Emerging Artists | Tamara Callens

Painting from the heart

Tamara Callens, Portrait of a Mountain Lion, oil, 20 x 20.

Tamara Callens, Portrait of a Mountain Lion, oil, 20 x 20.

This story was featured in the June 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  June 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

Growing up in Humboldt County in Northern California proved to be auspicious in a few ways for painter Tamara Callens. Perhaps most evidently, the budding artist was surrounded by gorgeous redwood forests, mountains, and seascapes that inspired so many of the region’s American Impressionists before her. In addition, located in convenient proximity was a like-minded community of talented plein-air painters, such as Jim McVicker, Steve Porter, and Doug Ferrin. “I was really inspired by that,” says Callens. “I’d go out and paint three plein-air landscapes a week.”

For many years she mostly painted en plein air, says Callens, but after moving to Jackson, WY, in 2008, she started painting her children, too. Soon her oeuvre burgeoned to include commission-ed portraiture and representations of figures in pastor-al Wyoming landscapes, cozy interiors, and other peaceful, intimate spaces. And although she wouldn’t call herself a wildlife artist per se, Callens also discovered a passion for painting mountain lions, which for her conjure nostalgic memories of spotting them in the northwestern wilderness. In many ways the artist remains inspired by her California roots, and her paintings often radiate sunshine and warmth as a result, she says, but they also reflect the charm of the romantic era of painting. “I think I have an old soul,” she says. “I like the way they did it in the old days. I love that fresh, painterly look—I don’t like every question answered.”

Working from life continues to inform Callens’ creative process. For figurative works, she draws and photographs her models and also paints head studies to capture both their true personalities and a fuller range of color. “You can see so much color in life that you can’t see in a photograph,” says the artist, who describes her style as traditional but influenced by current times, particularly when she intensifies colors. She admires works by the early Impressionists like Edgar Payne, William Wendt, and Joaquin Sorolla and has studied with artist Daniel Gerhartz, but ultimately she paints from her heart. “If you think too much, it looks affected; it’s not really you,” says Callens. “You see so many artists you’re inspired by, and at the easel you think: ‘How would they solve this problem?’ But at a certain point, you break away from that, and it’s all you.” —Kim Agricola

representation
Christopher Queen Galleries, Duncans Mills, CA; Mountain Trails Gallery, Jackson, WY; Panache Gallery, Mendocino, CA; and Tammy Callens Studio, Jackson, WY.

This story was featured in the June 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  June 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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