Brushstrokes of Life
By Sonia Duggan
In a world full of harsh reality, nothing can soften the mood and transport us to another place and time better than art. View one of John Pototschnik’s paintings and you’ll understand why. His rural landscapes and cityscapes effortlessly capture the serene beauty, and a certain familiarity, in a scene that resonates with his observer.
Years of hard work, dedication, education, and God-given talent has earned Pototschnik a reputation as the accomplished artist that he is today. Much like any other type of artist, the 72-year-old’s art has been fine-tuned over time and thousands of paintings.
The artist’s studio attached to his home reflects a lifetime of memories with extensive records of photos, notes, miniature paintings, sketches, paintings in progress and supplies. His discipline is evident. A large mirror on the wall allows him to view his painting backwards to see if there are any flaws. Like any other type of job, he can be found working five days a week carefully conceptualizing his next project or executing his current one.
In July, the local artist earned top accolades for his work. The Art Renewal Center, the largest online center with 50,000 of the greatest works in history, recognized Pototschnik as a Living Master (ARCLM). The requirements for Living Master status are extensive with the main caveat being, “The artist has dedicated themselves to becoming a realist artist with the wish to express our shared humanity through the visual arts.”
Last year, Pototschnik’s painting “Be Still My Soul” was awarded the Silver Medal at the Oil Painters of America “27th Annual National Juried Exhibition of Traditional Oils,” held at the Steamboat Art Museum in Steamboat Springs, CO. Of the more than 2,000 entries, only about one-tenth of those were selected for the exhibition.
The artist is a Signature member of the Oil Painters of America and a Master Signature member of the Outdoor Painters Society. He is recognized in “Who’s Who in American Art” and “Who’s Who in the Southwest.” In addition, his work has appeared in multiple artist magazines and books.
Pototschnik has earned a reputation for his “Paintings of America we all Love,” otherwise known as Americana. His paintings often capture landscape scenes of rural life with a certain charm and nostalgia of simple, happy times growing up in Kansas much like he experienced in his youth.
“Rural and small-town America are my big influences,” he said. “There is something about the freedom, the open spaces, the people that work the land, and the community/neighborliness that the small towns I remember communicate. Those feelings and memories are impregnated in my very being.”
He grew up in Wichita in the 50s and 60s with freedom to explore without fear. Going door-to-door selling his mother’s cookies or collecting money for his paper route was the norm in his youth. Pototschnik also spent time hunting with his dad and visiting his grandfather’s farm in Pittsburg, KS. “I’m sure that’s where my love of small American towns comes from,” he said.
Through his art, Pototschnik strives to create an emotional connection. Study his paintings closely and you’ll often find cars and details indicative of days gone by. “Those are the things that create those emotions within me, and if I’m successful in a painting then those emotions are passed on to the viewer,” he said. “So many times I’ve heard, ‘That’s just like the house I grew up in.’ That’s the kind of connection I like.”
Wheels in motion
Although Pototschnik said he liked to draw at a young age, it was mainly his love of planes and cars that prompted his interest. “In high school I was encouraged by fellow students who liked my car drawings that led me to join the poster club – drawing and designing all the school posters,” he said.
Throughout Pototschnik’s youth, his bicycle was his main mode of transportation. It was not only a necessity, but his love for it would transport him to a new level of athleticism. While still school-age, one day he went to get his bike worked on and saw a sign for a bike race. Although he owned just a 3-speed bike at the time, he really wanted to enter the race, so he did. He ended up winning the race despite not having a real racing bike. He said the bike shop crew was impressed, saying to him, “You’ve got some talent and we’d like to see how far you can go.” The following week they had another race; the State Championships. Pototschnik showed up with his 3-speed bike and the crew showed up with a 10-speed Raleigh racing bike for him. He won again. After that win he got serious about cycling. “I bought a really good bike and started to gain a reputation in the Midwest as one of the top riders,” he said.
After high school Pototschnik joined the ROTC program at Wichita State. He initially focused on business and accounting, though quickly discovered that was not for him. With the advice of his school counselor, he took a number of classes using his hands to create things…metal working, woodworking, art, etc. “That’s when I decided I wanted to be an artist, not knowing what that would entail or how to make a living at it,” he said.
He graduated college in 1968 and took a commission in the Air Force. With his reputation as a cyclist, he asked the president of the Amateur Bicycling Association to write a letter on his behalf recommending him for the Air Force Special Services team. He was accepted, and his first assignment was in California where athletes from all the services were training.
