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Southwest Art Magazine

Ralph Oberg

on . Posted in Southwest Art Magazine


I’m coming back to my sources, completing a full circle,” said wildlife artist Ralph Oberg, relaxing in his Montrose, CO studio and looking out on a breathtaking view of the San Juan Mountains. “That’s what this is all about, coming back to where I feel I can be myself one hundred percent. I’m really excited about the work because it’s like all the pieces are fitting together for me now. I’m 51 years old -- a little late in some people’s book --and it’s been a long road but I think it will prove out.”


The full circle Oberg is referring to is his journey from painting wildlife photo-realistically to plein air landscapes back to wildlife artist. But this time it's about something more.


Oberg attended Colorado State University in 1969 but thought the art program revolved too heavily around experimental and abstract art. “My focus has always been towards the representational, so I was not interested in anything but basic drawing. After two years I quit, I didn’t graduate. I started surviving then.”


He picked up a job in an architecture firm only to leave when offered the opportunity to go to Alaska for the first time on a mountaineering expedition. “I had such a great time I never looked back. I had already begun to sell my paintings when I was at the university and that kept me alive. I was living on very little but enjoying the freedom. I wanted to live my life the way I wanted to live it, and travel around the country and make sure I had the freedom to go into the mountains.”


Mountains, especially the San Juan Range where Oberg once took a 12 day solo hike of more than 100 miles through the wild and pristine land, have always greatly influenced his work. The animals he photographed early on in his career became images displayed in wildlife exhibits like the Birds in Art Show at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Museum and lithographs for Ducks Unlimited, as well as gaining him a membership in the Society of Animal Artists. “Right out of college I was doing tightly rendered watercolors -- hairs and feathers and wildlife pieces -- because I lacked any real training in fine arts as far as a painterly approach. I was rendering photographs and I was pretty good at it,” he said.


But all that changed when he ran across the works of Carl Rungius. “As a wildlife artist, he’s one of my greatest heroes,” said Oberg. “It wasn’t until the late 1980’s that I became aware of the kind of painting that I admire now. The more I looked at Rungius’s field sketches and outdoor paintings, and the more I talked to other artists, the more I realized that getting outdoors and painting from life is where you learn most about color and the mood of things. I basically changed horses midstream with the idea that I was going to go out and learn what I needed to learn so that when I came back into the studio I’d have something to work from.”


Oberg spent the next 15 years working plein air. For a while, he continued making his living on the traditional animal paintings until he felt his landscapes were good enough to sell. “At that point, I just dropped the animals completely. I started taking workshops and studied with Clyde Aspevig, Wayne Wolfe, Len Chmiel, Skip Whitcomb, Michael Lynch, and Hollis Williford. And I started painting outdoors as often as I could. I hooked up with my friend Matt Smith and we traveled and painted together a lot. That’s what took me into the realm of more impressionistic and painterly work,” said Oberg. “Now I’m finally at a point where I’ve decided that my real niche is to fall back on the information and knowledge that I’ve gained about wildlife, my primary love being big   game animals,” he said. “I’ve come back to my heart. I’ve come back to what I’ve always felt was the thing I know and love the best.”


Melding his past and present, Oberg eloquently captures the wild mountain inhabitants, primarily elk, bear and moose, in their natural surrounding. Now his regular treks into the San Juan Mountains combined with his long distance travels to such places as the Yukon and Denali National Park in Alaska yield more than rolls of film. His latest trip through Canada with his wife, Shirley Novak, also a fine artist, added over 8,500 miles to their camper. “I did twenty-five to thirty field sketches. This is again in the form of Carl Rungius, in the same country he painted, not only British Columbia and Alberta but also in the area called the Pelly River where he went in 1904. That’s some great country and wildlife,” he said. “That experience for me rekindled my drive and enthusiasm for working in this direction again. It’s like defining myself from the crowd.”


Although he still uses photographs when working in his studio, he says it’s the field sketches that keep his work real. “After painting outdoors, you learn how the world looks, the value balance, the color balance, how things can be exaggerated so you learn how to manipulate the photographs. I can look at my old paintings and tell which one was done from Kodachrome and which was done from Ektachrome, almost,” he said with a laugh.


