Everybody sees America differently. Each scenario I paint, whether real, or invented in my mind, is the way I see it.
Austin-based Chuck Middlekauff paints his own rich interpretation of American culture, enhanced by nostalgia, twists, puns—with a smile on his face.
Born in Massachusetts and raised as an “Air Force brat” through the 50’s and 60’s, Chuck has vivid memories of riding with his two younger sisters in the back seat of the family station wagon on cross-country trips to his dad’s new duty stations. He soaked in every detail of the atmosphere of the open road and of their stops at diners, gas stations, and classic motels.
Chuck’s paintings reflect those experiences: the road trips with his family; real cowboys and his Saturday matinee movie and TV cowboy heroes; cartoons. toys, and music; billboards, and diner and motel signs.
Other imagery he soaks in as he travels with his wife Carol on continuing road trips across America continues to invigorate his romance with the road: wide-open spaces, blue-sky days, the intense light after a summer thunderstorm. Those windmills, gas pumps, pickup trucks, Coke machines, neon signs, murals, barns, and billboards are now rusty, dusty, and weather-beaten. He loves them that way. “Those distinctively American artifacts have textures induced by weathering and years of hard use that are exciting to reproduce,” he says. But it’s obvious that they won’t be around much longer, so Chuck feels a compulsion to paint these icons before they’re gone.
Along the back roads of the West and on Route 66, Chuck lingers in small towns or at fairs and rodeos to capture images in his camera and in his mind. Besides recreating the details of cowboys, boots, and spurs, he includes all these other things that make him smile. “I have found my direction and passion,” Chuck says.
As he paints away with acrylics and watercolors, tunes from Alan Jackson, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, John Mellencamp, and all sorts of other 50’s, 60’s, and 80’s music fill his studio. His wife says she doesn’t know how those amazing paintings come out of the clutter, confusion, and noise. He won’t let her watch him paint, but she sometimes gets a glimpse of him with a paintbrush in one hand (the left one), another one in his mouth, a paint-drying hairdryer in the other, and a paper towel handy to dab a wayward drip.
In Chuck’s examination of American roadside culture, he’s observed that cowboys don’t just ride horses and chase cows; they also play with yo-yos, drink Cokes, eat M & M’s, and just hang out. So, with or without a cowboy, a painting might include a toy, a gas pump or Coke machine, a sign, mural, pickup truck, or boots, or some other weathered, rusted, textured, disappearing American icon.