Success Stories | R. Tom Gilleon

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

There’s something alluringly primal about the taut, triangular form of a teepee, softly glowing from within and firmly planted against the stark horizontal landscape of the western plains. The image exudes a sense of elemental shelter, simplicity, and strength. Montana-based painter R. Tom Gilleon has been refining this essential image for years now, gathering increasing legions of collectors as he does. Gilleon’s mastery of drawing was honed as an illustrator before a visit to Montana in the early 1980s set his paintbrush on its current path. His subjects range from idiosyncratic humor to tender ballerinas to aging American Indian chiefs, yet the complexity
f these works is somehow condensed within the teepee’s potent, minimalist shape.

Has your style or approach to your art changed since you first appeared in Southwest Art? Each painting I begin is done with what, to me, is a new, exciting style. Then by the time I have finished them, most paintings have worked their way back to my regular approach and style.
What is your proudest accomplishment so far? Being chosen as the 2009 featured artist in Jackson, Wyoming, which culminated with having one of my paintings auctioned, made into a poster, and used for publicity for the annual Jackson Hole Fall Arts Festival.
Would you have done anything differently? I would have done everything differently … always make new mistakes.
What advice do you give to artists just starting out in their careers? Ignore the conventional wisdom that says you can’t make it in this economy. If you want it, you can make it happen.
What motto do you live by? Always make new mistakes—just make fewer of them.
What artists have influenced you? My grandfather, who was a cabinetmaker and a pretty good (untrained) artist. Also Herb Ryman, who was one of the original Disney artists, and my daughters when they were 3 and 4 years old—all influenced me in a positive way. Then there’s Frank Hagel, great artist, one-in-a-million character, and philosopher. He’s taught me not to get too serious about life.
What are you working on now? New work for the brand new C.M. Russell Museum show this March in Great Falls, MT.
What’s your next big goal? I’m very content with where I live and work, I have all I need and want, and so my goal is to live and work a very long time.

Settlers West Galleries, Tucson, AZ; Altamira Fine Art, Jackson, WY; Altermann Galleries, Santa Fe, NM; Dana Gallery, Missoula, MT; Montana Trails Gallery, Bozeman, MT;

American Miniatures Show, Settlers West Galleries, February 13, 2010.
C.M. Russell Auction & Show, Great Falls, MT, March 17–20, 2010.

First appearance in Southwest Art: Artist to Watch, January 2006
Awards won since then: In my studio I have an old war shield that I have altered to become an “award shield.” It has been highly successful—I have avoided all awards.
Price change since then: Prices have advanced nicely.

Featured in “Success Stories” in December 2009