Oberg explains that a painting done strictly from a photograph will often have shadows that are too dark and skies that are washed out. “A photo is only a single clue,” he said. “When I put my field sketches up against my photographs the difference just astounds me. But I know I have to trust my sketch for the color and value and the spontaneity of the brushwork. The simplicity, strength and dynamics of the sketch very often have greater artistic qualities because it’s a spontaneous personal response. When you get the photograph in the middle it can be very dangerous to your artistic expression.”


Though his sketches are relatively small, his studio work based on these paintings are quite large. And since he is able to draw from years of personal experience not only as an artist but also as a mountaineer, he often combines ideas and images to completely make up compositions. Yet he feels that even at this stage of his career he is still learning and growing. “I’m not as flamboyant a technician as many people I admire. I’m still a naturalist, I’m still a realist, I say I’m a little impressionistic but not nearly to the level of others I admire. But I like that and I want to allow myself to be that way. Like I said, I’m finding myself, I’m not judging myself by other people’s work anymore. I just want to be a good Ralph Oberg.”


Lynn Rowan Myers

on . Posted in Southwest Art Magazine



If Golden, Colorado artist Lynn Rowan Myers has any fears when she steps up to a blank canvas, you’d never know by looking at the bold and absolutely confident colors and designs she paints. “The bottom line,” she said, “is when you’ve stood in front of a blank canvas a thousand times or more you acquire certain skills. You hold your brush a certain way, your colors are lined up on your pallet a certain way, and there you are. You’re standing in front of a vista and something goes click in your brain and you loose your touch with the real world. It’s not mystical, it’s training. It boils down to passion, emotion and how you feel about the land you’re looking at.”


Beyond training and experience, she credits her parents in influencing her style as they did not make her ‘stay in the lines’ and Matisse and the Fauve artists of the early 1900’s whose dramatic new approach to design and pattern created through the use of strong color moved impressionism to a new level of expression. In Myers’ work, she has adopted several techniques developed by these painters.


Much of her intensity of color happens before she even digs into a painting. Like the Fauves, Myers tones, or washes color over, her canvases before she starts. Many artists prefer to tone blank white canvases before painting, however, most often a muted sienna or umber is preferred. Not for Myers. “I always paint the canvas red. I started doing it for a reason. Part of it was the Fauves but also I see the values better.” By this she meant that she was having a hard time creating enough drama, that her color choices seemed to stay in the middle range of shade and tone. She explained, “I needed more lights and darks but my eyes were not seeing this. I would finish a painting and think it was done. But when I looked at it later, it was too much the same value. So, I had to trick eyes.” Now, when she paints, vibrant red is her middle tone, which allows her to use the rich colors she has always loved to tell a better story about her subjects. Working in this way, she employs stylistic techniques she says Kim English, with whom she studied for many years, does superbly in his work.


“Kim English takes you by the hand into a painting and guides you around it -- anywhere he wants you to go -- with the light. But the majority of his paintings are in the darker tones, in the shadows.” Instead of working in muted tones and light and shadow like Kim English, though, Myers uses varying degrees of pure color to create the same effect. “If you pick up a piece of red cellophane and look through it at my paintings you can see what I mean. The red value turns into a gray – my middle value -- when you take the chroma out of it.”


At first blush, her paintings couldn’t seem less like those of Kim English, yet she sees similarities. She said, “Actually we’re attracted to the very same thing – strong color and shape. It’s just that when we put a painting together they come out differently.”


When it comes to subject matter, Myers finds constant inspiration in the hills and craggy cliffs of New Mexico. Every year in the fall just as the seasons are changing from the greens of summer to burnt earthen tones, Myers travels to Taos for a month, sometimes two. She started making an annual event of this trip almost twenty years ago. And, it was on one such trip in 1988 that she had an epiphany. Up to that point she only painted in watercolor. She explained, “I was getting to where I couldn’t say what I wanted to say. Watercolor wasn’t strong enough. So, I went to the art store in Taos and bought a set of five oil paints, some canvas board, one brush and I went out and painted. I haven’t stopped since”


Myers has discovered that she prefers to paint with the same set colors Matisse did, eight in all. And because she spent so many years painting in watercolor she says she is able to take this limited pallet and make any color she needs, which is important for an artist who prefers to veer from the norm. “I do see things differently,” she said. “It’s hard to explain because it looks normal to me. It’s like when you decorate your home, you put certain colors and shapes together, instinctively.”


