Nestled amidst the tranquil landscapes of Hitchcock in Galveston County, award-winning artist René Wiley thrives within a realm of vivid hues, capturing the essence of her surroundings through her distinctive and emotionally charged artwork.
A self-described "morning person," Wiley starts her day with exercise, a hearty breakfast, and a cup of coffee, tending to her plants before immersing herself in her studio. Her constant companion during these creative hours is an audiobook, chosen from her collection of more than 900 titles.
Among her recent audio journeys is “Rembrandt is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art Through the Eyes of Faith,” penned by Russ Ramsey and Makoto Fujimura.
The tranquility and proximity to nature, she said, serve as her muses.
“Like a bird watcher, I am always aware of my environment,” Wiley said. “Beauty is everywhere; it is not what you paint but how you paint.”
Renowned for her signature style, characterized by bold colors and rich, loose brushstrokes, Wiley crafts impressionistic scenes of Galveston with occasional bursts of complementary colors. She’s among the most popular and prolific Galveston-Houston area artists, with her artwork commanding thousands of dollars.
She and her husband Ben Wiley moved off Galveston Island in 2016 to live closer to their three daughters, who are all artists themselves, and their growing families. The couple now have nine grandchildren, ages one to eleven, many of whom have shown interest in artistic creation.
Hitchcock - an incorporated community located 14 miles northwest of Galveston - emerged as a railroad station connecting Galveston and Houston in 1873. As the twentieth century dawned, it evolved into a hub for shipping vegetables, serving as a crucial point where local farmers transported both cattle and fresh produce.
It’s this rural DNA feeling that feeds Wiley’s artist’s soul. When not at her easel, she can be found in her garden, communing with the soil and being present in her surroundings.
The property provides the perfect setting for mindfulness and introspection, she said, adding her profound respect for the natural world's beauty serves as a meaningful connection between her art and those who admire her creations.
“I think people see my appreciation for beauty and color and the joy I feel in creating art.”
It’s not just the subjects of Wiley’s art - from the mesmerizing Victorian architecture found in the East End, the vast expanse of the Gulf of Mexico, the serene wetlands, bustling harbors, inviting beaches, and the vibrant marine life that graces the region - that keeps her connected to the island.
The Wileys own and operate the René Wiley Studio & Gallery, a sanctuary nestled in the historic downtown district of the island on where creativity flows unbridled.
Now in its 14th year, the haven at 2128 Postoffice Street, boasts an exclusive presentation of Wiley's oil paintings alongside a diverse array of other original local art - including the work of two of the couple's three grown daughters, Rachel Wiley-Janota (mixed-media paintings and canvas giclée prints and photography) and Samantha Wiley (commissioned oil portraits and photography). The couple’s third daughter, Sarah Wiley Thomas, is an artist in her own right. The family patriarch has managed the gallery since it opened.
But it is within her private studio in Hitchcock where Wiley weaves the island's tales onto canvas. The 500-square-foot house was completed two years after the Great Storm of 1900. It was constructed using lumber rescued from some of the 2,630 houses destroyed by the Category 4 hurricane that made landfall on September 8, nearly 123 years ago.
“We completely restored it and laid it out to my working specifications,” Wiley said. “I am inspired by the history of it and the thrift of repurpose.”
It is here, surrounded by walls that hold secrets from the most significant event in Galveston’s history, where Wiley puts oils to canvas to reveal the island's very soul.
At any given time, her studio is brimming with art, some completed pieces, others works-in-process, she said.
“I make many drawings and starts on canvas, then finish each one at a time,” she said.
“I let the subject tell me how to work with color and brushwork. Brushwork reflects movement in paint, and that determines the realism or abstraction of my subjects. I am interested in a true likeness of my subjects, and I use the colors that make me feel happy and honest. I only simplify nature. I was taught early to look for beauty and representing that is my primary objective.”
Her art has been an evolving process, shaped by countless hours of experimentation and refinement. Her passion lies in compositions that allow color to take center stage, emphasizing its visual power in her work.
“I am a daydreamer. All my subjects have a story. Galveston’s alleys have always been unique and fascinating to me. I just work from photos of them I have taken over the years.”
While the artist does accept commissions, she primarily chooses to paint what truly inspires her, rather than adhering strictly to someone else's requests.
“I prefer to paint what I like. I have done many commissions over the years but do fewer and fewer,” she said.
“Figure work is among my favorites and is probably the most difficult.”
Her artistic odyssey began in childhood. Wiley's own mother, Janet Clugston Ressling, was a painter and also Wiley’s mentor through a learning by immersion process.
“I grew up in a home where art was valued and practical. It just seemed natural to me,” she said, adding she and her mother frequently embarked on art workshops around the world, gaining valuable insights from renowned experts in the field.
“My style was developed over many years of work and lots of trial and error to create the look I wanted. I am attracted to compositions that allow color to take the main stage.”
She said both her parents instilled a profound love for art and history in their family, culminating in annual journeys to European cities to explore the world's greatest art museums together.
Her mother died September 18, 2009, and her father, Dr. Richard C. Ressling, died July 22, 2018. But her parents’ much-loved tradition of family vacations, family dinners, and even having a simple cup of coffee together is deeply rooted, much like the inherent need within the Wiley women to create art.
Her daughters and their families all live within a few minutes' drive of the Wiley’s property and spend many hours engrossed in creative expression in each other’s studios. They also continue to attend artist workshops as a family.
“People think it is a ‘family compound,’ but that is not really the case,” she said. “We live less than a mile from each other; we can meet for coffee in minutes.”
She has embarked on epic journeys, visiting some of the world's most renowned museums and historic sites throughout the world - all through the artist’s eye.
“I can no longer ‘see’ without imagining a painting everywhere,” Wiley said.
Despite having witnessed the world's most breathtaking landscapes, this artist derives her greatest satisfaction from immortalizing the heart of her deepest passion - the place she affectionately refers to as home.
Wiley said, “Galveston has enough subject matter to last a lifetime.”
René Wiley Studio & Gallery is located at 2128 Postoffice Street in downtown Galveston. The next exhibit at the gallery, titled Western Horizons by daughter Rachel Wiley-Janota, will open for the October 7, 2023 ArtWalk. For more details call 409.750.9077 or visit www.renewileygallery.com.
What: René Wiley Studio & Gallery
Where: 2128 Postoffice Street, Galveston
Upcoming: Rachel Wiley-Janota: Western Horizons exhibit, featured artist for the October 7 ArtWalk
Info: 409.750.9077, renewileygallery.com