Sit down to talk about art with Bob Eoff and inevitably you end up talking about television.
Eoff has an exhibition of watercolors, “Appalachian Wrangler,” on display at ANF Architects through July 10, but his life was so bound up with broadcasting in Memphis that his success and the evolution of his painting seem to have occurred simultaneously.
Eoff graduated from Whitehaven High School in 1967 and went to Memphis State University to major in English.
“I wanted to teach, but I was not a very good reader of other people’s writing,” he said over lunch at The Brushmark, the restaurant at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. He switched majors to radio-television-film management, a decision that determined his career for the next 40 years.
Or perhaps what determined his career was a wrong turn. While still a junior at MSU, in 1969, Eoff began working at WREG-TV Channel 3, the local CBS affiliate, as a cameraman. This was when Channel 3 was still in the basement of The Peabody. “I thought I wanted to be a deejay,” said Eoff, “but I walked through the wrong door into the TV studio.”
Following the legendary business-world trajectory — “from mail room to board room” — Eoff moved over the years from cameraman to technical director to director to producer-director to president and general manager, and in 2004 he became president of The New York Times Broadcast Group and had a seat on the board of directors.
Going back to the early 1970s, however, we see a young man looking for a creative outlet, one not fulfilled by writing, poetry and music. “That’s when I started watercolor,” Eoff said, “teaching myself through books and looking at artists I admired in museums and galleries.” He entered a piece in a contest at Southland Mall, won honorable mention and a place in the competition at the Mid-South Fair, where he took another honorable mention. Still, his commitment to watercolor painting remained low-key until the terrible events of Sept. 11, 2001.
“That caused me to stand back and take a look at my time and decide that I needed to get serious and dedicated,” said Eoff.
He sought the tutelage of well-known watercolor artist Fred Rawlinson, who said, “I think I can help you.” One of Rawlinson’s first observations was, “You know, you’re painting with colored water, not watercolor.”
“That changed everything,” Eoff said. “By using less water, my colors became more intense. Fred taught me so much, so many tricks, and he was so nurturing. He’d find something good in the worst painting, something you could build on.”
Eoff, 64, and his wife, Bobbie, live in Naples, Fla., but keep a home on Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. They began traveling there, to Avery County, in 2006 and eventually bought a place. “I had to get away,” said Eoff, “get away from growing up and living in Memphis and working there all my life.” He left The New York Times Broadcasting Group in 2007 and took a job at the University of Memphis as vice president for communications, public relations and marketing, retiring at the end of 2011. He does not, he said, come back to Memphis often.
The exhibition at ANF Architects, his fourth or fifth in the gallery space, has a Western theme and marks somewhat of a departure for the artist, who has largely concentrated on landscape, forests, rivers and the like. Now, he said, “I’m painting with more detail. My goal this summer is to paint more people. The people up there” — on Grandfather Mountain — “have such wonderful faces. They lead a pretty hardscrabble life. Nothing but rocks up there, but they grow tomatoes, watermelons and whole mountainsides of lilies.”
Watercolors by Bob Eoff, at ANF Architects, 1500 Union, through July 10. Call 901- 278-6868