Meet 12 female painters who work in a range of styles and media
This story was featured in the October 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art October 2015 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story
Many things can be beautiful, each in its own way—so goes the artistic philosophy of New Mexico painter Carolyn Lindsey. Most recently Lindsey has been focusing her creative eye on subjects that aren’t necessarily seen as beautiful in our current culture: women of a certain age with less-than-perfect bodies. As subject matter Lindsey is eschewing images of young women dressed in romantic garb, choosing instead to depict older women with “a little meat on the thighs.” Or, as she explains it, “Women as they really are.” And, she adds, “There is also beauty in the way paintings are done. It doesn’t always have to be what people think of as traditionally beautiful.”
Also on the topic of beauty, Lindsey says that some of the most gorgeous landscapes can be the hardest to paint because it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Thus, she often prefers to stick close to her home in Cuervo, NM, where she captures the rocky mesas, grasslands, adobe structures, and farmlands lining the Pecos River.
Lindsey earned a master’s degree in painting and drawing from Texas Woman’s University in Denton, TX, and went on to study with painters Dan Gerhartz, Skip Whitcomb, and Kathryn Stats. Today, whether she is painting landscape or figurative work, Lindsey’s intent is to convey what she finds interesting. “Sometimes it’s the light, or the atmosphere, or the colors,” she says. “It’s the formal elements that attract me to a scene. I don’t think about telling a story, even though I may do so inadvertently for viewers.” Lindsey’s work is available at www.carolynlindsey.com. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Dianne Massey Dunbar
When Dianne Massey Dunbar first started painting, she thought she was going to be a landscape artist. But as she explored her own artistic voice, she found that everyday items—the soda bottles that reminded her of a daily treat she shared with her sisters when she was a child, and the ketchup bottle she reached for consistently as her own children were growing up—provided more inspiration and gave her more to say than the landscape could. “My subject matter is varied,” she says, “but generally speaking, it all strives to celebrate the ordinary in our lives,” she says. “There is something sacred and honorable in the ordinary.”
Working exclusively in oils, Dunbar begins each work with a plan for the composition and subject matter, and while she strives to retain those elements from the first touch of the brush to the last, each painting has its own unique journey. Once the basic shapes are laid in, the artist has the freedom to play as she applies the paint, experimenting with technique, textures, and color, and resolving any challenges that arise. “I’m almost always surprised by where the journey leads,” she says.
Drawn to little shapes and repetition, Dunbar says that whether she’s working on a large, complex painting or a smaller piece, she strives to be authentic. “I choose subjects that I really love or that I really have something to say about,” she says. Her work can be found at Gallery 1261, Denver, CO; Grapevine Gallery, Oklahoma City, OK; and www.diannemasseydunbar.com. —Laura Rintala
Michele Byrne is a people person. She loves to observe them. She loves to communicate with them, and she loves to capture impressions of them as they move through the landscapes and interiors she interprets on canvas.
After years of freelancing as a graphic designer while her children were growing up, Byrne started oil painting in the late 1990s. But the classes and workshops she attended focused on still lifes. “We were painting bowls of fruit, and I just wanted to paint my friends,” she says. Inspired by the works of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and the Impressionists, she was captivated by the way they conveyed the gestures and body language of their subjects, and she was inspired to depict human interactions in the contemporary world.
Byrne is a devoted plein-air painter, spending about 90 percent of her painting time outside the studio. Her landscapes and interior scenes become the backdrops for the figures therein. “I like to set [the paintings] up as [people] come and go. I just stand there observing them and take a quick mental snapshot of them,” she says.
