For acclaimed painter Darren Waterston, you never forget your first art museum

When he was in high school, Darren Waterston was chosen for an elite program at the Fresno Art Museum as one of four promising young artists.

Like a “Most Likely to Succeed” yearbook award that decades later proves prophetic, it turns out the museum was really onto something.

Pictured above: “LAST DAYS (Gabriel)” by Darren Waterston.

Waterston, who graduated from Fresno High School before heading off to the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, has gone on to an impressive career in the professional art world. Now, in a fitting sweep of the circle, one of Waterston’s paintings is coming back to Fresno as a gift to the museum. The New York artist will be here on Tuesday, Oct. 1, to talk about the work, his process and story, and his impact on the international art scene.

Here’s a rundown:

The work: The title is “LAST DAYS (Gabriel).” The 2007 work is a large (54 inches wide by 84 inches tall) oil on canvas mounted on a wood panel. In describing Waterston’s work over the years, many critics use the word “ethereal.” From the title, there is a sense of impending apocalypse. The darkness of the work and hints of starlight suggest the infinite universe. One of the things that Waterston’s paintings is praised for is their sense of depth, and in this layered work, you might feel as if you are tunneling toward some sort of denouement. Are we barreling toward the darkness of hell, or does the freshness of the green paint and beauty of the translucent flowers offer a different meaning?


How did the museum acquire the painting? It was through the financial efforts of Kaye Bonner Cummings, a longtime museum supporter (and a big fan of the artist). She has a personal connection to Waterston, now in his 50s, who became friends with Cummings’ daughter in the seventh grade and has been like a member of the family ever since. Cummings has stayed closely in touch with the artist through the decades, eagerly following his career.

More about that career: Waterston is represented by top galleries in San Francisco and New York, where his paintings sell for between $40,000 and $60,000. He’s had a number of prestigious fellowships and residencies. His paintings are included in numerous permanent collections, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Getty Research Institute and the Seattle Art Museum.

Darren Waterston will speak at the Fresno Art Museum on Tuesday, Oct. 1., 2019.

Big deal: In 2015, the Freer and Sackler Galleries of the Smithsonian Institution featured the artist’s acclaimed “Filthy Lucre,” described by the museum as an immersive interior that reimagined James McNeill Whistler’s famed Peacock Room, a sumptuous 19th-century dining room and icon of American art, as “a magnificent ruin, literally overburdened with its own materials, creativity and tortured history.”

Fun fact: Waterston is close friends with “X-Files” star Gillian Anderson. They met in Vancouver when she was filming the series, and she co-hosted an exhibition gala benefitting the Smithsonian when “Filthy Lucre” opened. (“It was really art that brought us together,” Waterston told Washingtonian magazine in 2015.)

The local connection: The artist still has family in the Fresno area, including his father, Bob Waterston, the former county supervisor, and Darren’s beloved grandmother. That’s one reason he agreed to make a trip “home” to talk about the painting.

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Tuesday’s events: Waterston will be speaking to school children during the day. He will give an artist’s talk about himself and about the donated painting at 5:30 p.m., and a reception will follow at 6:30 p.m. The event is free to museum members; non-members pay $10.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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