Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air: Legends
of West Texas Music
"Indeed, Oglesby's introduction of more
than two dozen musicians who called Lubbock home should be required
reading not only for music fans, but for Lubbock residents and
anyone thinking about moving here. On these pages, music becomes
a part of Lubbock's living history."
So we came up with the image of me all in black in a black
cowboy hat. And thats what we started doing in the Southwest
But it definitely rubbed everybody within the art community raw. They didnt like that.
Chris: I was wondering if it made you popular in Santa Fe.
Downé: No. It didnt make me popular within the art community. Cause it was just like "We dont do that!"
Thats what Im talking about: "This is art.
This is sacred."
I never had that "Starving artist" approach. I came up with a catch-phrase: "An Important American Painter" and it stuck right off the bat. And like you made the comment earlier; Thats what you saw in that print store, and you sure remember that now!
And I did that immediately. I was from nowhere, but my ads always said "Downé Burns: An Important American Painter."
Boy, I caught flack big-time in the community! I even had very big local publications in the Santa Fe area that would not advertise me unless I dropped that by-line. And we didnt advertise with them. It was just too egotistical, they thought.
And like I was trying to explain: Anybody that knew me knows
this is not an ego trip. I was trying to bring a whole new marketing
idea. "Why are we all starving to death at this?"
Chris: Or that no one else could understand it or appreciate it. "Its ours; we want to own it here in Santa Fe."
Downé: Exactly! Right. Thats another reason I came home to Lubbock.
Chris: I would venture to say that a lot of that is the common attitude you find in people Don Caldwell who was here producing "Listen, Im gonna do it this way because this is the way that I feel like it needs to be done. Screw you if you don't like it."
A lot of times, sticking to your guns doesnt necessarily mean your gonna be successful. But if you look at Lloyd Maines and his production of music; lLoyd is so successful because he is so strict and true to himself.
Downé: Right. He understands his own vision.
Chris: You sticking by your own deal
I think it
was a great idea!
Downé: No. The way they do that - Its
real simple. I wish there was more pomp and bucks to it but theres
not. I own the copyright. Anything any artist does, you just
automatically retain the copyrights.
Chris: A lot of people are watching those shows, and somebody may be paying attention to the way those girls decorated their house.
Thats fortunate. I guess your family background, like you said, gave you the opportunity to be exposed to the promotion side.
Downé: Growing up with my dad running the record store We were in retail. So I just grew up around regular dinnertime conversations of, "How can we get more people in the store? How should we display the product?" That was always going on.
Dad I talked about it before moving over to Santa Fe My approach was Its like: McDonalds comes up with an edible, pretty-good hamburger, and then its marketing from then on. Its like, "How do we get it to the masses?"
thats what I said: If I can just come up with some good
art thats marketable and it doesnt have to
be "great" then Ill just put it on the
boilerplate, like a hamburger. Thats my approach; If youre
gonna make a livin at it then you gotta get it out there.
So with that attitude - once it got goin - thats
what I always kept in mind when we started licensing to T-shirt
companies, greeting cards; I mean wed let anybody
What youd have at your openings, buying your originals
are doctors, lawyers, everybody that has mega-bucks. And then
Id meet young people that would be just out of high school
or in college, that might be at the show, and theyd have
just as much appreciation for my artwork; Theyd be there
participating and like it just as much as the guy that had
beau-coup bucks in the bank, but they couldnt afford
it. So thats what I tell those critics: "Only the
wealthy people get to enjoy my art? Thats not right."
Chris: Well, they wouldnt be buying your image unless it meant something to them.
Downé: Exactly! So I just kept that attitude with it.
It got to where finally people would realize that there wasnt a barrier at my studio; I was willing to help anybody. I learned that from my dad: Ive never been afraid of quote "competition." When my dad had the record store, every other college guy wanted to open up a record store. He was always willing to tell them what they needed to do, and it would drive my mom crazy. "Youre giving it all away!" Dad was like, "No, you can help people out and still survive."
So I finally did build a pretty good reputation on one side of Santa Fe with some of the artists. Some who were trying to get going; They were more than welcome to come to my studio, and Id tell them everything that I did marketing-wise. My attitude was: "The more the merrier! Its America and theres room for all of us."