In the end, what Byrne is trying to express is the theme of human connectivity. “The whole world is connected,” she says. “When I see people together, it reminds me of that. That’s what I am trying to portray in my paintings.” Byrne’s work is available at Debra Huse Gallery, Newport Beach, CA; Evalyn Dunn Gallery, Westfield, NJ; Gingerbread Square Gallery, Key West, FL; Longwood Art Gallery, Kennett Square, PA; Objects & Images Fine Art, Bronxville, NY; William Ris Gallery, Stone Harbor, NJ; and www.michelebyrne.com. —Laura Rintala
Diane Eugster describes her work as a celebration of simplicity. It’s all about keeping a razor-sharp focus and one strong statement, Eugster says. The Nevada artist notes that she paints in two-day bursts of energy that enable her to keep her eye on each painting’s visual message as well as retain her initial excitement about the work. Painting alla prima allows Eugster to employ energetic brushwork and a looser approach to painting. She theorizes that all these elements combine in a recipe that invites viewers into a scene and to form their own perspectives.
Although Eugster paints in several genres, she favors figurative work, in part, “because of the dynamic potential in the human form.” Her creative process often includes setting up themed photographic sessions with her models. Eugster, a talented seamstress, designs and sews all their costumes, which span different eras in American history. Her husband, John, whom she considers her biggest fan, often serves as an assistant, lugging props and lights to various locations.
Eugster’s goal is to evoke a timeless quality in each painting she creates. “The magical thing about fine art is mining something rich and wonderful out of something unexpected. I want to pull beauty out of unexpected people and places,” she says. “I love it when a viewer makes a connection to one of my paintings. Even if they don’t speak the same language, there’s just this universal bond between us all.” The artist’s work is available at www.dianeeugsterart.com. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Rhode Island painter Cindy Baron captures the natural world in atmospheric watercolors and oils. She calls her style “blended traditionalism,” which she says combines realism with that little bit of mystery offered by impressionistic techniques.
With a deep love of drawing, the artist began painting in watercolor and continues to work in the medium today. “I love the way the colors interact on the page,” she says. About 12 years ago, Baron started working with oils as well. Before that, she says, “I was very detailed. The oils have taught me how to simplify and become more painterly, which I translated into the watercolors.” At the same time, her watercolor painting influences her work in oils.
Although she is both a studio and a plein-air painter, Baron says it is in her studio that she can “really create that one-of-a-kind piece.” And while it’s fun and successful, she thinks of her plein-air work mostly as a crucial boot camp for learning. During a recent plein-air show at Grand Teton National Park, she was intially disappointed when there was not a single day of sunshine. But she quickly recognized the opportunity to learn how to paint the subtle color changes that occurred as the weather fluctuated between clouds and rain or sleet, and by the time she left, she was itching to get back to her studio to employ what she’d learned there.
Wherever she’s painting, what Baron loves most is to capture the grand landscape, the whole sweeping scene. “The bigger the better,” she says. Visit www.cindybaron.com for a list of galleries that represent the artist. —Laura Rintala
Washington-based artist Pat Clayton likes to say she is experiencing an “encore career.” For 20 years she was a family physician in the Seattle area. In 1997 she began signing up for portrait-painting classes with Juliette Aristides at the Gage Academy of Art. Two years later, after attempting to juggle both patients and paintings, she took the plunge into a full-time career in fine art. But as Clayton points out, she grew up surrounded by her grandmother’s oil paintings, and all through school she filled notebooks with her caricature drawings.
These days many of Clayton’s works are reminiscent of what she describes as a “Northwest variety of Russian Impressionism that began with Sergei Bongart.” This style is in evidence in Clayton’s atmospheric landscape and urbanscape works that depict natural and manmade scenes in the West. Like many artists, she aspires to an abstract sensibility in her work, and the palette knife has become an important tool in these efforts. “The knife nudges me to minimize my strokes, use cleaner and broken color, see big shapes, and to stop and think before I apply a knife full of paint,” Clayton says. “How much can be accomplished with a single pass? Can I create the impression of something without directly rendering it?”
