'Unhappy' artist chases perfect painting

February 13, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

One of David Zimmerman's paintings has found its way into thousands of Washington County homes, yet the local artist said he still struggles to find financial success and peace of mind with his chosen profession.

"I'm a very unhappy painter - worse than Van Gogh," said Zimmerman, 56, of Keedysville. "I'm always looking for a new approach and more knowledge. And I paint all the time."

Zimmerman's oil-on-canvas rendition of the Sharpsburg Square is on the cover of Ogden Directories' new Washington County phone book, and he's sold paintings to businesses and individuals throughout the country.


Some of his work will be featured in an April exhibition at the Washington County Arts Council Gallery in Hagerstown, he said. He produces up to 400 paintings, and participates in between 25 and 30 art shows and at least one one-man gallery show, each year, he said.

Zimmerman earned his master's of fine arts degree from George Washington University in 1976. After returning from a painting trip to France in 1978, he took a position as artist-in-residence for the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., he said.

He's received accolades for his work, but it's the hundreds of paintings he hasn't sold - paintings that hang in his home and studio, rest in stacks, and are tucked in vertical shelves - that torment him, he said.

There are large, shadowy paintings of boats, Rockefeller Center and sun-drenched fields filled with flowers. And there is Zimmerman's depiction of the Baltimore Orioles' Camden Yards and Memorial Stadium, which didn't find a buyer, either.

His studio holds paintings of cattle in green pastures and of farmers shearing their sheep. Paintings of historic structures and Confederate re-enactors marching against an azure sky also remain unclaimed.

"This is how I've spent my time and money," said Zimmerman, pulling colorful canvases from a giant rack in his studio's basement. "This is my retirement fund. Maybe my son can sell them when I'm dead."

Zimmerman has been chasing his perfect painting - a work that captures the essence of his subject - for more than 30 years. His desire to create that painting is like an addiction, he said.

"It's like gambling. You keep going because you think the next time could be the one when you make it big," Zimmerman said.

He's been experimenting with different techniques and media since he began painting in college. Using brushes and knives, Zimmerman has painted murals, portraits, landscapes, seascapes, boats, buildings, wildlife and more on all sizes of wood and canvas. He's studied the works of great masters and tried to reproduce them. He's painted left-handed and right-handed from slides and photographs and real life, practicing impressionism, realism and abstract art - and developing a style he can't quite categorize.

"I'm a confused guy," he said. "I'm still looking for a vehicle to carry my ideas. It's been 35 years since I took my first art class and I'm still unsure about what I'm doing."

Zimmerman devotes the time not committed to his part-time job at Lowe's in Hagerstown or his duties as a husband and father to honing his craft in his barn-like studio, he said.

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