Without his instruction, guidance, encouragement and friendship, this blog would probably not exist, nor is it likely I would still be painting. He meant the world to me, not just as a great artist and teacher, but as a human being and wonderful friend.
He was always there for me whenever a problem with a painting blocked my way. We spent countless hours on the phone through the years of our friendship, discussing art and life, regardless of the miles or time zones between us. He always had a joke or two to go along with several possible solutions to every painting difficulty I threw at him.
He built my self-confidence over the years, to the point where I seldom bothered him anymore, begging for advice or fixes. But, I'd always tell him how my painting was going and how the things he tried to teach me might have taken years to sink-in, but eventually, they did. When I'd recite one of his Matheny-isms (to show him I remembered) and tell how it saved a painting, it always raised a chuckle from him. I could tell it made him feel pretty good to know he hadn't wasted his time on me.
He'd laugh and dismiss my slow learner admission, instead telling me how proud he was at how far I'd come. He told me the only reason he decided to work with me was the tenacity and determination he saw. I'd then tell him, that if I ever achieve anything, it's because I stand on the shoulders of giants--his being the most important. We were definitely a mutual admiration society.
It always broke my heart that he kept such poor track of his work and did little--almost nothing, in fact--to keep is name alive. If you Google his name today, you won't find a single image of any of his paintings, save for what I put on this blog. He was modest to a fault and over the course of our friendship, gradually gave up painting, except for making some wonderful works on his computer. He always told me, no matter the medium, you still have to have the basic knowledge and skills. "I'm always painting in my head", was another of his favorite sayings.
The first time a mutual friend took me to his house in rural east Tennessee for an introduction, my jaw dropped upon entering and seeing so many wonderful paintings covering the walls. We didn't stay too long and it was all I could do to ask the big question: Mr. Matheny, would you consider taking me on as a student? Always the humble artist, he seemed embarrassed when I asked, saying he really didn't take students. He did, however, invite me to give him a call the next week and set-up a day to visit. The rest, as they say, is history.
I could go on, but by now you know the type of man he was and how much he meant to me. During what turned out to be our final conversation, he told a joke and I laughed, even though he'd told it to me several times before. His speech was slow and his breathing labored, but I could still imagine the twinkle in his eye and hear the joy of living in his voice. Like all dear friends, he will be sorely missed and maybe a bit of him will live on through my paintings. Not that anyone will ever mistake one of mine for his! No, he'll live on because I'll tell his story and give him all the credit whenever I'm lucky enough to receive a compliment.
Over the years, we would often discuss what happens after we die. The Maestro would say he believed in a higher power, but wasn't sure about what that power was. He simply could not believe this amazing, complex world could have happened by genetic mutations over millions of years. It's my fondest hope that the Maestro has found his answer. And I really hope he'll find a way to let me in on it.