A Visit with Teresa Elliott at Her Studio in Alpine, TX
Text by Bonnie Gangelhoff · Photos by E. Dan Klepper
This story was featured in the July 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art July 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.
Describe your studio. After painting in bedrooms, living rooms, and a shared garage space in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, I knew it was time to build a designated space for painting. When my husband and I moved to Alpine in 2006, we built an 800-square-foot studio with four skylights, windows on every wall, and French doors. Morning light pours in, and the doors are kept open to allow my dogs to wander in and out as they please. Pepper, a Boston terrier mutt, and Toby, another small mutt, are regular visitors and have full run of the property. But keeping the doors open doesn’t always work because when hummingbirds migrate through the area, they sometimes find their way into the studio. So do lizards. Then the window screens have to be removed, and the birds eventually fly out. But the lizards are on their own. After working in the space for a few years, I realized I didn’t need so many windows, so we installed pull-down shades to deal with glare. I move around a lot when I work. Sometimes I use the skylights, or I may work under a mixture of track lighting and fluorescents. But mostly I work close to the north windows, which offer steady, diffused light all day.
Where is Alpine? Alpine is a laid-back, friendly town of about 5,000 people surrounded by tall hills in West Texas. Beleaguered urbanites from the large Texas cities roll into Alpine to relax, using the town as a base to explore the attractions of the region, like Big Bend National Park, Terlingua, Marfa, and the Davis Mountains.
Describe the environment surrounding your studio. My studio is in the Chihuahuan Desert, which is nearly a mile high in elevation. The surrounding terrain is rugged volcanic-rock outcroppings, mountains, and rolling foothills covered by a mixture of cactus, oak, juniper, and piñon pine. Clear, dark night skies showcase exceptional views of the Milky Way, and I am far enough west to enjoy the monsoon rain pattern during the summer. Deer, turkeys, and javelinas are frequent visitors, along with occasional bears and mountain lions.
Does the environment influence your work? This remote and expansive area allows me to fully focus on my painting. The studio is not attached to the house. So it’s a good place to incubate, plan, and execute the painting process. It’s very quiet except for the music or podcasts I listen to. So, in a sense, the quiet is echoed throughout my work as simple and hopefully memorable.
What kind of music do you listen to while you work? I listen to a huge variety of music, from Hank Williams to my current playlist with curated music from the TV series Breaking Bad. I also listen to Radiohead a lot.
What do you keep in your studio? I keep all of my family photos, a selection of past work over the decades, and I have started a small collection of other artists I admire. The list of artists I want to collect from is lengthy, but so far I have work from Kevin Courter, Pamela Wilson, Susan Lyon, Aaron Westerberg, Dan Mieduch, Beth Cavener, Qiang Huang, and Josh Clare.
How do you describe the style of your work? My photography studies at the University of Kansas introduced me to Diane Arbus, among others, and this dovetailed with my own perceptions of the human world. I’ve always blended these two loves of mine—image making and photography.
What artists, living or deceased, have influenced you? Rembrandt and John Singer Sargent. But there are too many more to mention. Also, Odd Nerdrum’s landscape paintings remind me of the vast horizons of West Texas, and Rembrandt’s quiet psychological portraits look like they would be at home in Odd’s landscapes.
What accomplishments are you most proud of in your fine-art career? Winning Best of Show at the Coors Western Art Exhibit and Sale this past January. Also, exhibiting my painting titled DELIVERANCE in the America China Oil Painting Artists League exhibit in China and at the Butler Institute of American Art in Ohio. I’m also proud of being included in the first International ARC Salon Exhibition in Barcelona, Spain, which also traveled to the Salmagundi Club in New York.
What is one thing most people don’t know about you? I go in and out of feeling insecure about my painting career.
What is one place people will never find you? A football game.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not working? Taking a walk every day after the work day is done and enjoying the sunset on the front porch with my husband.
Where do you take people when they come to visit you? To the Pizza Foundation in Marfa.
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