Whether she is creating portraits of animals and people, landscapes, or cityscapes, Clayton says she is grateful to have the opportunity to experience her encore career and see life through the eyes of an artist—something that almost passed her by. She is represented by Horizon Fine Art, Jackson, WY; Baas Art Gallery & Framing, Seattle, WA; and Women Painters of Washington Gallery, Seattle, WA. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Talk about dedication to art—once a month, CJ Lukacsik packs up her painting gear and drives seven hours from her home in central Arizona to the studio of Jove Wang in Southern California. Since 2007 she’s been a regular at Wang’s monthly, three-day workshops and on the trips abroad that he leads. Among other things, she has learned about Russian painters such as Ilya Repin and Nicolai Fechin, whom she has come to admire.
The strong contrast, the powerful colors, and the way the Russian artists express themselves in general holds great appeal for Lukacsik. In terms of her own work, she describes it as a blend of abstraction and various ‘isms,” including modernism, Russian Impressionism, and expressionism. Because of her deep love of nature, Lukacsik tends to lean toward the landscape as subject matter, but her still lifes and figures are also juried into prestigious national shows.
Lukacsik lives in the small mountain town of Pine, AZ, which sits on the edge of Arizona’s Tonto National Forest, an area brimming with tall, lush pine trees. Thus magnificent subject matter is often just a few steps away, she says. But Lukacsik also gleans inspiration from her travels to far-flung corners of the globe, where she has depicted Tibetan laundry women, Russian village scenes in winter, and remote Chinese mountain ranges. “I have to be absolutely satisfied with the subject matter and know that people will feel as happy and excited about it as I am when they view it,” she says. Lukacsik is represented by Westwood Gallery of Fine Art, Pine, AZ, and Artists of the Rim, Payson, AZ. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
There was never any doubt that Jeannette Stutzman would become an artist. Growing up in Florida, she drew whatever was in front of her, from her grandmother’s knickknacks to the landscape outside her front porch. Her family’s vacations to the mountains of the West awakened her artistic spirit even more. “I remember saying when I was little that I was going to grow up and live in the mountains and be an artist,” Stutzman says. “That’s what I always wanted to do.”
After earning a degree in advertising and graphic design, Stutzman worked in Boston for a packaging-design firm, training designers for major companies such as Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, and Gillette. Eventually she moved to Colorado to pursue her dream of living and painting in the mountains. Moving to Denver in the fall of 1992, Stutzman worked in various art-related jobs before becoming the head of the digital media department at the Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design.
Having run her own design firm since 2003, the artist splits her time between her business and her fine art, focusing on the landscape that has captivated her since her youth. Painting mostly en plein air, she strives to capture the excitement she feels in her works. “There’s something about the energy of being outdoors—it moves me,” she says. “[I want to] translate the energy I feel into my paintings. That’s why I’m primarily a plein-air painter. It’s how I recenter myself, and I hope that comes across in my paintings.” Stutzman’s work can be seen at www.jeannettestutzman.com. —Joe Kovack
Doreen J. St. John
Artist Doreen J. St. John went to college for education and administrative leadership, but art was always close by. Juggling a family and a career in education, she used what little time she had available to paint. In the early 1980s St. John took watercolor classes at the Canton Art Museum in northeast Ohio, and she did so well that her instructor proposed she sell her works after only one year. “When I first started doing watercolor, I was an abstract artist. I was drawn to the fun and passion of creating,” she says. “I always thought that once I retired from my day job, then I would pursue my art career, and that’s what I’ve done.”
Since retiring in 2010, St. John has moved away from abstracted watercolors to impressionistic landscapes in oils. She’s also recently worked with the figure and with pastels, a medium she hopes to pursue along with her oils. Spending an equal amount of time in the studio and on location, St. John doesn’t limit herself to one subject matter but finds inspiration all around her. “It used to be that I had to be inspired, but now I can get inspiration from just about anything,” she says. “I try to build a relationship between the viewer and the artwork, using the relationship between cools and warms and between lights and darks,” she says. “I think the most successful pieces that I do are the ones that people respond to.” St. John’s work can be seen at Turner Studio & Gallery, Columbus, OH, and www.doreenstjohn.com. —Joe Kovack
Kathie Wheeler’s childhood in Chicago involved art books, trips to museums, and drawing with her father. Art was second nature and something her parents nurtured in her from a very early age. “I painted with watercolor, tempera, and acrylic, and in middle school I was given oil paints,” she says. “I feel really lucky to have had that upbringing.” In eighth grade she spent a week on her artistic aunt’s farm, painting the landscape en plein air.
