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Landscape painter specializing in the scenes of the Mississippi Delta.
Artist Carol Roark began her career as an artist in a small room under the local drug store, where at age 11 she would take classes with local artist Francis Melton on Saturday mornings. Born in the small town of Lexington, Mississippi, from a very early age, Roark has had a passion for the natural world around her and expressing this love through art.
An avid equestrian, Roark chose to attend Wood College so that she could compete on their collegiate riding team. It was there that she took Art Appreciation and eventually Freehand Drawing under Susan Dorsey. Susan Dorsey’s husband Michael was the head of the art department at Mississippi State University, so she convinced Roark to to visit the department at MSU. Almost immediately into the tour, Roark knew this was where she belonged.
After graduation in 1991, Roark concentrated on freelance illustration work and equine portraiture. She created cover designs for The Chronicle of the Horse, Equine Art News, and was featured in the biography America’s Horse and was the official cover designer and artist of the Dixie National Quarter Horse Show for 10 years. She was featured in Southern Lady , Delta, and Delta Bohemian magazines as well as the Clarion Ledger and Oxford Eagle newspapers.
As her illustration and commission work grew her mind kept going back to a painting she had seen by John Leone at the International Museum of the Horse in Lexington, Kentucky. The painting entitled “First Snow, Hunter Pace” depicts three horses in a snow covered hunt field. “I rounded the corner in the museum and the painting was right in front of me. It literally stopped me in my tracks. I could feel the exhilaration of the riders and the cold, crisp winter air and I was mesmerize. THIS was the emotion my paintings were missing and I knew at that moment something had to change” says Roark.
It just so happened that things were about to change. Not long after the encounter with that painting, Delta State professor and famed artist Sammy Britt was conducting a workshop just a mile from Roark’s farm. It would be completely outside, it was in July and Roark was six and a half months pregnant with her first child, but after seeing Sammy’s work, she knew he could open the doors she was looking for.
Britt had studied extensively under master colorist Henry Hensche. Under Britt’s tutelage, Roark studied color and light key all from life – with her oils and a palette knife as her only tools. She studied with Britt through workshops and by auditing his collegiate classes for almost 10 years. She also taught classes herself, to adults and children alike, at her studio and local schools. She found that she had the heart of a teacher and loved passing her joy for art on to others. Her studio walls are covered with names of students who started her classes as young children and studied until their high school graduation. Roark is noted for saying “When God gives you a gift, He expects you to use it AND share it”.
In the past few years Roark’s art has shifted somewhat again. She is always grateful for the foundation she gained from Britt, but she realized she sees the colors of the world a little softer than the colorists. She sought out nationally known plein air painters to study under. Most notably artist Marc Hanson. Hanson challenged Roark to paint 200 small studies from life in 200 consecutive days. She had just been awarded a Community Supported Artist Award from the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council in Oxford, Mississippi. With this award, the artist is required to create a project that YAC would in turn promote. Roark’s project became the “200 Paintings in 200 Days” project. Her project would require a small painting each day, usually 6” x 8”, that she would complete within an hour on location. Her journey would be documented with social media, a blog and at the end, an exhibit and published book. The project gained her a lot of attention, but most of all, Roark says the experience of painting that seriously and the visual knowledge she gained was immeasurable.
Since the project ended in 2018, Roark has been accepted into numerous shows. She was awarded Best of Show at the Big Bad Art Show in Oxford, Mississippi and first in the 2D category at the Cotton District Juried Art Show in Starkville, Mississippi. She has been part of the Mississippi Presenters Network’s statewide traveling show and has had a solo show at the Frame Up Basement Gallery in Oxford, Mississippi. She is represented by the Pinehurst Rathskeller Gallery in Laurel, Mississippi and the Alley Cat Gallery in Baldwyn, Mississippi. She is an associate member with the Oil Painters of America, the American Impressionist Society. She is also a member of the Mississippi Oil Painters Association and the Mississippi Plein Air Painters.
When asked what she feels is most important in what she does, Roark says “I just want to to show the world the beauty that is right in front of them. I love the south and the southern landscape and I think the beauty here is overlooked. It’s all about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary”.