The Interview : Trish Stevenson
(Rachna Singh in conversation with Trish Stevenson)
The Wise Owl talks to Trish Stevenson, a renowned award-winning artist who was inspired to paint the people, animals and action of the West, with the focus being on capturing their spirit and attitude in her oil and pastel paintings. Growing up in a rural area west of Denver, Trish Stevenson was either riding horses or drawing them and even then, considered herself an artist. She credits her grandfather for the Western flavour of her work, as he was a memorable character; a bronc rider in his heyday, who took the kids to hot, dusty rodeos and brandings. Those memories left a strong impression on Trish and still influence what she paints today. Trish entered the Colorado Institute of Art, intent on a career in graphic design. But a two- month study trip to Europe opened her eyes to the possibilities of fine art and she embraced it with enthusiasm and passion.
Trish’s artwork has been featured in Art of the West, Western Horseman Magazine and Art Horse Magazine’s International Equine Art Competition. Trish has been honoured with the Stampede Purchase Award at the 2017 Stampede Western Invitational Art Show in Greeley, Colorado, Spirit of the West Award, Purchase Award & Honourable Mention at the 2010 Wild Horse and Western Art Show, Rock Springs, WY, First Place Drawing at the Western Heritage Artists Show, Great Falls, MT 2008, First Place at the Small Works Show 2018, James Memorial Art Centre, Williston, ND, Diane Townsend Award, ‘Works on Paper 2014’ at the Waterworks Art Museum, Miles City, MT among others. She has participated in many national and regional exhibits and her work has toured several museums as part of the Ken Ratner Western Art Collection.
Thanks a lot, Trish, for talking to The Wise Owl. We are indeed delighted to talk to you.
RS: I believe you were born and brought up in the rural part west of Denver. You have said that you grew up riding horses and painting them. When did you first realize you had an artistic flair? Who encouraged you in your painting pursuit?
TS: I feel like I was always drawing something and thought of myself as an artist as far back as I can remember. My parents and siblings were very encouraging and still are to this day. Art teachers and friends also reinforced the idea that maybe I had some talent and should pursue a career in the arts.
RS: You talk with great fondness about your grandfather, a former bronc rider who took you to rodeos and brandings and gave the Western flavor, so characteristic of your artwork. Can you recollect any interesting anecdote about your grandfather, or your rodeo visit that you may like to share with our readers?
TS: Probably the best story about my grandfather is he once rode a buffalo in a rodeo. They claimed he could ride anything!
RS: In your Artist statement you say that ‘My goal as an artist is to create paintings that reflect my interpretation of the spirit and attitude of the West Rodeo.’ Please tell our readers and viewers what according to you is the essence of the spirit of the West and what it is about the spirit that attracts you.
TS: To me, the Spirit of the West is the attitude of perseverance, determination, working harder than you think you can, and really just never giving up. Facing the unknown and being willing to risk everything for what you want. Like the pioneers that settled the West, the Native Americans that fought for their way of life and the ranchers and farmers of today that work so hard to make a living.
RS: Are there any contemporary artists or traditional masters that have inspired you? What is it about your favorite artists that you like the most?
TS: Ah - so many! Traditional - Of course, I look to C. M. Russell and Remington for western influence. I especially like the way Remington simplified his shapes in the composition. I love any great draughtsman like Michelangelo and especially Cecelia Beaux. Degas is probably my greatest traditional influence for pastels. Bettina Steinke and R. Brownell McGrew were portrait masters, especially of Native Americans, then Harley Brown carries on that tradition, especially with pastels.
The late Sheila Rieman was another amazing draughtsman and master pastelist that I was fortunate to have studied with for a short time. Her deer and bison are exquisitely executed, and her palette is astonishing. Western artists like James Reynolds and Dan Mieduch I admire for their intense light and color. Currently I enjoy the works of Glenn Dean and Albin Veselka as I admire their subdued palettes and masterful compositions. I could go on and on as I discover exciting artists all the time, including new western artists that have very contemporary attitudes in their work.
RS: Looking at your artworks I see that your paintings are mostly oils, pastels and charcoal on paper. Which medium is closest to your heart and why? Which medium do you find most challenging?
TS: My first love was drawing with pencil and charcoal. Then I also loved pastel from the first time I used it. It was the closest thing to drawing for me as I used harder pastels back then, with a lot of cross hatching. As I moved on to softer pastels, I started using the side of the sticks like brushstroke, thin or thick, more like painting. I enjoy pastels for the immediacy of gesture that I can attain and for the intensity of the color. Oils are a different language to me, capable of beautiful rich tones and limitless possibilities of which I have only scratched the surface. Oils do keep challenging me which keeps it interesting.