In the mornings he trained with the cycling team and in the afternoons, he worked as an information officer in a big office building in Los Angeles for the Space and Missile Systems Center. He was in charge of internal and public information, community relations, and was also the newspaper editor. “I had a lot of opportunities to do drawings for the paper,” he said. At night he went to the art school in Pasadena.
Pototschnik competed as a cyclist for four years representing the Air Force. In the early 70s he was one of six riders to represent the U.S. “I had my eyes opened to what professional racing was like,” he said. “America was just starting to send Americans to Europe.”
After marrying Marcia, a fellow Kansan, in 1971, Pototschnik knew he had to get serious about his career. The following year, with his time served, they both thought Dallas would be a better fit for them than L.A. His parents had relocated to Texas in the 1960s. “I knew Dallas and I liked it,” he said. “Plus, it was closer to Kansas too where we could visit Marcia’s parents and sister.”
Before the move, Pototschnik sold all of his racing equipment but somehow the cycling community heard he was coming to Texas. When he arrived, he was contacted by a Garland man who built bicycles and wanted him to race his bicycles. “I just had to show up,” he said smiling. Competitions kept him busy and the cyclist won a lot of races in Texas, and the Texas State Championship in the road race.
Aside from cycling, Pototschnik worked hard to get his career in commercial art off the ground after moving to Texas. He spent three months putting together an illustration portfolio to show art directors and studios and soon started off doing little spot black and white illustrations. As that grew, he had other assignments in watercolor and acrylic. He maintained a studio in the Oak Lawn area and the couple lived in Garland.
Freelance work provided good income for his growing family and although the work never dried up, he noticed a lot of great illustrators were leaving the field and going into fine art. “As I saw more and more illustrators leaving, I thought maybe now is the time,” he said. “Technology was changing – and computers were becoming more the norm and a lot of the illustration work became photography.”
Change of Scenery
Eventually, family commitments and his career put cycling in the rear-view mirror. The Pototschniks decided they preferred the country life and purchased land in Wylie in the 70s. They eventually built their home and moved in 1980 with their two young boys. “Wylie at the time was small and it gave us the opportunity to move to the country,” he said.
After the move, Pototschnik shut his Dallas studio and worked only at his home studio. In 1982 he broke away from his career as an illustrator and committed himself to the world of fine art.
A friendship with the vice president of Texas Oil and Gas proved to be helpful. “He knew of my interest in making the switch into fine art and asked me if I had ever thought about doing paintings showing the co-existence of wildlife and oil.” At the time, Pototschnik said the oil industry was really getting torn up by other people’s perceptions. “They made a pretty convincing argument that it wasn’t necessarily true.”
He said his friend asked, “If I help you get some sponsors would you do some paintings showing this?” They got six corporate sponsors, including Haliburton, that would invest money up front, and for their investment they would get an original painting of their choice in the order that they signed up. “The first one (to sign up) would get his first choice of all six paintings so I did six paintings and then we did prints of each of the six paintings (500 each). Those were divided up equally. That’s how I funded my first year in fine art,” he said.
Although he’s tried the other mediums, the artist found oils suit his temperament best. “I’m more of a slow and methodical painter,” he said. “I think about it and adjust, rub out and move things around. And it doesn’t dry too quickly.”
Many artists such as Pototschnik start in their local community and expand their career out from there. In his early years, many local landmarks and street scenes proved to be the backdrop for his paintings before progress changed the landscape of the community. He could often be found with his easel painting on the side of the road. His painting of the old Murphy Grocery Store at FM 544 and Murphy Road evokes nostalgia in many who remember the store. He has sold many prints of the painting and the original hangs in the Smith Public Library today.
Pototschnik painted downtown Wylie as it appeared in the late 1800s in 1986 for Truett Smith, a former banker and businessman. “I reconstructed the street scene – took out all the wagons, cleaned it all up, then hired models so I could rearrange it,” he said. “Truett loved it.”
When Pototschnik met Raymond Cooper, businessman and director of the Christian Care Center, he gained a collector and a friend. Cooper encouraged the artist’s efforts, and together they teamed up to raise funds for the Christian Care Center by auctioning off prints of Pototschnik’s paintings at community events.
