BY GREGORY POTTER
  • Image by Gregory Potter
  • Flamingo on My Back highlights Potter's humorous sense of the absurd.

Take the chance to meet Potter and see his art up close at the Artisan Market at the Johnson County Museum of History (135 N. Main St., Franklin) this Saturday (Nov. 7th) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. His work will also be on display at Hotel Tango Whiskey (702 Virginia Ave.) in December. Or for additional info, visit his Facebook page or his website, which features a wonderful and gentle truth about his work: “When I paint, I feel at peace with the world.”

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