Legends of Fine Art | Kenneth Riley


By Gussie Fauntleroy

Even during many years as an illustrator living on the East Coast, Kenneth Riley engaged his love of history, working as a historical illustrator for such magazines as National Geographic and Life. Then in the late 1960s, an assignment for the Society of Illustrators took him west to paint Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Soon afterward he moved to Tucson, AZ, and turned to fine art, merging his fascination with the western landscape and our country’s past. Over the years, Riley has earned many top awards, including best of show from the Cowboy Artists of America and the National Academy of Western Art’s Prix de West.

Born: Waverly, MO, 1919.
Resides: Montecito, CA (after many years in Tucson).
Proudest accomplishment: Artistically, probably winning the Prix de West. Also, I was a founding member of NAWA (the National Academy of Western Art) in 1973.
What would you have done differently in your life? Actually, I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to have a career as an artist, I never looked beyond that. It’s been challenging and wonderful.
Advice to young artists: There are no shortcuts. Learn to draw, draw, draw. Study the greats of art history, but be yourself; don’t be an imitator.
Motto you have lived by over the years: The next picture I paint will be the best I’ve ever done. Of course, it never turns out that way, but at least it’s a starting philosophy when you begin a painting.


Biggest misconception about an artist’s life: I think it’s a profession that sounds glamorous, so people think it’s only fun and games. But it involves a lot of hard work.
How has your work changed since starting out? Every stage I’ve been through has had an impact on everything I do. But I hope I’ve come up with a better grasp on color and design and mood.
How has the art market changed? There seem to be broader opportunities for young artists to show their work—more galleries, more art publications, and more collectors interested in western art.
Other interests: Travel, although I’m doing less these days. I still love reading about history, and I love good films.
Recent news: In the last few years my work, both old and new, has been selling in auctions—the Coeur d’Alene Art Auction, Scottsdale Art Auction, and Sotheby’s in New York. That’s been very satisfying.

He is represented by Settlers West Galleries, Tucson, AZ; Morris & Whiteside Galleries, Hilton Head, SC.

Featured in “Legends of Fine Art” in December 2008