By: Jan Sjostrom
Being an artist takes fortitude. It’s an undervalued profession dominated by a star system. Creative blocks rear up. If you’re a woman, with the additional responsibilities of caretaking and homemaking, it can be even more difficult to stick with it.
But what if you were not just a woman, but the wife of a rock star? Melinda Trucks has known she wanted to be an artist since she received her first crayons and coloring book.
She’s had two one-woman shows, and has exhibited at the Ritter Art Gallery at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, the Boca Raton Museum of Art and the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale. But, until recently, she hadn’t created a single painting for three years.
The Trucks’ children, Seth, 26, and Elise, 22, are grown, so she’s freed from child rearing. But she’s had other things on her mind.
Her father, who died recently, required care. She and her husband were renovating a ’50s-era house in Palm Beach, where they moved four years ago.
But the chief distraction that has kept Trucks from her brushes has been the road.
She is married to Butch Trucks, the Allman Brothers drummer. The band spends four to five months each year touring, and Melinda Trucks has gone with them.
It’s been exciting, seeing all the museums and galleries and soaking in the sights, she said. Associating with superstars such as James Brown and The Grateful Dead might make her the envy of many a fan. But it doesn’t produce paintings. Her husband “wants me to travel with him, because he’s gone for so long,” Melinda Trucks said.
Butch Trucks sees things differently. “For some reason, she felt she had to be on the road with me,” he said. “I like having her with me, but she also needs to do what she needs to do for herself.”
He has supported his wife’s career by bankrolling her graduate studies in art, seeing to it that she had a studio whether or not her paintings were selling, and building her canvases until they got too big for him to handle.
But only Melinda can make the decision to stay home.
She grew up in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, nurtured by a family that was skilled with its hands.
Her grandmother was a weaver who owned the first crafts shop in Gatlinburg. Her grandfather made furniture. An uncle who was an amateur painter sparked her love for art.
Trucks received classical training in studio art at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and earned a master’s degree in painting at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
Party life behind her
The artist wears her straight brown hair shoulder length. Her brown eyes color-coordinate with a dusting of freckles across her nose. She favors tight-fitting slacks that show off her slender figure.
“People see me out at parties dressed up and they say, ‘Oh, she’s just social,'” she said. “When I first moved to Palm Beach I went to all the lunches and parties. I got tired of that. I don’t do that any more. I’m trying to just stay here.”
By here, she means her studio in a warehouse strip in Lake Park. That’s where she pursues the thrill artists experience when the creative juices are flowing.
“It doesn’t happen all that often,” she said. “It happens to my husband every night when he plays. You have no feeling of the time. You don’t even know what’s going on around you. You just know when it clicks.” She snaps her fingers. “It’s such a high when that happens. But most often, truthfully, it’s just hard work.”
Focus on people, not things
Trucks is protective of her studio time, and doesn’t encourage visits, said Ashley Deflin, a Palm Beach friend. “We don’t have a phone number. She disappears, and we respect that.”
If you’re among the few invited to Trucks’ studio, you’ll encounter a space as cavernous as an airplane hanger. The floor is cement and the lights fluorescent.
Huge canvases paper the walls and lean in stacks several layers deep. A well-worn leather arm chair provides a place for contemplating work in progress.
Trucks almost always paints figures. She’s tried landscapes and still lifes, but they bore her. “I identify with people,” she said.
Her portraits often have an unsettling edge, said Roger Hurlburt, former art critic for the Sun-Sentinel and now an adjunct professor of art history and studio drawing at Florida Atlantic University.
“She extends the figure until it falls just short of caricature, which gives it a nervous, attenuated view that shakes you up and gives you insight into the character,” he said. “That’s her at her best.”
The colors are subdued, even metallic. The line is always restless. Painterly riffs appear out of nowhere.
Rainy Day in Venice, which measures 76 by 96 inches, depicts a family outing in a gondola. A boy looks glumly over his shoulder from under an umbrella. A massive, sculptural woman faces forward. Sharp angles skitter like lightening bolts across the painting’s surface.
Most of Trucks’ subjects have been family and friends. That’s stood in the way of sales, she said.
Now that she’s overcome her painter’s block, she’s determined to brighten her style and purge her pictures of the autobiographical. She’s started working on a light-filled, exotic series based on a trip to Bali.
About a year ago she began being represented by a New York gallery, Spike, run by Donald Rosenfeld, a film producer whose credits include Howard’s End and The Remains of the Day.
Trucks’ paintings and drawings, which range in price from $5,000 to $25,000, have been well-received, Rosenfeld said.
Recently, he sold the first of her Balinese paintings, a rendition of a gamelan orchestra. “We had three buyers for that,” he said.
Trucks is ready to keep buyers well-supplied. She’s resolved to put her art first. “I’m not going to be on that bus going from city to city,” she said.
She’ll drop in on Butch for important shows or tapings. But the rest of the time, “I’ll be at home working,” she said.