By Bonnie Gangelhoff
In high school, Angela Bentley Fife thought about majoring in math when it came time for college. But one day her art teacher pulled her aside and joked, “If you don’t go into art, I’m going to kill you.” Fife began to think more seriously about a career in fine art. When she entered the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, she decided to follow the advice of her art teacher. “I knew it would be sink or swim my first year because it’s an intense program with art classes all day long. Some art majors hated it. But I was in heaven,” Fife says.
Today at 34, the Utah-based painter has no regrets. For the past three years she has been juried into the prestigious Springville Salon at the Springville Museum of Art in Springville, UT. In 2008, she garnered an honorable mention at the show. Although she is equally at home painting figures, still lifes, and landscapes, her artistic heart belongs to creating figurative works. And figures are where viewers discover her most personal work, she says. “Most of this work is based around the balance I try to have in my life between different roles,” Fife explains. “As women we carry many roles like being a wife, mother, daughter, artist, and friend. I think about how to balance these roles and how to be successful in the ones I want to be successful in.”
In paintings such as CONSTANT COMPARISON, Fife expresses her thoughts on how women often compare themselves to others and to unrealistic models. “We put a lot on ourselves. We compare the worst part of ourselves to the best in others,” she explains. For Fife, the mannequin depicted in the painting represents the perfect measurements that no woman can attain. It is not just a reference to the perfect body but also a metaphor for all the other ways women constantly compare themselves to others, from being a good mother to enjoying a successful career.
For inspiration, Fife often turns to Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. “Her work is so personal and so raw. It’s almost ugly, and in a way, that makes it beautiful,” she says. “Kahlo had a lot of courage to make her work ugly.” On the technical side, Fife points to John Singer Sargent as an influence. “I try to introduce both artists into my work. I want it to be technically good but also express who I am and what I think about,” she says.
As the mother of three young girls, ranging in age from 1 to 9 years, the artist says she paints when her children are asleep or in school. A painting begins with her sketching a model, but she also shoots photographs for reference material. Towards completion of the piece, she brings back the model because, she says, “there is always a certain punch that is hard to get without a live model.”
Although her figurative works are often about a personal journey, she likes to evoke a bit of mystery in the minds of viewers so they can bring their own experiences to the piece. For her, one of the rewarding aspects of being an artist is the act of painting itself. “It is spiritual and soul-satisfying for me. I need to paint. I can’t live without it,” Fife explains. “I liken my need to paint to people who need to exercise.”
In addition to being juried into the prestigious Springville Salon show and winning an award, Fife says she is proudest of her ability to paint and also be a full-time mother. “I’ve been able to do both and do them well,” she says.
She is represented by Terzian Galleries, Park City, UT.