By Rosemary Carstens
Displayed prominently on Kyle Stuckey’s studio wall is the famous Rocky Balboa poster showing the indefatigable fighter with both arms stretched victoriously over his head. Across the top of the poster runs the headline “His whole life was a million-to-one shot.” The same could be said for this up-and-coming young artist who, at the age of 22, has already garnered significant attention in the art world and last year handily took second place in Southwest Art’s annual 21 Under 31 competition. His raw talent and ability to portray figurative subject matter is especially surprising when you find out that he only discovered his passion for art during his senior year in high school.
Born in Keene, NH, Kyle grew up in nearby Stoddard. His parents home-schooled him and his two older brothers and also kept them busy with extracurricular activities. For Kyle, that meant every spare minute was spent outdoors playing sports. He had no particular interest in art, and, unlike many who have pursued it as a career, he did not spend hours drawing or painting—until, that is, his last year of high school, when he took an art class from Lori Woodward. Falling like the proverbial ton of bricks, Stuckey quickly realized art felt like “home” to him. “It just felt right,” he says. “I understood it.”
Woodward, a professional artist and teacher, recently remarked on Stuckey’s early days under her tutelage: “It became quickly apparent that Kyle had what it takes to be a professional artist. He not only has a lot of natural artistic ability, but he also has a strong work ethic. Kyle can understand advanced artistic concepts and catches on quickly when they are presented. Last year he was invited to become a member of the Putney Painters. This is a great environment for a young artist—not only does he learn from masterful mentors, but he also has the support and camaraderie of the group.”
His acceptance as a member of Putney Painters, one of the leading realism groups in the United States, is a source of great pride and enormous pleasure for Stuckey. This select, dedicated group of artists meets 16 times a year with internationally known artists Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik to paint together and discuss art. Members are allowed to bring paintings in progress for general critiques. It’s hard to imagine a more stimulating environment for someone at Stuckey’s career stage.
Before he discovered his passion for art, Stuckey had worked with his father in the family construction business, wondering what he wanted to do with his life and considering law enforcement as a career. Once he began studying privately with Woodward, he worked his way through charcoal and pencil drawings and then to his present painting medium, oils, where he continues to “train” as intensely as any athlete. He says, “Life before art was so drastically different. I was really into sports, basically a jock. I still play softball, but now I’m living in my head more. I’ll be out with friends who are not into art, and I’ll be thinking about painting, seeing more in everything around me.”
When Sarah Handford, owner of Monadnock Fine Art Gallery in Keene, NH, first met Stuckey, she suggested that he participate in an annual artists’ weekend as a way of gaining exposure for his work. “He came back after the weekend to tell me he’d sold four paintings and got two portrait commissions—quite an accomplishment for a relatively unknown artist,” says Handford. “When I saw his paintings, I understood. Kyle is a sensitive young man, and at 22 he has the ability to interpret a wealth of emotion in his work.”
Meeting people like Woodward and Handford, who proved to be exceptionally influential for the artist, made a world of difference in Stuckey’s progression. He won a scholarship to the Scottsdale Artists’ School for his first serious workshop, where he studied with instructor and artist Mike Malm. “It was intimidating at first,” Stuckey recalls, “wondering what people would think of my work. But Mike is a real down-to-earth guy—one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He helped me decide that art was the right direction for me.”
Stuckey’s favorite subject matter is women; he is drawn to their beauty. “I’m sort of a romantic,” he says. “I like the delicacy of women, and I try to capture that in my work.” Because he can’t always afford professional models, he often asks people he meets if he can paint them. Sometimes they’ll sit for him in his studio so he can do detailed head studies, but most often he’ll photograph them in settings that appeal to him and work from the photos as he composes a painting.
A couple of years ago, the artist met the young woman who is the subject of ANTICIPATION and TABLE FOR TWO. “There was something about her, her hair, her look. I remember thinking, ‘She’d make an incredible painting!’” says Stuckey. They became acquainted, and he did some photo shoots with her and some in-studio sketches and set to work.
For ANTICIPATION (shown at right), Stuckey wanted an everyday moment. He didn’t want it to look posed; he wanted a very natural scene, something you’d see just walking down the street. In this scene from a brutally cold day, the artist saw an opportunity to play around with color and texture. The setting allowed him to contrast the brick wall, the parka and scarf, and the girl’s wild curly hair, with the bright, clean whites of the snow. The more you look, the more detail emerges, and the painting reveals a maturity of technique that is quite remarkable in a developing artist.
TABLE FOR TWO also shows Stuckey’s growing mastery. He asked the model to dress as if she were going out for a special evening and chose an upscale restaurant for the setting. The result is lovely and romantic, beautifully executed, with just a tinge of loneliness about it to draw the viewer in.
Stuckey is a perfectionist with the focus and ambition required to rise to the top. As Lori Woodward says, “I believe that part of the reason Kyle has grown in his ability so quickly is that he takes his work seriously. He can be found in his studio nearly every weekday. He treats his career like a 9-to-5 job and doesn’t ask himself whether he feels like working that day or not. He doesn’t procrastinate, and he never gives up. When he’s not satisfied with how a painting is progressing, he scrapes it off or sands it down and begins again. It’s rare to find someone so young who is able to work with focused determination for days on end.”
Stuckey generally begins a new painting with a mental roadmap of the composition: “It’s essential for me to know, before I start, pretty much exactly where I’m going.” Although his studio is small, it serves him well. In addition to his inspirational Rocky poster, finished and almost finished paintings hang on all the walls. Because he often works from photographs, a large computer monitor sits next to his easel. One the other side of the room is his model stand and an antique green sofa he’s crazy about. Stuckey is a rock band kind of guy, and when he feels more inspired by music than silence, the tunes of the Foo Fighters, the Goo Goo Dolls, and even such oldies as Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, and the Eagles fill the room as he paints.
While dedicated, the artist is not all work and no play. He still loves sports, and he’s an avid motorcyclist. He’s been riding for years with his family, who are all biking enthusiasts, and he just bought a “smokin’ silver Yamaha FZ1” that he loves to ride to the beach, one of his favorite places to hang out. Within the next few years, he hopes to have a bigger studio, be painting full time, and maybe even teaching. And he says he’d love to take a class from Jeremy Lipking or Morgan Weistling.
Stuckey has received growing recognition and it’s generally acknowledged that his talent will only continue to develop. Scott Jones, general manager of Legacy Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ, and Jackson, WY, first saw Stuckey’s work posted on another artist’s website. “I was immediately impressed,” Jones said recently. “I was looking for someone who could paint ‘today’s woman,’ in contemporary settings, clothing, hairstyles, and so on. Kyle had studied with Lori Woodward and Mike Malm, both positive factors for me. He now has a relationship with Richard Schmid and the Putney Painters, so I see nothing but an upside for continued growth in his work. I am very excited about the next 10 years, the next 20, and beyond. Everything that has happened with his work since seeing that first painting has reaffirmed that my first impression was right on the mark.”
Legacy Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ and Jackson, WY; Monadnock Fine Art Gallery, Keene, NH; www.kylestuckey.com.
Featured in June 2010