Artist of the month at Thibault Gallery on Bay Street: Bill Rousseau displays Lowcountry scenic artwork

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How a Nerd became a Freak

Bill spent his whole career in science, with several degrees in Engineering and Math including a Masters from Cambridge University. “My last “real” job was Director of Technology at United Technologies, where one of my patented inventions won first place in the National Green Building Awards.

I had painted as a hobby for many years, but my wife Maggie was completely taken by surprise when I said that I wanted to retire at 55 and go to the Savannah College of Art and Design. She shrugged it off as just another one of my bad ideas, but supported my decision when I actually left UTX and enrolled. On my first day as an art student, I admitted that unlike the other more accomplished students in the Masters program, I was just a nerd that wanted to paint. One of my young lady comrades then put her arm around me and said “Now you’re a freak like us.”

And The Rest, as They Say, is History

Technically, Bill learned Old Masters’ style realistic painting. His work still incorporates some underpainting and other monochromatic techniques. After SCAD, Bill hired the best Realist painter at SCAD for private criticism sessions until he got to the point that his skills were accomplished. However, the most important learning for Bill was to be able to see beauty where he had never experienced it. The way a shadow “paints” the subject, the tiny tendrils of Spanish Moss, light reflections off marsh mud. God, not the devil, is in the details.

His subjects usually contain architectural elements in landscape settings, which are found in abundance in Savannah and the Low Country. The contrast between the buildings with straight lines and nature with no straight lines feels like two paintings. Yet to Bill they have similarities. Both the trees and the buildings have texture and rhythm which is just as important to convey as composition and technique.

After SCAD, Bill applied as a volunteer at the Telfair Museums of Art and quickly became responsible for the opening of the Jepson Center for the Arts. He then became Deputy Director and Interim Director. Bill has been on Telfair Committees for 11 years and helps wherever he can. Bill has had shows and has work in various places around Savannah, Chicago and Jacksonville, including a large show of educational artwork called the “Two Books Project” which is intended to demonstrate the merging of science and spiritual developments on the last century. He is also currently President of Gallery 209 in Savannah which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

Bill lives in Savannah and when not painting can usually be found playing his keyboard, on the tennis courts or annoying his friends. He says (with dubious justification) that he is related to Henri Rousseau so that buyers can claim to have a “Rousseau” hanging in their home.

The Thibault Gallery is a wonderful place to display and see Bill’s work. A new series of paintings featuring Beaufort and nearby scenes are on display.