Lane Timothy | Vintage Americana

By Rosemary Carstens

Like a modern-day time traveler, artist Lane Timothy wanders through the decades to portray images of times past. His vibrant paintings of American life and culture evoke memories of simpler eras. And his distinctive retro style sets him apart from the pack.

Timothy lives and paints on the top floor of an urban loft in the heart of Salt Lake City’s art district. Originally a factory, the loft looks out onto busy streets, and the artist often spends long hours people-watching from his balcony or gazing beyond the city skyline to the Wasatch Mountains. With large open spaces and 20-foot-high windows, it’s an ideal work environment with plenty of room and light. Some of Timothy’s earlier pieces hang on the walls and numerous works in progress sit on easels awaiting final touches.

He’s often so immersed in research or interested in what’s going on outside his windows that it’s not unusual for early evening to roll around before he begins to paint. He loves those quiet, hushed hours in his perch high above the city, when the energy outside dies down, and it’s just him, the paint, and the scene before him on the canvas. Lively jazz or bluegrass plays in the background, and he quickly falls under the spell—that “old black magic” of a bygone era. He often works until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, using professional lighting to make certain his colors remain consistent no matter the time of day. This is especially important since he tends to work from one side of a painting to the other, completing whole segments as he goes rather than working one color at a time throughout the composition.

Beginning a new piece, he first applies an underpainting in the scene’s dominant colors, then blocks in basic shapes, sketches in his composition, and lays in the lights and darks in a monotone. At that point, he sets the painting aside to dry under a heat lamp and turns to another in progress. Timothy does not work wet paint into wet paint, but prefers the crisp, bright color he feels is only possible by working coat by coat. “Color is important because it has so much to do with how my figurative work stands out from others,” says the artist. “Drying each layer completely before brushing on the next ensures that all colors hold their power—skin tones are brighter, blues more vivid. Everyone can use more color in their lives!”

To create his signature, highly finished canvases, Timothy combines loose, transparent brush strokes to create a subtle glow in facial features with flurries of heavier strokes to indicate movement and dimensionality. In the tranquil scene portrayed in THE GARDEN TERRACE, the woman’s face is alight with softness and femininity, while the artist’s more dynamic strokes in her skirt, his skilled capture of highlights and silken shine, create strong awareness of her body. He develops the polished surface of each painting by applying numerous washes and glazes, building slowly, layer by layer. The artist has explored various mediums, but emphasizes, “I love oils. They are so forgiving. I can create beautiful hues and a more dimensional effect. It’s the only medium for me now.”

As a work nears completion, he does a final check to make sure his color palette is distributed evenly to result in a comprehensive whole. But, he admits, it’s hard to let go: “I never know when to stop—I could go on and on. I finally had to make a rule for myself. Once I sign it, I never touch a painting again.”

Born and raised in Missoula, MT, with six siblings, Timothy knew from an early age that art was his destiny. Both of his parents encouraged his interest as he dabbled in watercolors, acrylics, pastels, and pencils as a child. By the age of 7 he had sold his first painting to his second-grade teacher for $10. A few years later at a store’s closeout sale, Timothy bought a bucketful of oil paints for $25 and discovered the medium he would work in from then on. In 1993 he was awarded a Charles Russell National Art Scholarship, which he used to attend the University of Montana, where he excelled in art and graphic design. Always restless and a bit of a renegade, Timothy soon dropped out of college to start a graphic design company, preferring to develop his own artistic style from scratch rather than from formal classes.

Two years later he again sought change and accepted a key design position in Salt Lake City with a high-profile advertising firm. But he found it wasn’t for him. He longed to return to painting and, in 1997, despite the benefits of working for a prestigious company, he returned to Montana to be a full-time artist. He just was 22.

Today, having returned to Salt Lake City, Timothy is more focused and energized than ever and spends long hours at the easel. He never hires models, but prefers instead to have friends and his former wife pose for him, which he feels brings more realism and greater diversity to his subjects. His reputation over the past decade has spread like a prairie wildfire; his work is regularly exhibited in galleries and is held in celebrity and private collections throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.

Early in his career, Timothy experimented with various styles and subject matter, painting people and scenes that reflected his life in the West. It took a while before hitting his stride and finding his own unmistakable voice, but find it he did. “I’m focused on contemporary figurative work with a vintage twist,” he confirms.

Airplanes, trains, motorcycles, scooters, trucks, and cars from the 1940s and ’50s figure prominently in Timothy’s slice-of-life vignettes. Family history and memories provide him with a deep well of inspiration for his work. Growing up, he often heard tales about his grandfather’s World War II piloting adventures. And he flew sidekick with his father, who piloted single-engine
Cessnas over Montana’s jagged mountains peaks and open plains. His father also built hot rods as a hobby, which sparked Timothy’s loves of classic American automobiles. His painting BELLE AIRESS (at right) tells it all in the exaggerated, dramatic swoop of fin on a turquoise and white 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, his high school dream car. One of his favorite pastimes is to hunt for props for his paintings.

Timothy’s fascination with modes of travel from earlier eras fits naturally with his love of figurative work. The attitude of the people in his paintings suggests that trips back then were more romantic, more adventurous, and filled with more possibility than the frenzy encountered today in airports and on the highways. He frequently portrays people on the verge of arriving or departing, prompting viewers to wonder about the narrative arc of the scene and the stories of the people in it. “It is very easy to place yourself in one of his pieces,” says Christi Bonner Manuelito of Bonner David Galleries in Scottsdale, AZ, which represents Timothy’s work. “His work is an invitation to personally experience a treasured memory.”

In STARS IN HER EYES, everything that makes Timothy’s work immediately recognizable is present: brushwork so smooth it fades into the background and deep, vivid hues—including his signature bright red—that frame the girl’s features boldly against a twilight sky. Nothing is extraneous; each nuance of the story is clear, including the boots and cowboy hat, the guitar case, the long empty road, and the look of anticipation and hope on the girl’s face. The painting’s narrative is rendered with exquisite skill and control, and yet there is room for individual interpretation.

Influenced by the work of John Sargent Singer as well as Norman Rockwell’s all-American paintings, Timothy creates emotional connections through his portrayals of ordinary people. Even when painting war-related scenes, he tries to show “the more tender sides of war”—the caring between comrades, for instance, or the longing for those left behind. Each painting suggests the innocence of an earlier time, the unbroken line between family and community. For the viewer, there’s always the sense that a story is waiting in the wings. As Diane Waterhouse of Waterhouse Gallery in Santa Barbara, CA, expresses it, “Lane’s work is unique. It has atmosphere, it’s edgy and stylized. It has individuality. His work conveys the feel of days gone by with a fabulous air of nostalgia.”

Timothy is a painter immersed in history. It constantly whispers in his ear, conjuring generations and events before his own. But he avoids talking about what inspires specific paintings. “I want to draw viewers into a painting, to suggest a story but leave something to their own inventiveness,” says the artist. “I want a painting to bring a smile to their faces, and I want its ‘meaning’ to be framed by their experiences and memories, not mine. I don’t want to spoil that.”

Peterson-Cody Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; Bonner David Galleries, Scottsdale, AZ; Waterhouse Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA;

Featured and was our cover artist in January 2010