Whether it’s instinct or understanding her surroundings, Myers strives to tell a story with each painting. This is especially true in the few stilllifes she paints. The objects she depicts are all special in some way, like the patterned scarf that her grandson insisted on buying for her. He was only eight at the time but overheard her say she needed a hat to protect her from the sun when she painted on location. The scarf is just one such memento that creates a tapestry of her life which she organizes in paintings.


Figures, she says help keep her fresh and unblocked. She paints them very quickly, loose and spontaneously. “I do figurative paintings for my own pleasure. I love painting live models. It’s very good for my brain -- it makes me think fast,” she said. In that same vein of keeping her work flowing, she added. “I am going to paint more California things, too.”


Even though she grew up in California, Myers only recently started painting the golden hills and hazy vineyards in and around Sonoma and Madera. “I’ve always had the pictures in my head, they just weren’t ready to come out,” she said. When asked if they were just too personal, she replied, reflecting, “I think so. But also, I didn’t know if anyone would want to look at them. The images of New Mexico were different because I got feedback instantly. I painted them there and I sold them there. It was validating. But the California ones are really visions from my childhood.”


She feels that all her past experiences somehow work into her paintings, that they are never lost. For Myers, that past included teaching second graders, raising a family and living in several states throughout the Southwest including Utah, Arizona and Texas. While she raised her family, she painted whenever she could but the kids came first. After her children had left home and she and her husband divorced in 1985, she knew she was too young to pack it in. She took a career class where they told her she should be a gardener or an artist. She recalled, “I made a three year plan. I had enough money to go to school and work a part time job. If it didn’t work, I was going to renew my teaching credential. I had a master plan and I stuck with it.”


The paintings soon caught on to where the part time job interrupted too much of her creative time. Cutting the last safety rope, she finally took off. Looking back, Myers says pursuing her career as an artist made her feel like a kid let out of school. “It been the most exciting thing in the world,” she said.


These days Myers travels frequently as a way to recharge and gather new painting ideas. Expanding her repertoire, she painted on the San Juan Islands off the Seattle coast and went to Africa on safari. When she travels to such unusual places, she carries a notebook for ink drawing which she uses later in the studio along with her photos to create larger paintings of those places.


Of Africa, she said, “It was a looking trip -- I think I will be painting from it. The Masaii really are beautiful and they all wear colors I paint. It was like being in your own dream. They walk down the road in these amazing fuchsias, reds and oranges. They are all about six and a half feet tall and beautiful, just beautiful.”


Beyond Africa and the ocean, Myers says its time to expand her own vision on larger canvases. She’s preparing to tackle some four foot by six foot pieces as soon as the mood strikes her. Maybe the vastness of her latest experiences will transcribe themselves onto the stretched linen. Until then, she continues her art as a modern day Matisse, finding her inspiration in subjects she knows well. “I really enjoy the process of putting a painting together and the anticipation,” she said. Anticipation, I asked? To which she replied, “Didn’t they tell you? We never know how they’re going to come out. You know in your mind’s eye what you want it to look like, you have material, and your vista, but basically you don’t know how a painting’s going to turn out. So, if my hands will do what my brain wants to, maybe it all will.”


TD Kelsey

on . Posted in Southwest Art Magazine





T.D. Kelsey’s ranch in Pompey’s Pillar, Montana is more that just the place he lives and sculpts. It is home to horses and long horn cattle, it’s a sanctuary for over forty head of deer who bed down every night and even fawn there, and numerous elk who stop by in the winter. But mostly it’s a source of inspiration for the wildlife sculptor who prefers wide open spaces away from cities and crowds.


When it comes to subject matter, Kelsey admits that people just aren’t that interesting to him. “Animals are a lot easier to be around. What you see is what you get.” And as for his favorite thing to sculpt, he says without a second thought, “Horses. If I’m asked to do whatever I want, horses get the nod. Right after that it’s probably the ranch stuff.”


Kelsey, who was born and raise on a ranch just north of Bozeman, Montana, maintains the air of a true country gentleman. When I first introduced tdmyself to him, he removed his cowboy hat, held it against his crest and said, “Nice to meet you, ma’am.” In fact, almost everything he said included a formal salutation: ‘Well, ma’am, yes’ or ‘Thank you, ma’am, that’s fine’. Ever present in his sculptures is that soft spoken, careful manner and tenderness toward his subjects that emanates from the work and gives art patrons a true understanding of the Western way of life.


