Russell Chatham: Painter, Writer, and Fly Fisher

Russell Chatham is a well-known figure –perhaps a legendary one–in the worlds of fly fishing and fine art.  He is a highly respected landscape painter, whose works are in great demand.  If you happen to find yourself in Livingston, Montana, Chatham’s gallery is a must see (though the artist has relocated to his native California).  Having grown up in Montana, I’ve admired his paintings for many years.

Less known is the fact that Chatham is a wonderful writer.  Among my favorite books is Dark Waters: Essays, Stories, and Articles by Russell Chatham (1988). This book was given to me nearly twenty years ago by a dear cousin, Patrick Foley, who also happens to be an artist and fly fisher.

In the preface to Dark Waters, Chatham writes:

With the exception of painting, nothing in this life has held my interest as much as fishing.  Fishing with a fly, a bait, a handline; I don’t much care.  Fishing, in my estimation, is not a hobby, a diversion, a pastime, a sport, an interest, a challenge, or an escape.  Like painting, it is a necessary passion.  Yvon Chouinard told me this is what climbing is for him.  We agreed that to be anything less than passionate about these very personal enterprises is unacceptable.  He is as impatient with the modern, cool climbers as I am with the thousands of yuppies who have made fly fishing one of their many activities.

So, while my favorite things–aside from the love of family and a certain fondness for food–are sitting outside painting and fishing, my least favorites are visiting art galleries (and reading art magazines), and visiting tackle stores (and reading fishing magazines).  It’s no wonder I’m so often confused. (1988, xiv).

MidCurrent recently posted links to two of several video interviews with Chatham (they also offer a short biography).  These interviews were conducted and produced by AJ Scaff.  Take a few minutes to look at them.  Then look at Chatham’s paintings and, if you’re still interested (I’m sure you will be), hunt down one of his books.  It will be worth your while.

I think few people these days have the “necessary passions”  about which Chatham writes.  Some of you might suggest that political ideologues are obvious examples of those who do.  I disagree.  Political ideologues are better compared to robots or prisoners than they are to artists and admirers of “nature” such as Chatham and Chouinard (best known as founder of Patagonia).  So, follow my advice and listen to, gaze upon, and read Chatham’s passion.

Part one of the Chatham interview:

Part two of the Chatham interview:

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