I did have a big studio in a strip center there in Santa Fe for awhile. We had converted part of it into a little make-shift gallery, and we did a bunch of shows for awhile with unknown artists. Id do the whole thing: Print up the cards, invitations for em and stuff.
Chris: Thats great! Theres some of those good "West Texas values."
One thing I really noticed living in California that was consistently
different: It was very hard to become close to people in California.
People arent very big on opening up to you there, or helping
Downé: [Simultaneously] That would NEVER happen in Lubbock! Right.
Chris: Somebody would have said, "Sure, Hop in. Where ya goin?"
Chris: And thats a true blessing about being
from here. Ive learned that you just dont get that
friendliness & helpfulness as much in other parts of the
Downé: Exactly. It just feeds on itself, doesnt it? People are willing to help each other. People are willing to share ideas.
Chris: One of the explanations of why there may be that art culture here in Lubbock is because the artists feel a need to bond together in that way and help each other out in order to survive out here. Im talking about: a "school" of art a group of friends, or a community of people kinda stuck out here in a small area sharing a similar vision
I never figgered that, but I
know exactly what youre talking about. But that sounds
exactly like so many conversations Melissa and I had living over
there in Santa Fe: "Wheres that sense of community?"
People arent as transient here.
Chris: Yea. [Laughs]. You get kinda stuck out here.
Downé: Lots of people that are from Lubbock
are stuck here and are gonna stay here. Whereas when we lived
in Albuquerque, I got so sick of every time my son Dylan made
a new friend on the block, 6 months later theyre in Illinois.
The turn over.
Boy, when I came back it made me appreciate Lubbock like I never did.
Chris: You got a great setup here; your home and your studio, right here by the kids' schools.
Downé: That was part of it. But part of the
typical downside of success in a high-profile thing like I was
in: You do get caught up in...
Next thing you know, its "a four car garage
and were still building on." You can't help it.
You get in that circle.
But its part of the image thing. And part of it - I
had to stop and appreciate because I had started doing it in
my advertising. I understood that thats part of the "tinsel-town"
idea. You can build stuff up in this country; if you get on a
roll you can pump it up.
Chris: You gotta act like a Rock Star.
Downé: You gotta play the part. Exactly. And
after awhile, that began to eat at Melissa and me, and it became
sort of a strain on our marriage, even. Cause we finally
had the nice cars and a pretty good-sized house, and you just
get kinda sucked into.
It just finally got after several years, I remember thinking,
"Oh, this is great but how did I get here? This isnt
what I wanted. Im really not this
I know this all probably sounds corny to you, but its real stuff.
Chris: Have you heard Terry Allens "Lubbock: on everything" album?
Downé: Oh yea!
Chris: Youre describing that same experience: The country-boy lost in that art environment.
Downé: Exactly! And I couldnt blame anybody because I was doing it; I was participating and playing the part. I had created it.
But you literally get to the point to where its like
- And this sounds stupid but this is how it gets - In my mind,
it got to where if we hadnt been out to at least 3 really
expensive, high-profile, fancy restaurants in a week
Chris: Did you ever meet anybody in that community that you feel as close to as Shane Bowers?
Downé: Oh, No! I had nobody! I had nobody; And
I kept up with Shane through all of that.
Chris: And you feel like you have to have it, because they world around you is telling you that.
Downé: I guess what Im getting at is: So many people that make big bucks...Its relative; Their lifestyle is so "big-bucks", Theyre sweating the house payments just as much as anybody
Chris: They just have a bigger house.
Downé: Thats it exactly. And finally, Melissa and I were like, "Lets go Home." Start over, revamp and just get back to the basics and enjoy.
That cut us loose from having to deal with all the galleries. I dont go do any shows. I got sick of that. I didnt like that. I just got tired of playing that part.
We came home to Lubbock, and I really didnt paint that much for the first year I just kinda piddled around.
Chris: Oh really? So you were that burnt out on it? What did you think you were gonna do here?
