Emerging Artists | Thomas Jefferson Kitts

Thomas Jefferson Kitts, Sacred Rites, Columbia Gorge, Oregon, oil, 18 x 24.

Thomas Jefferson Kitts, Sacred Rites, Columbia Gorge, Oregon, oil, 18 x 24.

This story was featured in the January 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art January 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

Thomas Jefferson Kitts started painting en plein air before most people knew it was a thing. After graduating from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1984, the Portland, OR, artist bought himself a cheap Italian easel and some canvas and hauled them up a mountain. “I tried to paint everything—
every branch, every tree, every cloud,” he recalls with a chuckle. “I didn’t understand how to simplify. At the end of that summer, I had one painting.”

Nevertheless, Kitts continued to paint outdoors while juggling careers in commercial design and illustration. In 2009, however, a serious fall while hiking on Mt. Hood prompted the artist to switch gears and pursue his dream to paint full time. These days he not only excels at simplifying—that is, making the oil paint itself imply detail, rather than every brush stroke, says Kitts—but he also works swiftly and intuitively. “Years ago I realized that plein-air painting is a fiction,” he says. “You think, I’m going to go paint the ‘now,’ when it’s really a series of subjective decisions you make that convince you it is the ‘now.’”

Kitts paints from life as often as he can, and though the landscapes and people around his home in Oregon provide occasional inspiration, the passionate globe-trotter thrills in exploring foreign and unfamiliar territory. He’s also an avid participant in competitive plein-air events around the country. “It’s an adventure,” he says. “I could stay at home and paint indoors from photographs, but where’s the fun in that? When I reach a point where I’m not traveling as much, I’ll head back to the waterfalls and waterways here—the things that make the Pacific Northwest what it is.” Find Kitts’ work at James J. Rieser Fine Art, Carmel, CA; Charles Fine Arts, Gloucester, MA; and Brian Marki Fine Art, Palm Springs, CA.

This story was featured in the January 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art January 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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