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Artist Rex Bandy is on an Ugly Crusade

Friday, November 2, 2007 | 1:19 p.m. CDT; updated 2:01 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
In his cluttered basement studio, Rex Bandy dabs evenly-sized petals onto a small portrait of blooming flowers. Bandy said he started painting the walls of clubs and tents during his service in the Korean War, after procuring some cheap paints and materials on the local black market. “We were stuck in this God forsaken country, 40 degrees below zero, winds 40 miles an hour,” Bandy recalled. “Morale was bad, food was bad, everything was bad, and I just started to do this thing.”

COLUMBIA — In his 82 years, Rex Bandy has seen enough to conclude we’re living in an age of ugly.

Bandy thinks the world has started losing its natural beauty, and his paintings of vivid abstract fauna and landscapes are his way of negating that. “We’re tearing things up as badly as we did when we settled this country,” he said.

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So, he’s carrying out what he calls the Ugly Crusade.

Inside the studio in his home in Columbia, Bandy adorns at least two canvases a day with shades of blue, pink and green acrylics. Some strokes form leaves and others snowcapped mountains. Eagles, which he considers to be majestic birds, occasionally grace his landscapes, but Bandy is fonder of the birds of Saipan, a part of the Mariana Islands.

“They’re angels,” he said.

As a World War II veteran who served as a medic on a hospital ship, he also draws inspiration from his experiences there, and Saipan is one of the locations where Marines fought the Japanese. Bandy has been working on a mural of these birds to accompany a novel he is writing about the suicides of Japanese soldiers.

Bandy also wants to paint Hawaiian women putting leis around the necks of wounded soldiers, something he describes as one of the most beautiful moments of the war. He has tried to make this scene come to life on canvas several times but has been unsuccessful. He still holds onto the dream of one day completing it.

“I want to paint pleasurable things,” he said.

Bandy, an Arkansas native, has experimented with art since he was a boy. But he did not dedicate his life to it until after he retired from Pyramid Life Insurance, where he worked for nearly 40 years. “I had bills to pay. Phone bills, gas bills,” he said.

And painting wouldn’t pay them.

He said he worked hard and it was a stressful life, but being able to spend more time painting once he retired eased that. “I’m the happiest man in Columbia,” Bandy said.

As the self-proclaimed guru of “sunshine art,” Bandy considers it necessary to use saturated, bright colors in his paintings because they stimulate the brain, especially in the morning. He came to this realization during the war, “when things were gloomy and morale was low.”

“The colors make a better person out of you, too,” he added. Because of the colors, he considers his art to be therapeutic.

He would also like to put his work on public display, hoping it will get those who pass by to slow down and take the time to absorb its meaning. Occasionally he sells his works for as much as $50, but he prefers to give them away.

“I give most of my paintings to pretty girls with love letters attached,” he said in a joking tone of voice.

He sometimes writes “From the Gospel of Rex” on the back. “I’m preaching for my crusade.”

Though his expertise is more in painting, Bandy occasionally enjoys making jewelry. He uses beads and turquoise to create necklaces and bracelets that mirror those worn by Native Americans.

“Who decorates himself more beautifully than an Indian chief?” he said.

Bandy plans to show some of his art at the Spare Parts Gallery in the near future, hoping to engage others in his mission.

“I’d like to see more people getting involved in art,” he said. “The U.S. could stand to go through a modern renaissance.”


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