The first comes from the fact that he is a well-read man, the second is the fact he does what he loves and loves what he does. Between the two, it’s hard not to find serenity in this crazy world.
Gardner, a self-proclaimed Army brat, spent his childhood like a modern-day gypsy picking up stakes, moving every three years with his family from Fort Benning, Ga., where he was born, to foreign locales like Germany and Texas, which he jokingly refers to as one more foreign country.
“Have you ever been to Texas?” he asks, with a smile on his face.
One of those moves brought his family to Fort Bragg, and Gardner, to the place he has called home most of his adult life.
“When we moved to Fort Bragg, my family bought this place,” he said, referencing the grey farm house in Parkton, N.C., where he and his wife, Janice (a school teacher), raised their family.
It was there, that Gardner began a life-long study of art.
“I was that kid who sat in the back of the room and was supposed to be learning, but instead was drawing,” he said.
“When he was supposed to be learning to spell, he learned about art,” added Janice.
In high school, he took advantage of the limited art classes offered and learned what he could, but after graduation, he started to work at a series of factories, spending 27 years of his life at Kelly Springfield making tires. Painting definitely was not in his job description, but while there, he painted a couple of murals in the factory’s front office and created a 3-D model of the plant.
During that time, he would take continuing education art classes at Fayetteville Technical Community College and picked up ideas for painting and techniques from the copious amount of books he read and from television.
“I’m not a big fan of Bob Ross, but don’t tell anyone,” he said. “But I learned from anyone and everyone I could.”
A massive heart attack took Gardner out of the factory and gave him the opportunity to indulge his passion.
“If you have a passion for something, don’t waste your time doing something else,” he said. “When you work in a production environment, there is no end in sight. You put out a paper and when it is finished, it’s done. You can put your name on it and move on. In a factory, 1,400 people work on a tire, and when it goes out the door, there’s another tire to make and nobody puts their name on it.”
That pride in ownership is something that shines through in the landscapes Gardner produces. He paints what he sees, and while it is usually the simple things around him, he makes them unique. His work is in oils, because he believes they are the most forgiving.
“Water colors do not allow mistakes,” he said. “Everybody has a streak of creativity in them; it’s part of the Creator.”
For Gardner, that creativity is fed by the things he sees every day. The joy he takes in making the mundane art is easy to see in the serenity of his paintings.
“If you don’t love something, don’t do it,” he continued. “For me, I always look for the light. I look for the way light hits objects. I have tried to paint battlefields and war scenes, but that’s not me. I only want to paint things that are meaningful to me. I look for peaceful things.”
Janice laughingly explains that nothing and no one is safe when Gardner begins looking for a new subject.
“If we are out on the boat, and he sees something that interests him on another boat, he starts taking pictures,” she said. “I always tell him that not everyone wants to be a subject for his painting.”
But painting is his passion.
“God doesn’t charge you for the time you spend creating,” said Gardner. “When I’m painting, I totally get immersed in it.”
While there are some people in his paintings, his focus is really the world around them. His art falls mainly into two categories: landscapes and seascapes. While his name may not be familiar in Fayetteville art circles, his work is. One of his landscapes hangs in Cape Fear Valley Hospital. The piece, originally painted for his wife, caught the eye of a hospital administrator, who bought the painting. Gardner quickly went about creating a similar painting for his wife.
“I lose a lot of paintings that way,” she said.
For Gardner, seeing is creating. “I need to see what I am painting. I don’t have much imagination. I leave that to the Creator. I look at what he has made and that’s my inspiration. I look at life as more than just a glance out of a window. I believe there is a God-spark in all of us and my paintings come from that spark, which the Creator gifted me with.”
He says he paints in the impressionist style. “They did not paint exactly what they saw, they painted their impression of it. That’s why I do,” he continued. “I love that golden hour when the light is hitting just right and the entire world looks alive.”
He takes that moment to capture what is around him, from an old tobacco barn to a seascape from his boat as he indulges in his other passion — fishing.
“We spend a lot of time at Oak Island,” he said. “The movement of the ocean and the light is so different there. Usually, we are there on vacation, and when you are on vacation, you take the time to really look at things. The ocean is constantly in motion and the light is always different. Everything is moving, and capturing that movement is magical.”
Gardner recently did a 20-foot mural of the waters off of Oak Island, which traces the island all the way up to Fort Caswell. That mural is on display at Parkton Elementary School. That painting came quickly for him. “Sometimes you may spend 14 hours on a project, and others come so quickly. That was one of them,” he said.
Gardner is excited to have his work on display at Gallery 208.
“This is really a first for me,” he said. “I’ve had works at 4th Friday events, even won some money. But this is the first time I am going to share my works in such a large collection. I’m a little nervous.”
To see Gardner’s works, come to the opening at Gallery 208, located in the corporate offices of Up & Coming Weekly at 208 Rowan St. The opening is on Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 5:30 p.m. For more information, call 484-6200.
Photo: Earl Gardner has always loved painting. His work falls mainly into two catego-ries: seascapes and landscapes.