With his writing and art knowledge, Pototschnik is a communicator both vocally and visually. In the 80s and 90s the artist said he was vocal about issues concerning the community, often writing press releases and sending it to The Wylie News. When he heard about a plan to tear down the original St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, he worked hard, along with a committee, to save the structure. “I even wrote a letter appealing to the Bishop,” he said. Not only did the tiny church remain, it is now immortalized in one of his paintings. “I painted it right there on the street,” he said.
Memory and imagination is vital for any artist. Painting out in the open air, or as the French call it “En plein air,” is essential to experience painting and drawing in a landscape with ever-changing light. In his earlier years, Pototschnik did a lot of little paintings on site traveling to various locations. “I may change the scene, the time of day, the season of the year,” he said. “The subject and light can inspire me and take me off to another area.”
These days, you’ll rarely find him painting outside or traveling to a location. Pototschnik has developed peripheral vision issues so he no longer drives or rides his bike. He has to control his environment, which means spending time in his studio. He reports he still has great color perception and memory.
“All my outdoor paintings I’ve done contribute to my memory bank,” he said. “I can remember what it felt like. I want these paintings (in studio) to look like they were painted on location. I want everything to come out natural and true, not artificial and stylized.”
An eternal student of his craft, Pototschnik has taken the opportunity to share his lifetime of knowledge with the public. He released his first art instruction video in 2017 titled “Limited Palette Landscapes.” It is 15 hours of intensive instruction that not only shows his painting process from selection of the canvas to the final brushstroke, but also covers much more material including concept, composition, drawing, values and color. At the end of this month, the artist will release a video/workbook titled “Paint Unlimited Color with a Limited Palette.” Published by Liliedahl Art Instruction Videos, the 5-hour video will accompany the book. “It presents in visual/verbal form what’s taught in the book,” he said. “The main difference is that I actually demonstrate how color is mixed and applied to five different demonstration pieces.”
Making a name for yourself and gaining a strong customer base is the ultimate goal for an artist. Most often, that involves finding the right representation for one’s work. Pototschnik’s paintings can be found five galleries: two in Colorado, one in Utah, Southwest Gallery in Dallas, and, for the past six months, the Wylie Art Gallery.
Cheryl Mabry, Wylie Art Gallery owner said, “Having someone of his caliber is a real blessing. I have followed him for years and love his work,” she said. “Having a Living Master in Wylie and having him join me in working to keep our local gallery going is a true dream come true.”
Southwest Gallery in Dallas has represented the artist since 2007. The gallery has a huge customer base, and at some shows Pototschnik said he has sold as many as 10 paintings in one month. Despite that fact, art sales can fluctuate especially when the economy is tight. “That’s why I’m in a lot of galleries to have some income coming in. It’s an unpredictable market,” he said.
Picking a compatible frame for his paintings is like icing on a cake and Pototschnik said he spares no expense. “Some cost as much as a $1,000 per frame if they are gold leaf,” he said. “It’s not always easy to make a profit.”
He doesn’t let costs or commissions worry him too much. “Regardless of the sales, the satisfaction of creating a product that communicates something pretty powerful and that some people will spend quite a bit of money to have that it their home and to enjoy that – that’s what makes it so great,” he said.
Discipline, perseverance and the ability to budget for lean times is a necessity for a fine artist. Pototschnik said he has no regrets. “Although it has been very difficult at times, it has also been equally rewarding,” he said. “Providing for my family through art and receiving the applause of fellow artists, and appreciation from those that collect my work, are wonderful bonuses.”
No retirement in sight
In 32 years, the artist has accomplished what many spend a lifetime trying to do. He’s been an illustrator, a designer, a writer, speaker, juror and fine artist to name a few. Pototschnik reports he’s slowed down a bit. With less pressure to produce, he has cut back on his production and now does about 35 paintings a year. “Now I can spend more time on them and make them even better,” he said. “I don’t have to sell a painting every single month.”
Less production generally means more demand, allowing for price increases for his artwork. “I’ve worked pretty carefully on my career so that I didn’t raise my prices too fast but there’s been a steady increase all these years and it’s based on as long as things are continuing to sell,” he said. “I want to be in this for the long haul and not to make a quick buck and not sell anything for a long time.”
His energy and enthusiasm for art has not waned. He said he often lays in bed at night thinking about his next painting. He jokes that people retire to do what he’s doing. “As long as I can see and have my health, there’s no reason to retire. What is better than creating something? It’s a very satisfying life. Not many people get to do something throughout their life that they absolutely love doing.”