Twenty-five years after he left for the West Coast, one of Wilton’s long-gone sons has found two reasons to come home next week: a gallery and a girl.
Stephen Easterling, an Arizona-based artist and 1982 Wilton High grad, will make his Connecticut debut at Rockwell Gallery with a show that opens on Thursday, April 23.
But he’s not just here to sell art.
According to the artist, impressing the woman he dated in high school is even more important.
If it weren’t for her, “I probably wouldn’t be thinking about Wilton,” he said. “I missed it because it’s my hometown, but it wasn’t until I got in contact with her again that I decided to come out.
“I’m really crazy about her.”
And, according to Easterling, she’s crazy about him, too.
“She knows about everything. She knows I’m doing this interview. I’m excited, and she’s excited,” he said.
The artist will show his work at the Rockwell Gallery at 379 Danbury Road beginning on Thursday, April 23. That evening, a reception will be held from 5:30 to 8:30, where visitors can meet the artist, view his work, and enjoy wine and refreshments.
Easterling, whose work is rooted in surrealist landscapes, is represented by two Arizona galleries but is hoping to expand his work into the New York City market — and impress the woman he’s now visited five or six times since they reconnected on Facebook a year ago.
Why are things working now, and not back in high school?
“We’re not kids anymore, that’s the big thing,” Easterling said. “I don’t remember too much about back then except for just the broad strokes. Now we have more experience — and that’s different — but how we relate to each other is the same. We’re naturally the one for each other — it seems obvious to both of us.”
He and the woman, who has asked to remain anonymous for now, originally met on a blind date while high school students.
“In high school it was a blind date, actually,” he said. “A friend of hers wanted to go out with a friend of mine, and we were brought along so they wouldn’t be alone.”
As fate would have it, “25 years later we met through Facebook. Social media is a pretty wild thing nowadays,” he said.
Reunited online, they’ve now reignited a long-lost relationship, Easterling said.
“I was happy to be on my own” raising an 11-year old son, Easterling said. “He was kind of my life, and I wasn’t looking for anyone to be with. But you find that one person and it changes everything.”
A honky-tonk musician and ranch hand in previous careers, Easterling was trained in fine art at the University of Bridgeport. He spent a large chunk of his adult life traveling Arizona and California as a musician.
His wide Western desert landscapes are in the same thematic vein as Salvador Dali, Easterling said, as if they are intended to evoke an emotional, dreamlike response in those viewing them.
Surrealism is “the only thing I’ve found that fits it,” he said. “All of my stuff is landscape, but it doesn’t adhere to reality very much. The colors are way more vivid, and I don’t do a lot of detail.
“I establish a dreamlike quality through big shapes and colors. And I use a lot of afternoon lighting to evoke some sort of emotional response from the viewer so it seems like a dream.”
Some of his paintings resemble specific places, but others are only derivations of an initial sketch or image.
“I do a lot of hiking and driving around off-road. I take some photos, but I don’t adhere to them closely. When something strikes me in terms of a good breakup of the plain, or it has good organization, I use it, but by the time I get home, I usually end up taking out most of it and leaving the parts I like.
“The skies and the clouds I monkey around with a lot. By the time I get finished, it doesn’t look like anything I sketched.”