For Sedona, Arizona, artist Curt Walters, the secret to capturing the Western landscape on canvas lies in spending time with his subject. “Everything I’ve painted in the studio is something I’ve painted on location. I think that firsthand observation lets you know what’s really going on with a subject and I don’t think you should paint something you don’t have some sort of emotional connection with,” says Walters whose oil paintings include everything from forest scenes like High Country Slumber at left to canyons such as Split Mountain Canyon at right “I see beauty in the world and I just want to show people the way I feel about it. I don’t think I have any other choice. It’s a natural extension of who I am.”
“I have a lot of commercial experience, which I think is the best training in the world,” says Oleg Stavrowsky, who’s spent the last 25 years painting Western art. Working only on commissions, Stavrowsky paints everything from tightly rendered stagecoach and railroad scenes like 200 Head on Board and the traditional cowboy with a twist. For example, in Not Tonight Sweetie, he opted for a loose, more abstract background. “When you get well-versed in something you stop struggling and you can devote all of your efforts into creating something unique,” says Stavrowsky. You really develop your own style. It’s very difficult because there’s a lot of good Western art out there.”
For Elizabeth Sandia, painting the West grew out of a complete life change. Moving from her job as an advertising and architectural designer, Sandia came to Santa Fe to start her new life as a full-time painter. “In midlife I decided it was time to paint, which I’d always wanted to do but couldn’t figure out how you make a living at it.” After moving to the Southwest, exploring her new landscape and discovering pastel, she didn’t have any trouble finding subjects to paint and venues to showcase her work. “Everywhere you look it’s just beautiful,” says Sandia. “I really like an intimate location, a pocket garden, a barn or some cows. Sometimes it’s just a bit of color that’ll attract me.”
“Travel keeps a painter honest,” says Wyoming native T. Allen Lawson. “I think we all have a tendency to go out—if we’re only in one spot—and paint what we think we know. And that’s something that I continually fight with and I think a lot of painters struggle with their whole lives. We can become sort of formulaic so that when you see a bright blue sky or a sunny day, you automatically dip into a certain blue. Travel keeps you honest and it keeps your eye sharp.”
Although he spent most of his life in Wyoming, where he found many of his subjects for paintings such as Young Avacados and Evening on Sheridan Ave., Lawson has traveled and painted in 36 states and several countries. And now that he’s moved to Maine, he has a new set of subjects waiting for him. But Lawson says painting the West will continue to be part of his life. “You don’t take full advantage of things that are right in front of you,” Lawson says. “Now when I go back to Wyoming, I’ll see it and paint it with fresh eyes.”
“Every artist has their muse and I guess mine would be the American West. I’m a native son so to speak,” says Pueblo, Colorado, artist Kim Mackey. “I come from a pioneer/ranching family, so I grew up around this kind of life. It speaks to me, so that’s what I choose to paint.” Whether he’s taking reference photos at his brother’s ranch, painting in the canyons near his home or working in the studio, Mackey is recording the cowboy way of life. Paintings such as Brush Orphan and Passing Through were born of his observations and experiences living in Pueblo. And Mackey draws lessons and inspiration from the work of artists who came before him and those who are painting today. “I’m a student of art and I think I will be until the day I die,” he says.
Jeff Gandert‘s paintings have been shown in exhibits around the world, including the Arts for the Parks National Tour and the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum’s Birds in Art Exhibit and World Tour. He’s won many awards, and his paintings have appeared on a number of magazine covers. He lives in Maineville, Ohio, and he’s represented by Closson’s Art Gallery in Cincinnati, Sportsmen’s Limited Gallery in Atlanta and Zantman Gallery in Sun Valley, Idaho.