During her brief time in college, Wheeler focused on the figure. She would eventually work as a portrait artist and freelance commercial artist before moving to rural Wisconsin and raising a family. Wheeler found a haven in her country home, and since the early 2000s she has focused on her fine-art career. She meets weekly with a group of local artists, painting the landscape and models—a luxury when living 15 miles outside a small town of only 4,000 people.
Never lacking for subject matter, Wheeler’s impressionistic paintings of figures, still lifes, animals, and the land come from finding inspiration just outside her front door. “For most of my landscapes I’ll go out and just start walking or driving, and when I see it, I’ll know it,” she says. “We’re never hurting for a model if we need somebody. One guy came and played his banjo the whole session, and we’ll have people want to dress up in character and sit for us. I feel really fortunate to be in this area.” Wheeler’s work can be found at Fine Line Designs Gallery, Ephraim, WI; State Street Gallery, La Crosse, WI; and www.kathiewheeler.com. —Joe Kovack
Oklahoma painter Dorothy Woolbright says she wasn’t looking for a career change when she first started taking art classes. Although she had always loved to draw and paint, it was teaching that she pursued as a career until she enrolled in a drawing class and, she says, “Something inside of me leaped for joy.”
Soon Woolbright was exploring a variety of media including watercolors, pastels, and colored pencils. But, she says, “When I began working in oil, I knew that I had found a great love. When I saw the richness of the color and the variety of the textures and impasto, I realized that was something I could have fun playing with for the rest of my life.”
Deeply influenced by the still lifes of Richard Schmid and Daniel Keys as well as Belgian painter Frans Mortelmans (1865-1936), Woolbright loves small works, often still lifes depicting flowers, fruits, and the occasional children’s toy. She also enjoys painting children. What’s most important, she says, is that she “have an immediate and direct response to the image” she’s depicting.
Woolbright’s artistic passion has much to do with her belief that a person’s surroundings affect him or her on many levels. “I think the environment in which we live is so important to our physical, emotional, and mental health. I believe original art enhances it in a way that nothing else can.” Woolbright’s work can be found at Howell Gallery of Fine Art in Oklahoma City, OK, and at www.dorothywoolbright.com. —Laura Rintala
When she was in college, Susan Lynn intended to pursue a degree in architecture, but she fell in love with fine art instead. After graduating, she made the pragmatic decision to combine the two studies to make a living and spent 15 years as an architectural illustrator. “It was really great training,” she says. “You had to understand perspective, and how light and shadow behave, and how color changes during different lighting circumstances.”
Today, as both a plein-air and studio landscape painter, Lynn finds herself captivated by the prairies and other wide-open spaces of the West. Inspired by the Impressionists, she leans toward soft and atmospheric works. She paints primarily in watercolor, but she’s also experimenting with acrylic and likes the way working in that medium affects her work in watercolor. “You have to rewire your brain to go from a transparent medium, where you’re working from light to dark, to an opaque medium, where you’re working dark to light,” she says. “It changes how you start a painting or how you approach your color mixing.” For plein-air work, however, watercolor is her mainstay: “When you’re outdoors you have about two hours, then the light changes. So you really have to be efficient,” she says.
Today, a decade after transitioning to a full-time fine artist, she finds herself drawn mostly to the landscape as her preferred subject matter. “I avoid manmade structures because I tend to get too illustrative with them,” she says, and then adds with a laugh, “Trees and rocks are a much bigger draw for me.” Lynn is represented by Strecker-Nelson Gallery, in Manhattan, KS, and www.susanlynnwatercolors.com. —Laura Rintala
Featured in the October 2015 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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