Line, color, and spirit add up to magic in Amy Ringholz’s art
By Gussie Fauntleroy
This story was featured in the September 2012 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Order the Southwest Art magazine September 2012 print edition here, or purchase the Southwest Art magazine September 2012 digital download here. Or simply click here to subscribe to Southwest Art magazine and never miss a story!
Amy Ringholz seeks out wild animals for her paintings, but it seems they seek her out as well. In the wee, dark hours, as the nocturnal 34-year-old artist makes the short walk home from her studio on a ranch outside of Jackson Hole, WY, a great horned owl is often perched high on the ranch gate. “I named him Valentino. I like to think he and I are the only ones up at that hour,” Ringholz muses. Then there are the trumpeter swans that frequently circle above the studio, as if guarding it or celebrating the creative activity inside. And the night after learning she had been chosen as the youngest-ever featured artist for the Jackson Hole Fall Arts Festival, Ringholz heard two baby great gray owls outside her house, calling for their mother through the night.
The young owls, along with a menagerie of other local wildlife, soon became part of the festival’s featured painting for 2012 called DREAMERS DON’T SLEEP. It’s an appropriately titled piece. Like Ringholz, the animals appear to be focusing their steady, tranquil gazes on an interior horizon, imagining possibilities no one else can see. Overhead a meteor shower glitters above the Tetons, while dandelion seedpods carry dreams on puffs of night breeze. Being selected as the featured artist for the most important annual art show in the town that holds the key to her heart has been Ringholz’s dream for 10 years, ever since she found a way to make Jackson Hole her home. But being a dreamer—the kind who scouts out a path and works nonstop to achieve her goals—goes much further back.
In the Cleveland, OH, suburb where Ringholz grew up, she might have the distinction of being in more high school yearbook pictures than almost anyone before or since. She played multiple sports, took part in theater productions and musicals, played drums in the marching band, headed up the art club, and led or was involved in numerous other clubs and groups. “I was always going, going, going,” she remembers. “I was very self-motivated.”
From her “very Martha Stewart-esque” mother, a teacher, Ringholz inherited a knack for meeting deadlines and keeping the organizational end of things on track. Her father, an artist whose exceptional creativity landed him “on his own page,” as his daughter puts it, contributed an imaginative spirit that knows no bounds. Thinking she would follow her mother into teaching, Ringholz earned a bachelor’s degree in art education and drawing from Ohio’s Bowling Green State University. But after a year at the head of a classroom, she was ready to switch paths. “I was jealous that the kids got to make art and I didn’t,” she explains.
But also, Ringholz had discovered the West. After spending her junior year at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, the artist had no doubt which geographical direction she would head. It was just a matter of figuring out how to make a living there—at least until she started painting and selling her work. “I was in love with the West, with the mountains. I wanted to be out there and make art about it,” she relates. Her two top choices of locale were Santa Fe and Jackson Hole. The latter won out in her mind for being a small community in a spectacularly beautiful area with some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in the West.
So Ringholz strategized. She took a summer job on a dude ranch near Jackson Hole, and during all her free hours, she painted. She chose wildlife as a subject because she loves animals and because she already was fluent in human portraiture, and because wildlife art was a less crowded genre than landscape painting. Already she had established the basis of her distinctive style, portraying wild animals with a combination of bold, gestural lines and saturated color. By the end of that summer she had created 30 paintings. And she sold them all to people visiting the ranch. Soon afterward she got her first gallery representation, was noticed by Southwest Art and included as an “Artist to Watch,” and in 2005 was among the emerging artists in the magazine’s annual “21 Under 31” feature.
Today Ringholz works in a renovated log-barn studio, a homey space that reflects her lively personality and style. In the summer the studio’s garage-style door opens wide to a view of the towering Tetons, while horses graze nearby. Inside, the mounted head of a longhorn steer named Wilson gazes down from a wall, and from the barn’s high ceiling hang more than two dozen found-object lanterns that Ringholz’s father created, some sparkling like fireflies, others glowing with antique colored glass. An old clock and other antique railroad-station paraphernalia reflect the studio’s nickname: Imagination Station. All this, as the artist puts it, “gets the juju going in there!”
Ringholz’s juju—her high-octane imagination sprinkled with magic—is going strong these days. As featured artist for the September 6-16 Fall Arts Festival (presented by the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce), she hopes to insert a zing of imaginative energy into the venerable western art event, now in its 28th year. Her show at Jackson’s Altamira Fine Art, which coincides with the festival, has been a year in the making, and it mixes contemporary wildlife painting with an urban-oriented art installation approach. Of the almost three dozen paintings in the show, about half hang from the ceiling, the animals all appearing to barrel toward the viewer in a stampede. The rest of the paintings, which hang on the walls, feature animals in motion as seen from the side. “It’ll be kind of unnerving, exciting,” the artist predicts. “I’m encouraging people to take a fresh look at contemporary western art, to see it with new eyes.”
The title of each painting in the show suggests a specific intention, reflected in the animal’s eyes and stance and serving as a metaphor for human experience. TRIUMPH, for instance, features a small high-mountain rodent called a pika leading the stampede charge. “He’s a little guy, but he’s serious,” Ringholz observes, smiling. From a currently evolving new series the artist calls Urban Wildlife—characterized by an even more gestural, graphic style—the portrait of a running coyote with an intensely calm gaze is called BE FULFILLED. The title could describe Ringholz’s own view of life, except that her sense of fulfillment also incorporates a passionate desire to continually improve as an artist. Another piece she created as a potential Fall Arts Festival poster painting tells the rest of her story: DREAM BIG. The large painting zooms in on a classic Ringholz subject—a wolf’s face with clear, determined eyes. Within the image are innumerable abstract elements in color and line, another signature quality in her art. “The viewer can constantly find something new in it,” she notes.
But Ringholz is also aware that dreaming big is not something one does alone. As a student she received invaluable encouragement in the form of scholarships that helped pay for art supplies. In Jackson Hole she feels gratitude for the community’s strong support for her career. To give back, she is involved in numerous activities aimed at motivating the next generation of young artists. She mentors preteens, presents talks on art at local schools, takes part in painting demonstrations, and donates works for fund-raising events to benefit museums, education, and conservation groups. She also has established the Ringholz Art Supply Award, which provides art-supply scholarships to two local high school seniors and two Bowling Green students each year. Offering others a boost is a “really beautiful circle,” she says.
Between full-time art-making and community involvement, Ringholz periodically needs to give herself a deep recharge, spending time in her second-favorite city of Austin, TX, or traveling to extraordinary wildlife viewing spots. From four months in a South African wildlife park she brought back photos, sketches, memories, and African folklore. These tales, along with her own experiences, became woven into her art. The giving-back side of the trip included six weeks spent helping out in a South African orphanage.
“I’ve gone through many stages with my work, but I always seem to be able to dance around my subject matter,” Ringholz reflects. “I find different angles having to do with animals, sometimes very rendered and storylike, sometimes more loose and graphic.” But the heart of her art remains the act of drawing and the raw beauty of the simple gestural line—a skill that took years of hard work to attain. And beneath that, of course, is the pure wonder and unmatched thrill of experiencing the animal world. “When you’re face to face with a wild animal out there, it takes you back to that place of simplicity and presence,” the artist says. “It’s so moving to make that encounter. It’s a reminder of being right where you are at this moment and loving being there. If I can give the viewer a reminder of that in a painting, or a moment of happiness or peace, then my job is done.”
Featured in the September 2012 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
Southwest Art magazine September 2012 digital download
Southwest Art magazine September 2012 print edition
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