“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands…so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.”
–1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
This is a most fitting description of a dear friend of mine and the kind of life he led. You may know that OPA Signature member Greg LaRock passed away Sunday October 11, as the result of a traumatic head injury. I was heartbroken by the news. The following is a paragraph I posted on Facebook later that week.
“I could not let this evening go by without sending out a tribute to the memory of my friend Greg LaRock. I am still in disbelief that he has passed away this past Sunday. Though I cannot comprehend it, or push back my sorrow, I can celebrate the times we spent together: painting the figure at Art Supply, painting together at the Laguna Invitational, teaching painting to young elementary students with Jeff Sewell and the Plein Air Project, exhibiting paintings together at the Festival of Arts and in Maui, talking about painting, planning for painting, and dreaming about painting. Greg was a “painter’s painter,” with a highly-developed work ethic and well-considered sense of design, an empathetic and effective instructor, a good listener, and lover of artists and people younger and older, novices and professional. He was compassionate, and I felt his heart when we talked–and whenever I saw his work. In this world today, we need great men who lead with wisdom, energy, and love for their fellow men. Greg was one: a great man. God bless you, Greg, for all you have given. Laurie, my prayers for comfort and strength are with you, and with everyone who will miss this man.
May we spread the love like Greg did, that everyone may show or receive the kind of compassion that he so generously shared.”
You might have read the “In Memoriam” article written about Greg in the December 2020 issue of Plein Air Magazine, entitled “Greg LaRock (1965-2020).” There is mention of his perspective concerning “the day-to-day issues of being a professional artist.” But what made Greg the professional artist that he was, I believe, was the kind of man that he was. Over the years I knew him—I met him in 2008 at the Laguna Invitational—he was consistently positive, empathetic, giving, and transparent. His love of painting inspired that same love in others. He was known across the nation as a knowledgeable and effective instructor. At plein air events he focused on comradeship, not competition. In our life-drawing sessions, Greg dedicated himself to his work, and at breaks was happy to answer questions and take comments from fellow artists. When we mentored elementary school students for the Plein Air Project, he would talk with them about their progress, not down to them. When recognized for awards, he was supremely humble, often deflecting praise onto other artists who were also being recognized. And through it all, he was always learning: he told me that no matter what, there was always more to know.
That, I believe, is what contributed to the quality of the work he produced. As an eternal student, he was consistently progressing, to the point that many of his peers recognized him as a master.
Lori Basheda, in her article for the LA Times, described Greg’s impact on the art world:
“What a legacy of spectacular paintings he left to the world,” said Mary Platt, director of the Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University. “Greg stood firmly in the great tradition of the California Scene-painters —icons such as Millard Sheets and Emil Kosa, Jr. —who portrayed everyday life in the Golden State with such affection, understanding and finesse. His work deserves to be beside them.”
Jean Stern, Director Emeritus of the Irvine Museum, had this to say about Greg:
“He was a superb artist, and he also was a gentle, caring and sincere man…always cheerful, courteous and open with his time. He was a popular and well-liked teacher. As an artist, Greg was one of the best I had gotten to know. I often watched him paint. He would carefully and accurately draw a sharp, detailed sketch which reminded me of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, as they were so detailed. Then he would proceed to cover it up with bold and elegant applications of paint. He won numerous awards, some at art competitions that I judged. The art community will miss him in so many ways.”
I am honored to have known Greg as a friend, and privileged that I could stand beside him on several occasions to see for myself what his passion, purpose, and sympathetic presence could do for a student, a collector, a colleague and even a stranger. He inspired me and many, many others. As artists, we look in all kinds of places for inspiration. Greg led an inspiring life because he found it everywhere, and inspired others to find it for themselves.