By Lexie Yearly
Art is more than a passion for Firehouse Gallery owner Eric Gibbons. To him, art is one of life’s necessities.
“Often I find that artists have this compulsion or need to create, and I think it’s one way to get out whatever it is that’s coming in,” he said. “Because we absorb a lot, and we need to somehow get that back out again, and I think art is a way to do that.”
Though a select few of his paintings still decorate the walls at the Firehouse Gallery, Gibbons eventually converted the space to his studio. Now, his work can be seen on display in galleries around the country.
But one thing has stayed the same since he first bought the space in Bordentown from the original owner 18 years ago. Every summer, Gibbons hosts an art camp for local students who share his passion. His small classes of students 7-16 years old are divided into one younger and one older group.
He uses his background in painting, sculpting, drawing and numerous other media to give the students a better understanding of the art world. Instead of practicing exercises, students are encouraged to each come up with a unique answer to a problem given in a way that has a personal connection.
“If I do a project with my students, and every student has the same thing, that project will never be done again. It was a failure,” Gibbons said. “I want to see that every student comes up with a unique answer to the problem I give them, that has some personal connection to them in some way.”
Gibbons said one of the most important aspects of art he focuses on is familiarizing kids with good materials and good projects.
The camp has weekly themes like sculpting, drawing, painting and pastels. The week of July 9, campers worked on cartooning, an especially popular theme that Gibbons offers for two weeks. Campers were instructed to design a comic book cover; but instead of envisioning a typical superhero, campers were to draw what they envisioned was their own super power.
The artist is no stranger to teaching outside of the gallery, too. While studying fine arts in Japan — including work with stained glass and ceramics — in college, he also taught English classes. From 1991-93, he taught general art studies in Egypt to American, Egyptian and international students in grades K-12.
Gibbons grew up in an artistic family, and eventually learned that he was happiest when he was creating something. His art — self-described as classical figurative and inspired by Neoclassical painting — acts as a message about the human condition.
The paintings are primarily composed of black and white oil paint and are just 6 inches shy of life size.
“It’s almost photorealistic, so the detail of that is just mind boggling,” said Firehouse Gallery art instructor Colin Temple. “If you get up close, you can see the paintbrush strokes, but if you stand back, it looks like a photograph.”
Gibbons also incorporates three subjects into a work, a technique he learned while studying in Japan. The number three, he said, kept reoccuring in his studies, and three points of interest in a work seemed to evoke the most attractive image.
“[It’s] also a way to organize things without getting too simple or too complex,” Gibbons said. “Three seems to be a number that works.”
Now, Gibbons teaches art classes for the Northern Burlington school district, and has developed teaching techniques he said are different than most. He incorporates aspects of other fields of study, like math, science, physics and writing, rather than focusing on uniform tasks or exercises.
He also offers weekly classes at Firehouse Gallery to adults and teens during the school year from October-March.
In 2010, Gibbons started Firehouse Publishing, which he uses to publish his own art books for students and teachers. To date, he’s published 30 books.
For more information about Firehouse Gallery, call (609) 298-3742. On the Web: firehousegallery.com.