Twelve years ago, William Rose picked up a pencil and pad that his daughter had left on the coffee table and started to draw a photograph he’d taken earlier that week — a KU softball player at bat, an intense look in her eyes.
An hour later he looked at his drawing. Then back to his photo. Then back to the drawing.
They looked exactly the same.
“I was kind of blown away. I mean, I had never tried to do this before,” says Rose, of Prairie Village.
That simple drawing has led Rose down an impressive artistic path. Four years ago he quit his day job as an IT project manager for H&R Block to pursue art full time. Now his artwork plays a main role in the movie “The Forger,” released on DVD this week, starring Josh Hutcherson and Hayden Panettiere.
Hutcherson plays a troubled teenage art prodigy who gets sucked into the world of art forgery. All of his character’s artwork in the movie, from a 20-foot mural painted on a hotel room ceiling to a figure of a woman scrawled on a mirror, is Rose’s.
Rose was drawn into the project in the fall of 2008, when director Lawrence Roeck saw one of his charcoal sketches on the cover of American Artist Magazine. The drawing, called “Rossina’s Apple,” is of a woman eating an apple and staring intently ahead.
“Obviously when I saw his work, I was blown away,” says Roeck, who called Rose and asked him to travel to Carmel, Calif., to work on the movie. Rose spent three months painting and serving as the film’s behind-the-scenes still photographer.
Today Rose is standing at an easel at ARTichokes gallery in Leawood, where he’s been a resident artist for the past year. The 58-year-old married father of three still looks like the middle school basketball coach and businessman he once was: He wears wire-framed glasses and running shoes, a gray Nike T-shirt and Jayhawks hat.
But the pictures around his easel give him away.
They’re women, in a thousand colors, most of them staring right at you no matter which way you turn. Some seem to be behind a misted window; other times they’re clearer than a photograph.
Rose is a figurative painter — he hasn’t abandoned his innate talent for capturing the photorealism of a scene, but as he’s developed he’s tried to add elements of abstraction, playing with color and light.
Rose’s specialty is showing raw emotion, and he does this with the eyes. They’re usually the centerpiece of his paintings.
“That’s where you get the lightest lights and the darkest darks,” he says.
They belong to Erin Smyth, the closest thing Rose has to a muse, he says. She’s a 22-year-old art history major at Johnson County Community College and for the last four years has been Rose’s go-to model. Her gaze strikes artists nationwide from the cover of the Strathmore 400 series of sketchpads.
“It’s amazing to see how an artist views me,” Smyth said, “… especially Bill, how he goes from realism to abstraction all in one painting.”
Magazine covers and movie credits raised his standing in the art world. Smyth now works as his assistant, giving him creative advice when he starts new works and helping handle the administrative duties.
Becky Pashia, owner of ARTichokes, says Rose has a problem keeping much of an inventory because his paintings sell fast. Pashia says visitors to the gallery are transfixed by the expressions on Rose’s figures.
“Don’t you wish you had eyes like that?” she’ll hear them say.
On some days, Rose stops and shakes hands with visitors who look at his work. He tells them the story of the softball photograph, and he smiles — looking like the most contented man in the world.