RS: Your paintings bring alive the west, especially the swashbuckling cowboys and the horses. In fact, your paintings capture the ‘action’ so to speak. What artistic techniques do you use to capture the movements, like a bucking horse or a cowboy with a lasso, for instance with such unerring accuracy?
TS: I would say my first ‘technique’ would be intense observation in the field, watching the cowboys and cowgirls work their ropes at a branding or watching a bronc ride intently, observing horses and how they interact with each other socially - so that when I go to draw something, it ‘feels right.’ As for action, I tend to blur lines and/or omit details in order to attain the feeling of movement. Placement of color and values can also lend itself to emphasizing action.
RS: Tell us a little about the creative process that goes into your paintings. Right from the time when something or some scene makes you itch to put it on paper to the finished artwork.
TS: I love the whole process. Along with rodeos, I thoroughly enjoy my trips to the North Dakota Badlands to photograph wild horses and bison as well as tagging along with families moving their cattle from one pasture to another, or branding. I believe that the sights, sounds, smells and weather that I take in will weave themselves into the final creation of a painting, because I am trying to convey my experience at the time. I take a lot of photos. I love going thought the photos looking for the people or animals with a determined eye or defiant attitude or that unique scene that defines the West for me. After I choose a photo or several to work from, I decide what size would work the best and which medium. Then I usually jump right into a line drawing. The drawing is where I really get to know the subject and can think about what parts I can focus on when it comes to the actual painting. My process is a bit different with pastels or oils. When I am satisfied with the drawing for a pastel, I will spray fixative on the drawing so it will not smudge. Then I loosely block in darks first, lights and maybe a halftone value, then wash it in with solvent, covering the whole surface, which is usually a sanded paper like Uart. When that dries, I start painting, and sometimes the more abstract areas of the painting will receive several thin layers of pastel to achieve the effects I am looking for. With the more realistic areas, I try to get it right with the first stroke.
With oils, I like to use a brush to draw with, then do a monochrome underpainting to reveal the lights and darks, then block in large areas of color, then go back and refine it to whatever degree feels necessary.
RS: You seem to love using various shades of blue in your oil paintings. It looks gorgeous but I’m just curious to know why you use this colour.
TS: Blue has always been my favorite color, and it feel like an emotional reaction, that I receive a sense of steady strength and calm, much like looking up at the stars in a deep blue-violet sky. I use color intuitively - it is not necessarily planned, but I do seem to often reach for blues and violets. I like to use them in shadows, then pop in some warm colors to bring them to life.
RS: Our readers and viewers would be keen to know if you are preparing for an exhibition or a project now. When do we see your next exhibition?
TS: I am preparing for a solo show (to be scheduled later this year,) at the Kuehl Fine Art Gallery at the A. R. Mitchell Museum in Trinidad, Colorado. I will also have work at the Greeley Stampede Art Show in Colorado and the Cheyenne Frontier Days Western Art Show in Cheyenne, Wyoming opening July 20, 2022.
RS: Have you thought of publishing a coffee table book with your beautiful work. I’m sure a lot of us would love to own such a book.
TS: That is a very nice compliment, thank you - I will give it some thought!
RS: Is there any advice you would like to give artist wannabes, especially those who want to represent the romance of the West?
TS: To an artist just starting out I would recommend exploring different media until something resonates. If you are a representational artist - draw from life every day, at least for a minute. Spend as much time with your art as you can, and it will show you the direction to take. For an artist wanting to represent the romance of the West, I would say surround yourself with inspiration and research, such as movies, books and photographs - see what you are drawn to then take it from there!
RS: I have been a great fan of the west. My entire childhood was spent reading stories about the swashbuckling cowboys and the rodeos. Clint Eastwood’s films added wings to my imagination. Do you think the films and books represent the west with accuracy?
TS: I think it all springs from the truth, but it’s probably more fun to make a movie or write a book about gunslingers and stagecoach robbers than about the non- romantic families who are building new lives in a new world. That said, I believe people hold dear the notions found in the romance of the West; wide open spaces, freedom and independence, grit and self-determination, ingenuity in hard times.
RS: One final question. With digital art trending with Gen Z, what do you think is the future of traditional art forms? How do you think we can help Gen Z to connect more with the traditional art forms?
TS: I think that humans are innately creative and will always come up with new forms of art making and keep building on the centuries of artists that have come and left their marks. I think digital art is another tool for artists to choose from and that traditional methods will not fade into the sunset, as witnessed by the popularity of museums and the renaissance of realism. It would be useful to educate Gen Z on the history of art so that they may see their place in it, the long lineage of creativity.
Thank you so much Trish, for taking time out to speak to The Wise Owl. We wish you the best in your creative pursuits and hope you are able to keep alive the romance of the West in your beautiful artwork.