When he was young he created a lot of artwork but says he wasn’t encouraged at home. “On a ranch there’s a lot of work to do. I was kind of a closet artist, I guess you’d call it -- after dark, under dim light, that sort of thing, when you couldn’t really do anything else,” he said. “Then it was not frowned upon as much.” Beyond that, Kelsey has no formal training in the arts. His volumes of knowledge about the animals he sculpts come from years of riding saddle broncs in rodeos, training cutting horses, and ranching.


But Kelsey gives full credit for his career as an artist to his high school sweetheart, Sidni, who he married after graduation in 1964. “She kept telling me that it’s okay to be an artist, it’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing,” he recalled. “At that time, I was breaking and shoeing a lot of horses for the dude ranches. Sidni, being the business person, would have me do drawings, watercolors and little sculptures and sell them for a dollar on up to five dollars. I just did art because I liked it. She worked to where we could make a living at it.”


In September of 2000, Sidni passed away, leaving the artist she so greatly inspired behind to continue on without her. “It really worries me now. I used to go into the studio and  sing and laugh, make noises like the animals I was sculpting. It’s difficult because I don’t have that -- I hope I get it back again,” he said. “She gave me the confidence to just dive in. It might not be right but at least for that very second I thought it was right.”


Though she wasn’t an artist, Sidni was vital to Kelsey in the studio. His constant companion, they talked art from the moment  they woke until they fell asleep at night. “She had the best eye of any person, artist or non-artist, I’ve ever seen,” he said. “She loved art since she was a little kid. When we were first married she was always trying to buy little sketches for $50 and we didn’t have a dime, we couldn’t afford it. But when we got a little money she’d buy a piece of artwork.”


Over the years, she became so attune to Kelsey’s work that the day he emerged from a fourteen hour sculpting marathon with a piece that was dramatically different -- fluid and expressionistic, as compared to the previously very tight realistic work -- she encouraged him to continue despite the consequences. “I don’t know why it happened. The final sculpture was very loose. Sidni liked it, I liked it, and a lot of my collectors hated it. They weren’t used to it. In fact it hung around and didn’t sell for a long time,” he said.


But he enjoyed how this new style of working gave him the ability to create motion and drama in his work. As for his collectors, he said, “They finally gave up. But I still have some that say, I wish you’d do stuff like you used to.” His change in direction, however, has certainly paid off. Recently that breakthrough piece resold for 10 times its original asking price.


A large portion of Kelsey’s work is monumental pieces for museums and private collectors across the country. Often brainstorming with Sidni, Kelsey has developed concepts that stretch his boundaries and let his imagination take flight. One such monument, commissioned by the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, will be over 70 feet long when completed. The sculpture depicts a herd of buffalo being chased by several Native Americans who are attempting to spook them over a cliff. It runs around a quarter of the Museum’s new rotunda and ends at a huge window. There the piece heads inside with three buffalo falling over the cliff. Appropriately, the museum will display the remains from an archeological dig of an actual buffalo jump just below the sculpture.


“I like working big and I don’t know why. If it’s an interesting subject then it’s fun to do. But the older I get the less fun it is because the clay’s heavy. By the time I mash around 3,000 or 4,000 pounds of clay, I say, Man when I get this one done I’m never doing another one. But I do. I hate to say it’s an ego trip but I don’t know why else I’d do it. I hope I don’t have a big ego but I think sometimes that’s why.”


The first stage of the Cody Museum’s piece has been installed inside. Next will be the outdoor portion, a project Kelsey estimates will take five years to complete. Beyond monuments, Kelsey fits in several shows each year. He travels to the far reaches of the world in search of new material to sculpt – something he did for an entire year after Sidni’s death. “I was just running. I didn’t know what to do,” he said. Yet, with collectors and museums pushing him to continue on, he finally returned to the studio. But Sidni remains a constant for him, a force that keeps him sculpting. “Sidni was so much a part of my work. If my sculpture is worth so much as a second look it’s because of Sidni, without a doubt. If it weren’t for her I wouldn’t be an artist. She has always been my hero and all that goes along with it.”