- Associated Press - Sunday, July 27, 2014

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - Norman landscape impressionist Tim Kenney has just returned from a whirlwind trip around the U.S. that saw him paint 50 paintings … in 50 states … in 50 days. A Herculean task for any veteran artist, made even more impressive by the fact that the 58-year-old Kenney took up the palette knife just six years ago.

His paintings are coming home, too. The 30x40-inch oil works will be on display at First America Bank, 570 NW 24th Ave. and will remain on location for one week.

Nearly half of the paintings have already been sold to collectors from around the country and abroad, with 20 percent of the proceeds going to benefit the Nicole Jarvis, M.D., Parkinson’s Research Foundation, but all 50 will be on hand at the reception.

The whole idea began a year ago April, when he began to ponder the feasibility and cool quotient of such a trip. He wanted to do something that would create a buzz, something that would be a challenge and something that would raise money for a worthy cause.

It definitely garnered a lot of attention, from high profile art magazine Southwest Art, where Kenney’s work appears in the new August edition, to a park in Iowa where he crossed paths with a gathering of more than a hundred nuns at a Serra Club event.

Kenney said the whole trip was full of surprises, like painting the Mississippi River from the riverbank with an impromptu audience he could never have expected.

“It was an amazing evening,” he said. “We met about 140 nuns and 40 college counselors and everybody came and helped us paint and gave us (lighthearted) grief. The nuns fed us and gave us burgers and drinks. I’ll just say it that way. It was classic. Then, my friend Dale Baker and I got in the car and said, ‘Well, that was wild.’ Next thing you know, it’s just two high school buddies in the car driving along to our next painting location.”

Kenney completed the trip with a rotating cast of road companions: His wife, Debbie, brother Richard and age-old friend Dale Baker, staying with family, friends and near strangers across the country.

It proved to be a worthy challenge, with fatigue, nasty weather, missed turns, a flat tire, running out of gas and car trouble, but Kenney said he always felt energized every time he stopped to paint. His friends teased him about finding something to paint in Kansas, saying “What are you going to paint there, I-70?,” and many people said, “Where are you going to find an aspen tree in Florida?,” but beauty was never hard to find.

“We found beauty in every state,” Kenney said. “That sounds cliché, but it was beautiful in every state, the landscapes and the people. That was the one thing … physical beauty, landscapes. We were in Wyoming, Montana, Hawaii, Alaska and we met great people, nice people. The stereotypes were all there I guess - the Southern drawls, the New England accent, the laid back Montanas, the laid back Santa Fes. When we were in Tahoe, it seemed everybody there was a millionaire except us. It was a riot.”

The car broke down five times. Hoses had to be replaced. Then it was the fan belts. They needed a new water pump in Tahoe and got stuck in Chicago traffic, but the whole trip, Kenney found people to be surprisingly kind. No road rage, no one-finger salutes, no price gouging and no trouble that couldn’t be handled.

In the months leading up to the trip, the Kenney family dealt with a lot: A funeral, a wedding and a garage fire that saw 88 paintings go up in flames.

He just keeps going. He returned to Oklahoma this month and at least 10 new paintings are drying atop his kitchen cabinets, out of reach of his two golden retrievers. Galleries rejected his works countless times, but he broke through. He never considered being an artist until he delivered a Pat Matthews painting to Dallas in 2008 for Bobby Beals (with Beals and Company).

He cut his teeth at the Firehouse Art Center in Norman, where he studied under Carol Armstrong, who remains a close friend and mentor.

“I showed up at the Firehouse Art Center with a bunch of paint and a Pat Matthews brochure. At the beginning, I thought, ‘This is nuts. What am I doing? There’s just no way.’ Everybody in class was so talented and they were painting portraits and dogs and things like that. Most were realists. Everybody was watching me and going, ‘What are you doing?’ One lady would say, ‘What kind of a sloppy mess are you making today?’”

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