After living across the hall from Clay Rountree for three weeks, I began to feel like I really knew him. I knew that he is an amazing singer and that the Vassar Devils think so, too. I knew that he’s a talented performer who has played the lead in shows like “Big Fish.” I knew that he loves avocado and always manages to find the time to make himself avocado toast. I knew that he’s from Colorado and that it freaks him out to not be above the treeline. I knew that he loves his plants and takes care of them like they’re his own children. But it wasn’t until four weeks into know- ing Clay that I discovered his incredible gift for creating surrealist art.
As we embarked on the long walk back from the gym back to Lathrop one night, we struck up a conversation about art, and he casually mentioned that he paints. Thinking he meant the amateur way of combining colors on a canvas to vaguely resemble something of importance, I told him I painted, too, and suggested we paint together sometime. I then discovered that the surrealist piece on his wall in his room that I had admired so often is in fact a piece he painted—not, as I assumed, a professional piece by a famous artist.
As opposed to his other mediums, Rountree finds painting completely personal. Whereas a cappella and theater often require collaboration, painting allows him to exist purely in his own expression. For Rountree, surrealism is particularly empowering because it enables him to explore his own techniques and complex ideas while also alluding to some of the great works by other surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí and M.C. Escher. Rountree incorporates his own ideas into techniques and motifs pulled from those who inspire him, and he hopes that his creations can inspire others in the same way.
Painting is not just a hobby for Rountree; it’s a point of view. After working on a surrealist piece, Rountree begins to see the world differently; he begins to notice its contrasts, like the contrast in the colors on his canvas. His technique allows him to see the inherent absurdity in all objects. “We can learn to see the same thing in different ways regardless if it’s a tangible object or intangible thought,” he explained.
Rountree has been recognized for his art, having acquired one gold key and two silver keys from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Although the recognition flatters him, it does not constitute his primary artistic motivation. Such pressure actually deters Rountree from creating. He explained, “I never really enjoyed taking art classes because I never liked having a grade associated with my work and being forced to abide by deadlines. If I’m being forced to do it, then it’s no longer art.”
As far as the future is concerned, Rountree has not written off art as a profession. In fact, he is drawn to the media studies major because it would allow him to continue pursuing his passions in all media fields, including visual art. When asked about what role art will play later in his life, Rountree responded, “However it is that I communicate myself at any given moment might rely on visual art, even in my career.