‘People keep encouraging us to go to Tuscany or Spain. But we’re not even close to addressing the great images in this country’
A tepee stands alone atop a sunlit hill on a windswept autumn evening. Staring at it, you can almost feel the biting wind and the warmth inside the lodge. Prairie’s Edge, a 22-by-30-inch dry-brush watercolor, is signature William Haskell. A vivid landscape—part photorealism, part interpretative—with no people.
“Usually, for a human footprint I try to put a structure in, without actually putting the person there,” Haskell says. That structure, when he’s painting historical images, is often an Indian tepee. “I like its simplicity,” he says. “I like what it symbolizes. So many tribes out here used it as, of course, a place to live, but I see the tepee as a symbol. It’s something that has been painted throughout history, but I like to do my own reflection on it. Sometimes I use it as the sole image. Other times I combine it with landscape.”
Primarily a landscape artist who specializes in dry-brush watercolor, Haskell is expanding his range to historical subjects. He has even started putting buffalo and people in his paintings.
For that change in direction, Haskell points to his friend and fellow artist, Kim Wiggins. “Kim suggested I do some historic work,” he explains. “I’ve always been a huge history buff, so I’ve continued to explore that. I think you have to do that, or your work is going to get stale.” And stale is one thing Haskell has never been.
Like most painters, he found an interest and talent early, first drawing when he was 4, working in graphite, then moving to watercolor painting by the time he was 11. As a teenager in boarding school he took up the dry-brush technique, and he has stuck with it. But his art has changed.
He apprenticed to Wisconsin wildlife artist Terrill Knack, studied graphic design in college and worked in advertising as a professional illustrator. By the mid-1980s, though, computers had begun supplanting illustrators, and Haskell’s passion turned to fine art. Influenced by Andrew Wyeth and the regionalist art movement, Haskell and wife Amber moved to Galisteo, just south of Santa Fe, in 2001.
It has proved the perfect inpiration for an artist. His studio overlooks the old Cook Ranch (now the Cerro Pelon Ranch), which has served as a shooting location for such Western films as Silverado and the 3:10 to Yuma remake, as well as the TNT miniseries Into the West.
Haskell usually works from sketches, and paints while listening to audiobooks. “I look at painting as a story,” he says. “To me, a good painting tells a story, so I listen to literature as I paint, because it kind of puts me in a place. I try to pair a book to whatever I’m working on. It puts me in that place of the Old West, gives me the right mood. You want it to have a mood. People ask me, ‘Why don’t you listen to music?’ But for me the painting is like literature.”
One thing hasn’t changed: Although Haskell has painted in acrylic and oil, he still prefers watercolor and the dry-brush method, a type of glazing process. “I like the way it presents the work,” he says. “People can get closer to the work. It makes the colors more vibrant. It takes that barrier away. You feel like you can step into the painting.”
Although he has painted throughout the country—Martha’s Vineyard to Minnesota, Wisconsin to Maine—he remains drawn to his own backyard. “One of the things I love about the United States is the landscape,” Haskell explains. “It is so diverse. Even in New Mexico. You can go from prairie grass in an hour and a half and be in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. People keep encouraging us to go to Tuscany or Spain. But we’re not even close to addressing the great images in this country.”
To see more of Haskell’s work visit his website.