At 6:30 PM on Thursday, the Colusa County Arts Council is featuring the work of Colusa resident Jim Beduhn as part of the group’s ‘Local Legends’ showcase.
For Beduhn, who for years ran a furniture restoration business and painted and remodeled homes in the area, the title is fitting: while he grew up, and has spent most of his life in Colusa, Beduhn is a bona fide artist, schooled at the San Francisco Art Institute. In a cluttered and well-used workshop behind his house, which is strewn with newspapers and paint, are countless artistic works of his making – paintings and drawings that date back to the early 1960’s – when he attended the school.
It was there that he developed an affinity for abstract expressionism. Realism just wasn’t his cup of tea – and he wasn’t a fan of sketching models in class, as some of his teachers asked him to do.
“It’s been done. It’s like photography, and so many people have taken those pictures,” Beduhn said. “It just didn’t make any sense to me.”
Beduhn said he was more drawn to paintings in the style of Richard Diebenkorn’s early works, with their freedom of shapes and crisp colors. Diebenkorn a Berkeley artist, was a key figure in the California school of Abstract Expressionism during the early 1950s.
“He painted landscapes, but his stuff was really blocky, and the colors, you know – like, he painted downtown Berkeley one time, and you wouldn’t know it was Berkeley unless the title said Berkeley,” Beduhn said.
Even before his years and formal training in San Francisco, Beduhn was drawn to art as a boy in Colusa County. His first work was a “paint-by-the-numbers thing” he completed at 7 years old.
“That’s really what got me into it. I always drew and stuff like that,” Beduhn said. “In fact, sometimes I’d rather draw than mow a lawn. I was always kind of handy with the arts and crafts stuff.”
When he was 11 years old, he began painting the walls of apartments for his dad – which is where Beduhn said he learned how to paint “the right way.” During high school, he had an art teacher who hosted artist workshops at his home for a number of his students, where Beduhn gained more of an appreciation for the fine arts. He said during the first such workshop he attended – when Beduhn was 17 – he brought in a painting of a centerfold from a popular gentleman’s magazine. The teacher gave Beduhn pointers on how to better paint elements of the female anatomy.
“He was a really hip guy… Even out of high school, he had a free period when I had study hall, and he would let me come it to his classroom,” Beduhn said. “I did a lot of work in his classroom – a lot of leather work, a lot of drawing, painting – he was cool.”
All of that early experience with art, and the realization that an every-day-suit-and-tie job wasn’t something he wanted, ultimately led him to San Francisco. Six years later, he and his wife moved back to small-town Colusa.
“No, I didn’t mind (coming back) at all, really,” Beduhn said. “That’s because I had Beduhn’s Furniture Restoration, and I did painting and remodeling jobs. It wasn’t bad at all. When I got married, Jesus, San Francisco really started changing. That’s when all the homeless people really got on the streets. I thought if I get married, I’m gonna have kids, and I don’t want my kids to grow up here.”
So Beduhn was able to paint and work with his hands for a living back at home, while also still finding time to work on his art over the years. While his works are abstract, they are informed by his experiences and observations in Colusa, he said – even in his earlier works, painted while he was living in The City. During the summers, he would come back to Colusa to drive tractor.
“Sitting out there, just watching the landscapes – I started painting like that,” Beduhn said. “The impressionist painters in the 1800’s, they said really learn everything you can about landscapes and figures and everything else, and when you start to paint, forget about all that stuff and just paint, and that’s part of it. I don’t want to get philosophical, but know, you just paint from your heart and not your mind – although your mind is there.”
As an example, Beduhn’s style includes a lot of vertical pencil lines, which he says relates back to his time working in the fields.
“The vertical lines – out in the field, when you’re driving tractor, I don’t know if you get bored, but you just sit there all day long, doing your thing,” he explained. “And the wind picks up dust and everything, and you can see it, if you look – that becomes part of the scene.”