Terri Kelly Moyers | A Beautiful Obsession

Terri Kelly Moyers feels compelled to share what moves her

By Gussie Fauntleroy

Terri Kelly Moyers, The Three Graces, oil, 48 x 60.

Terri Kelly Moyers, The Three Graces, oil, 48 x 60.

This story was featured in the April 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art April 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

When Terri Kelly Moyers painted LAS FLORES, the subject matter wasn’t new to her by any means. Over the course of her long career, the experience of painting the rich colors and flowing fabrics of Spanish skirts and shawls has been a recurring delight for the artist, who lived in Santa Fe for many years. Yet this particular version of the theme had been on her mind for a while before she painted it: three young women holding shawls spread wide, backlit by the intense New Mexico sunlight. The composition accentuates the striking floral patterns and the gentle movement of the translucent silk and long fringes, while the viewer’s gaze is drawn to the shy eyes of the one dancer whose face is visible.

LAS FLORES, created for the 2016 Prix de West Invitational at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, was as enjoyable to set up and execute as Moyers imagined it would be. What she didn’t anticipate was that, when Prix de West attendees voted for their favorite piece among more than 300 works by master artists, her painting would come out on top. Winning the Jackie L. Coles Buyers’ Choice Award was “a real honor, because it’s the piece that people said they most enjoyed seeing,” Moyers says. “I was surprised, and it was really nice.”

The desire to share her experience of aesthetic pleasure with viewers has long been the driving force in Moyers’ art. What moves her visually and emotionally—and, as a result, ends up in her paintings—may be a figure in beautiful period dress, but it could just as well be a landscape, a racehorse, wildlife, or even a circus, with its opportunity for painting animals from life. “I love variety—whatever’s exciting me at the time,” she says. That excitement clearly finds its equivalent in the viewer’s experience: At Prix de West, Moyers previously earned the Buyers’ Choice Award in the mid-1990s, the Frederic Remington Award twice, and the prestigious Prix de West Purchase Award in 2012. It’s a satisfying and unsurprising outcome for an artistic trajectory that began with a childhood interest in only one thing: drawing.

“It was more like an obsession. It was a compulsion; it was a passion. I didn’t have a choice,” Moyers remembers about her early love of drawing. She’s speaking from her home near Pasadena, CA, where she and her husband John Moyers, also an acclaimed painter, moved last fall. “I was constantly asking my mother, ‘Tell me something to draw.’” She needed no prompting to think of her favorite subject, however. Growing up in Calgary in western Canada, home of the famed Calgary Stampede, young Terri had plenty of opportunity to be around horses, to ride and draw them; for a time, her stepfather owned a few quarter horses. (Today, a bonus of the Moyers’ new home is their close proximity to the Santa Anita Park racetrack. There she can observe and sketch the equine form, which she describes as the “perfect structure.”)

Although the only other artistic tendency Moyers knew of in her family was her grandparents’ musical talent, she somehow had no question that she would become a professional artist. Following high school she looked forward to studying at the Alberta College of Art in Calgary. Almost immediately after she arrived, however, she realized the school was not a good fit. “It was so contemporary,” she says, noting that there was little focus on the fundamentals of representational art. “I just wanted to learn to draw and paint.” She remained for a year and then heard that drawing was offered as part of interior design studies at Mount Royal Community College, so she tried that for a year. Eventually she quit and returned to painting and drawing on her own.

In 1978 Moyers was doing commissioned pet portraits, often lined up with the help of a dear, older friend. One day the friend found out about a two-week-long summer art course being offered by Canadian painter and environmentalist Clarence Tillenius at the Okanagan Game Farm in British Columbia. Moyers signed up. She was young and nervous, but the moment she walked into the log lodge and Tillenius began showing slides and talking about painting from life, she knew she’d found what she was looking for.

That fall, renowned Cowboy Artists of America member Robert Lougheed and other established artists decided to spend a month at the game farm, just to paint. They invited a few students, including Moyers, to join them, free of charge. The artists—including Lougheed, Tillenius, Harley Brown, John Clymer, Wayne Wolfe, and Kenneth Riley—and the students painted outdoors all day, every day, and each evening they gathered by the fire in the lodge to show each other what they’d done and offer good-natured critiques. It was an invaluable experience for a young painter hungry to learn. “Bob (Lougheed) was such a proponent of painting from life, which wasn’t as common back then—there weren’t plein-air events everywhere, like there are now. It was great because you had to really train your eye and develop,” Moyers says.

The following year, the group decided to gather again. They were joined by a young artist from New Mexico, John Moyers. Terri and John both continued to attend the painting gatherings each autumn through 1982; they fell in love and married. Although they lived for many years in New Mexico, they continued to travel and paint in western Canada, especially in the Canadian Rockies. For Terri, a natural love of change and diversity in the painting experience soon led to subjects beyond the landscape, wildlife, and domestic animals. She discovered that with the figure—especially the female figure in cowgirl attire and other forms of period dress—a whole world of color, pattern, and decorative elements opened up, not to mention compelling aspects of the human figure itself.

Over the years the Moyers lived and worked in Santa Fe, southern Colorado, and back in Santa Fe before their recent move to California, not far from where their son Josh lives. Early on the couple shared a studio, but in more recent years they’ve maintained separate work spaces. In each place where Terri sets up her easel and painting accessories, certain special things always find a spot, including paintings of horses and landscapes by artist friends, an expansive art library, and a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary from Spain, a reminder of the cultural heritage that has been the visual inspiration for much of her work. The other thing always present in her studio is music—mostly classical, occasionally film soundtracks, or “whatever music meets my mood for the piece I’m painting,” she says.

Over time Moyers has held tight to the primary lesson she learned while working with Lougheed all those years ago: the value of painting from life. “Sometimes the camera lies, or it doesn’t show us everything we need to see,” she says. “If you haven’t worked from life to see what a horse’s musculature is, for example, you’re kind of lost if the camera isn’t leading you all the way.” She continues to use live models for her figurative paintings, enlisting friends, family, and acquaintances to pose. Her piece titled THE THREE GRACES, for example, was inspired by three young women who worked at the same Santa Fe restaurant. Moyers posed them in Spanish clothing on her home’s portal, alongside large geraniums. Contemplating the qualities of femininity, the artist imagined the women as “the embodiment of the three graces: youth, mirth, and elegance.”

After the visual complexity of that painting, Moyers was ready for a different kind of challenge. The result was KOI BALLET [see page 56], which, along with THE THREE GRACES, was created for this year’s Masters of the American West show at the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles. The artist didn’t need to look far for inspiration—just a few steps to the koi pond close to her Santa Fe home, where the large, colorful fish were swimming among lily pads. “For me it was a freeing picture to do—a little looser, with lots of color,” she remembers. “I love the fluidity of the water and the fish, the freedom it gives you to play around a bit.”

At the Moyers’ new home in California, sources of inspiration that she has turned to over the years will continue to be available, including Spanish heritage and culture, with the addition of beautiful, historic mission churches. She also finds herself excited about painting the Southern California landscape and types of vegetation not found in New Mexico. “I never know where I’ll go with things,” she says of her painting choices. What she does know is that her work will continue to reflect the kinds of images that bring her joy. “Especially with so much uncertainty in the world, I see things that I think are really beautiful and moving, and I would like to give the viewer that same sort of emotion in some way,” she says. “It feeds me, too, through doing it and giving it.”

Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Tucson, AZ; Nedra Matteucci Galleries, Santa Fe, NM; Wood River Fine Arts, Ketchum, ID; Maxwell Alexander Gallery, Los Angeles, CA;

This story was featured in the April 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art April 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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