Artist Herb Roe graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1992, and attended the Columbus College of Art and Design before dropping out to take work with artist Robert Dafford on the Portsmouth floodwall murals. Roe spent 15 years traveling with Dafford and eventually moved to LaFayette, La., where Dafford was based.
"We did the floodwall projects here, and similar projects in about eight other towns, plus a lot of big one-off stuff in New Orleans, and South Texas, and Memphis," Roe said.
Roe also did murals in the new Portsmouth High School.
"(I did) the three Trojans mural, welcoming you into the building. The painting of the old school and the painting of the different figures around that big wooden piece hanging on the wall. All three of those over there are mine," he said.
Because of his history in Portsmouth, and his past work with PHS, he was asked to come back and paint the murals for the new $10 million Portsmouth Athletic Complex. On the first wall Roe will paint a Portsmouth Trojans baseball player, circa 1960. Next to that will be a tennis mural, then a large landscape football mural spanning the decades of Trojan football and uniforms.
Roe first drafts the images in Adobe Photoshop and then projects them onto the wall. He also uses a gridding process; breaking the small picture into many smaller squares on a grid and then scaling them up onto a larger grid on the wall.
"I'm going for kind of like a Norman Rockwell or N.C. Wyeth kind of postery, punchy color kind of thing. The subject matter kind of demands that — an All-American illustration kind of style," he said.
The composition is also inspired heavily by classical artists, like Ruebens and Michaelangelo.
"It's like the giant battle painting. The whole European heroic tradition. They don't do stuff like that anymore. Artists aren't commissioned to do these giant battle scenes with armies clashing into each other. Like Greek sculptures and the renaissance frescoes. This is probably about as close as guys today will get. These giant sports ... these guys are gladiators crushing into each other in the heat of battle. Big hulking guys in armor and uniforms. That's what I love about it."
He pointed out that the columns and facade decorating the facility were also inspired by Greco-Roman art.
Roe said he spent three weeks working closely with the design committee — Ralph Applegate, Clay Johnson, and Sharee Price (Roe's former art teacher at PHS) — over phone and Internet.
"They told me the subjects they wanted to do and the basic subjects they wanted to do, and I just started working on ideas until I got something that they really liked and what they wanted it to be," Roe said.
Roe came back to town last week, after his plans were approved by the committee. Many artists might focus on those tiny details, or let the smallest flaw ruin the work for them, but Roe said he's been doing this long enough that he's beyond those feelings of doubt and insecurity.
"I've done something like 2- or 300 murals in the last 17 years. You just let it go. You do the best you can now and always look forward to the next project," Roe said.
He said he's proud to leave behind his work for people, and future generations, to see.
"Long after you're gone, they're going to see that you did this stuff. The kind of paint I'm using for this, it's a special paint from Germany called keim. This stuff is supposed to last 50- to 100-years. This might even outlast the facadey the put it on," Roe said.
He said he'll continue working on the murals, as weather permits, and expects to have them complete by July 31. The football stadium in the Athletic Complex is expected to ready in time for the start of the fall football season.
RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 235, or e-mail email@example.com.