Rolland Golden: River reverie

Published 2:31 pm Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat Rolland Golden, an artist who lives in Natchez, will be awarded the visual arts award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters for his exhibit, “River and Reverie — Paintings of the Mississippi River” on June 4 in Ocean Springs. Golden portrays the river from dozens of angles and conditions.

NATCHEZ — People in the Miss-Lou are familiar with the star of Rolland Golden’s recent series of paintings, which garnered him a visual arts award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters.

His paintings have conveyed the Mississippi River’s beauty and dark side, as part of his “River and Reverie — Painting of the Mississippi River” series.

“The river is beautiful, but there is an ugly side to it, just like there is another side to me,” Golden said. “I want to paint the river in all of its conditions.”

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Golden’s friend and fellow Mississippi artist, Bill Dunlap, nominated him for the award. Golden, who moved to Natchez from New Orleans in 2006, said he was surprised to learn he had won the MIAL award.

“Bill said I am a Mississippian now, so he nominated me,” Golden said.

MIAL awards Mississippi writers and artists in poetry, fiction, non-fiction, visual arts, photography and two categories of music.

Golden said as an artist, he does not stick with one subject.

“I have so many things I like to do,” Golden said. “I just got sidetracked on the river.”

Golden portrays the river from dozens of angles and conditions.

Previously, Golden painted and exhibited his post-Katrina collection, called “Days of Terror, Months of Anguish.”

“After working the Katrina shows for two years, it got depressing,” Golden said. “I called it ‘controlled depression.’ I didn’t find anything uplifting about it. After it was all finished, I stayed in that subdued state. Then I wanted to do something different.”

Golden said after he and his wife, Stella, moved to Natchez, he would go to the river and look at the sunsets.

“I got started with a few paintings, and then I got very involved,” Golden said. “But I will eventually stop producing (river scenes) regularly.”

Golden said at first, he considered traveling the length of the river, but never got too far away from Natchez.

“There are so many views of the river from here,” Golden said. “I like to paint things that have been around a long time. If I paint a human being, I would rather it be an older person instead of a baby. A baby hasn’t had a chance to develop character. I rarely do anything shiny and slick.”

Golden’s river scenes vary in color and style. No two views are alike — like the Mississippi River.

“My paintings are organized,” Golden said. “Some people call them still lives of nature. It’s not realism, but there is a sense of geometry. I change things to be compositionally attractive. I’m not trying to copy a scene, but capture the essence of a place.”

Golden has been painting for 54 years, and he said it has never been easy.

“It’s a lot of work being an artist,” Golden said.

Golden and Stella are co-writing a book to take the romantic idealism out of art.

“It’s a hard road to go,” Golden said. “Unless you’re imminently famous with a large income, it stays hard.”

The book is autobiographical, but Golden said the trick will be merging the couple’s perspectives.

“Guess who’s going to give,” Golden said, smiling.

Golden joined the Navy at 23 and served in the Korean War. That was the only time he wasn’t actively painting.

“I didn’t have any form of religion, so I decided to join the Catholic faith,” Golden said. “One day the priest said it’s a sin not to use the talents God gave you. So I enrolled in the John McCrady Art School in New Orleans.”

Golden said as a young couple and emerging artist, he and Stella had a difficult time making it financially.

“Just coming out of art school, it was a struggle,” Golden said. “Things would get better, then there would be a recession and people would stop buying art.”

At first, Golden was selling prints for $7 each, or two for $13. He said whenever he would make a sale, he would take the cash straight to Stella, who would go buy groceries.

“I almost quit when Stella was pregnant with our first child,” Golden said. “But someone would buy a painting, and that would keep us going another two weeks.”

Actor Vincent Price was a fan of Golden’s work. Once, Price bought 33 of Golden’s paintings for $1,400.

“That was a fortune,” Golden said.

Golden said besides financial hardship, there was also a struggle to improve.

“I am my own worst critic,” Golden said. “I saw an exhibit by Noel Rockmore, and I was very impressed. I realized that I was painting too fast, and I had to slow down, not worry about technique and get involved with the piece.”

Golden said as he gets older, being an artist still does not get any easier, but he can’t imagine doing anything else.

“I think God has a special place for artists of all kinds,” Golden said. “And God definitely blessed me. I’m happy that at my age I am still able to paint.”

Golden’s advice to young artists is easier said than done, but he is proof that achieving success is not impossible.

“Don’t quit,” Golden said. “Somehow, keep going. Take a job on the side to make money if you have to.

“I saw so many wonderful talents quit because they couldn’t make money.”

Golden said an artist cannot just rely on skill alone.

“You need talent, but you also need hard work and luck,” Golden said.

As Golden’s art is transient, so is his business. The family will open the Rolland Golden Gallery on the 400 block of Main Street in July, and celebrate a grand opening in August.

The presentation of the MIAL award will be June 4 at the Ocean Springs Community Center in Ocean Springs.