Downé: Well, I didnt know. We had kinda gotten to the point where it had all put a real strain on our marriage, so we were kinda rocky when we got back. And of course and I dont like to hide anything in that sense even financially it had kinda gotten upside down.
Chris: Cause you werent out there promoting your art any more?
Downé: Well, I was. But I guess thats
what I was alluding to awhile ago: You can get so caught up in
I mean we had a BIG distribution company called Wet Paint Distribution. We distributed
my posters, other artists posters; We got into all of it.
What starts happening....Im a good business person but
like anything: Things get so big that its hard to manage
it. You got Big Bucks coming in - hypothetically. You may be
running $20,000 coming through, and for a little independent
guy thats great. In my mind, thats what Id
see. But you lose track of whats really profit. You forget
you got this many phone lines and youre running all these
ads and youre in this new warehouse
you lose track.
Chris: Youre just in charge of a big machine, really.
Downé: Exactly. So finally we just put an end to it. Shut everything down. I wasnt painting anything anymore over there in Santa Fe; I was really just selling posters. That was real lucrative.
When youre hot and youre selling that paper, thats
good bucks. You dont have to paint; youre just reproducing.
You can get one image thats a hot seller and sell thousands
a month on just that one image. And thats just like printing
Chris: When I think of Downé Burns, I think of a pickup truck. And a black cowboy hat.
Downé: Yea. And there I was driving a Mercedes for years, just playing that part. And after awhile it got to where "this is not me." It got to be something that I didnt want it to be.
Now Im real fortunate. I look back and I realize Im
so glad I went through all of it because now I have a real appreciation
of and this all sounds so cliché But just
the little things. Okay, the big house: Ive done that.
Ive had the nice cars. Now I can stand back and go "Okay,
Ive tasted of all of it; This is whats really important
Chris: I think its great that your art and your desire to be creative has really brought you a great life here. Lucky as anybody can be.
Downé: Oh yea. Just a cool set-up. And then I finally came up with something new to paint. I got out of my being burned out on painting after being here. I started painting again.
I had started this lawn service...See, thats what I did for awhile when we first got back. We were still selling posters but the distribution wasnt as big, so we werent in a bind. I started up this lawn service. I had done lawns before we left; just like everybody in Lubbock has done some lawn business. The lawn business is a Big Deal in this crazy town!
And thats been a great release because I love working
in the yard. That was a therapy for me, and Ive kept it
on. I run the lawn mowing service two days out of the week. I
got a crew of three guys...But it gets me out.
I just like being
another little pink house on the block, and Im just a good
ol boy here.
And the art is way off. I ship all of this off to New York every Friday. They distribute it. I dont even answer the phone. If I do even answer that line, I use another name. I normally wont even pick it up. I just dont want anything to do with that side of it any more.
Chris: Now, are these paitings you're doing here today going out to be sold as originals? How many originals pieces would you say you have out there? Do you have any idea?
Downé: In this series
I guess it doesnt
matter but some people wouldnt understand. See this company
Im with right now, I may send them 75 to a hundred originals
in a month. So when I come in here and paint, I move! Its
a high volume deal.
So thats always been a real benefit.
Chris: Did they approach you?
Downé: No. We approached them...Once I started
painting again, I just started over with a whole new style. I
had Melissa sending out portfolios; We mail them out once a month
to these companies - a dozen a month. We just knew how it worked,
and I knew its a numbers game.
Chris: They feel bad that nobody appreciates what theyre doing.
Downé: But I always ignore that and BOOM! Within
6 months, one of em called. And this Progressive Editions is the company that
we really wanted.
The gallery owner responded, "But Downé, you're not even dead yet!"
The following month, Downé took
out a double-truck 2 page ad in Southwest Art magazine consisting
of two white pages; In the upper left hand corner was the phrase:
Downé Burns: An Important American Artist ...Followed
by a series of photos of Downé in his hat & shades,
holding paint brushes, sticking out his tongue, etc.; then, in
the lower right hand corner the phrase:
Shortly after that,
Downé left Santa Fe and returned to Lubbock where he lives
happily ever after.
2007 Chris Oglesby
All rights reserved