Celebrated artist Walter J. Mix, Jr. didn’t merely notice the world, he saw it; he didn’t just look, he absorbed, internalized, interpreted and then deftly brought to the canvas an honest rendering of his surroundings—often intense urban cityscapes that epitomize his childhood or serene European hill towns that enchanted and changed him.

“Dad’s way of seeing was about presence,” said his son, David Mix, remembering when his father brought his Mt. San Antonio College students outside to very intently look at nothing. “Teaching art is more than just teaching how to use your hands, it’s teaching how to see.”

And this is what made Mr. Mix, “not simply a painter, of which there are myriads, but an artist,” wrote Jarvis Barlow, assistant director of the Los Angeles County Art Institute in the 60s.

Mr. Mix, described as one of many “holy men of the 60s” by his son David for his position among renowned local artists of this vibrant era and his immersion in the decade’s artistic and cultural revolution, died at age 80 on September 1, 2009 at his Claremont home.

Born on October 14, 1928, Mr. Mix grew up in cacophonous Chicago during the Depression, a kid from a tumultuous family who escaped to the streets to play marbles and make mischief with fellow hooligans.

“Happy? I would call it extraordinary,” said David of his dad’s childhood, recalling his dad’s whiskey-making grandmother and fiery union labor organizing father.

It was in the chaotic setting and rich cultural mish-mash of his youth that Mr. Mix formed his first opinions about his environment and the human condition.

“So, when he was given a paintbrush and paints before he reached his teens, there was a world of feeling waiting for a medium through which to communicate both the hostility and splendor of the world that surrounded him,” said his son David.

Indeed, light and dark, the horrific and the sublime, were juxtaposed vividly and skillfully in his paintings. Fellow artists and colleagues capture the range of his artistry—and personality—in their comments.

“I thought they were very rich, romantic paintings,” said Karl Benjamin.

“There’s kind of a mystery about his work,” said Harrison McIntosh, whose wife, Marguerite McIntosh, a longtime Mt. Sac colleague of Mr. Mix’s, described his work as beautiful and powerful, poetic and emotional (and Mr. Mix himself as “very handsome”).

And, Roy McCowan, another Mt. Sac colleague, shared that even though Mr. Mix’s artwork dealt with existential issues and matters of real seriousness, he always upheld a good sense of humor.

In his youth, Mr. Mix moved with his family to Long Beach, then to Phoenix, Arizona and, in 1953, graduated from Arizona State University where he danced to a live performance by Louis Armstrong at his prom.

“Dad wouldn’t claim outright that he knew Louie, but I’m sure they had some smokes together,” said David.

It was at ASU that he met his first wife, Janice, to whom he was married for 32 years before they divorced. Mr. Mix was married briefly a second time and divorced.

During the Korean War, Mr. Mix served in the US Navy in Newport, Rhode Island from 1953-55, after which he attended Claremont Graduate School (now University) and earned an MFA at Scripps College in 1957. Claremont, with its lively art scene and population of progressive, even rebellious, thinkers, as he was, became his home.

“We were totally absorbed by the times and the life at CGU. He spent endless hours with Phil Dike, Roger Kootz and Paul Darrow,” said Janice Mix.

“They were trying to break from dogma and the status quo,” said David Mix, referring to the “holy men of the 60s”. “They were icons of a cultural revolution, responding to military imperialism and religiosity, taking faith in a new direction through their own constructs, not those imposed by society.”

Upon graduation, Mr. Mix began his 32-year teaching career at Mt. Sac. Simultaneously a studio artist and professor, he was highly regarded in both worlds.

“When he came to my MFA show,” said recent CGU graduate Mr. McLean, “it was one of those things when someone walks into the room and the air gets sucked out of it. He had a real aura of respect around him and his work both and an educator and painter.”

Former student Chris Darrow recalled a childhood memory of Mr. Mix and Janice Mix arriving at the annual Halloween party of his father, Paul Darrow, bedecked in impeccable Richard and Pat Nixon costumes. Mr. Darrow regards Mr. Mix as a powerful mentor.

“He really taught me how to paint. More importantly, I learned how to be an artist,” he said.

“He demanded a lot of his students, and they never forgot it,” expressed longtime Mt. Sac colleague Richard Raynard.

Mr. Mix will also be remembered for coordinating “Bijutsu Shukujitsu” with Carl Hertel at Mt. Sac, a weeklong annual fine art feast and festival.

Mr. Mix traveled extensively in Europe, frequently leading summer tours for students. There, he gained a deeper sense of connection to the primal human experience, becoming enchanted with and deeply impacted by the primitive hilltowns of Spain and Greece, which, in some way, reminded him of the cultural aura of his childhood city.

C.V. Comara, of the Comara Gallery in Los Angeles, where Mr. Mix had his first solo exhibit in 1958, summed it up thusly: “…his former interest in the urban environment of the twentieth century man was transmuted into mind’s eye views of the unified blend of man and nature suggested by the landscapes of Greece.”

Mr. Mix, a relative of the cowboy actor Tom Mix, a film star during the 20s and 30s, had a similar affinity with pueblo towns of the Southwest. This kindred connection harked back to his rumored Iroquois ancestry and engendered a lasting relationship with an Apache Holy Man. His funeral service, held on September 4, included homage to this heritage as well, with a powwow drum led by the Bearwolf Singers.

In addition to the Comara Gallery, Mr. Mix held solo exhibitions at the Palazzo delle Exposizione in Rome and at Scripps, Chaffey and San Bernardino Valley colleges. He also participated in many invitational and competitive group exhibitions.

Mr. Mix is survived by his 3 sons and daughters-in-law, Walter J. Mix III and Heather Mix; John and Corrine Mix; and David and Kjerstin Mix; and 6 grandchildren.

– Brenda Bolinger, Claremont Courier, 9-19-09