Albin Veselka | A Gift to be Shared

Albin Veselka dedicates his talents to celebrating the beauty and goodness in the world around him

by Norman Kolpas

Albin Veselka, Peppers and Onions, 9 x 12.

Albin Veselka, Peppers and Onions, 9 x 12.

This story was featured in the September 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  September 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

Consider even a small selection of recent works by Idaho-based painter Albin Veselka, and you could be excused for thinking at first that not one but several different, highly talented artists might have produced them. Sure, they’re all representational, their subjects depicted in ways that instantly engage the imagination. All showcase self-assured, often bold brushwork, with painterly passages of oil sometimes taking on an almost sculptural quality. And they all demonstrate a mastery of technique more commonly found in artists much older than Veselka’s not-quite-38 years.

Yet, regard COLLECTING SHELLS [see page 81], a vibrantly lifelike image of a young woman idly strolling the line where waves lap the sand, the bottom of her long, filmy white dress wet and clinging to her bare legs. From its color palette to its brush strokes, it conjures a serene, contemplative air. It seems at first glance to be the product of another sensibility than the landscape portrayed in DISSIPATING, where storm clouds recede up a steep mountainside in a composition so simplified that the umber slopes read almost as three abstract, triangular forms.

Or turn your attention to one of Veselka’s still-life works. FRUIT AND SUNFLOWERS presents a casual yet carefully balanced arrangement of well-delineated forms that express a traditional approach despite its mostly bold strokes of paint. In other works the artist’s much more brisk application of oils—including what appear to be random smudges and drips—create an undeniably modern interpretation of the still-life genre.

Step back from such careful, close-up contemplations, however, and all these works taken together begin to paint a larger picture: Veselka is a talented, still-young artist possessed of an ever-questing imagination and a seemingly boundless desire for knowledge and experience through which he can expand his skills and improve his work.

From his earliest childhood days in a small western Idaho town not far from Boise, there was no question that Veselka would grow up to have a career in art or some related field. One day in the second grade, his class read a story about a fox, and the teacher assigned them all to go home and draw a picture to illustrate it. “That’s the first time I ever remember trying to draw anything,” Veselka recalls.

The challenge frustrated him at first, until his mother demonstrated how he might do it. “It was just mind-blowing to me that with these little lines you could create an image that actually looked like something,” he says. Once he understood, he never wanted to stop, progressing from foxes to tigers—his favorite animals—then birds of prey, and then an ever-widening menagerie. “When my parents saw I had a love for drawing, they did all they could to help me develop,” encouraging him to enter every local competition possible. “I had this big box of ribbons and plaques,” he says. “It was a given that I was going to be an artist. Doubts never entered the conversation.”

After high school, Veselka worked a variety of local jobs to help pay for the expenses of his two-year mission in Brazil for the Mormon church. He was 21 when he returned and soon started dating Jenee, an old friend. They fell in love and married just before he started his studies at the Idaho campus of Brigham Young University, in the town of Rexburg, not far from the Montana and Wyoming borders and Yellowstone National Park.

Feeling the weight of his responsibilities as a future family man, Veselka entered BYUI as an architecture major. But he had the good fortune to take introductory art classes taught by the widely respected wildlife artist Leon Parson. “He was exactly what I wanted to be, very oriented toward subject matter and detail,” Veselka says. “It was amazingly fortuitous for me. He was the perfect guy to mentor me and bring me into this whole world of art I knew nothing about.”

After his first two semesters at BYUI, he realized, “If I didn’t pursue art, I couldn’t live with myself.” He sat down with his wife and explained what he was thinking and feeling. “And she said that was exactly what I was meant to do.” With Jenee’s encouragement and support, Veselka switched majors and went on to graduate in 2006 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a determination to earn his living in fine art.

Though his education included guidance on breaking into the gallery scene, something he began to do even as an undergraduate, Veselka admits that those early post-college years were a struggle. “It took a good six years or so before I started making a meager living,” he admits. During that time, he supported his growing family—he and Jenee already had a daughter and a son when he graduated, and they now have two girls and two boys—with an assortment of jobs including “a lot of heavy, difficult, frustrating farm work, home inspections for banks, door-to-door sales, and work in a grocery store,” he says.

All the while, however, Veselka continued painting, and recognition and awards came as surely as all those childhood plaques and ribbons. In September 2009 he was included among the rising stars in Southwest Art’s annual “21 Under 31” issue. From 2009 to 2014, he was juried into the Oil Painters of America national shows, and won a gold medal at its western regional show in 2011. And each year brought similar new achievements, higher prices, and more collectors—to a point at which, he modestly says, “in the last few years, we’re getting ahead.”

For Veselka, however, the words “getting ahead” hold a deeper meaning than mere monetary success. “I heard a wise man say once that, in the struggle to climb the ladder of success, when you get to the top you don’t want to find out it’s on the wrong wall.” With that in mind, and informed by his deep religious faith, he keeps a few select priorities constantly in mind.

One is his unwavering commitment to continue building his artistic knowledge, skills, and range, a goal evident in the diversity of his artworks. “I have this insatiable desire to just keep growing, to look for new skills to develop or old skills to refine,” he says. With that in mind, for example, he attends a weekly “painting lab” at the university every Friday morning, where he joins other alumni, students, and faculty as they paint a live studio model.

With the same goal of self-improvement, he’s also been challenging himself to strengthen his storytelling capabilities, inspired by the great early 20th-
century American illustrators he admires including Dean Cornwell and Harvey Dunn. The painting INK AND PAPER, which shows a bearded, aproned young man hard at work at an old-
fashioned printing press, shows the benefit of such efforts.

Veselka’s storytelling skills have been rising to new heights in a recent body of works these past three years. After winning an international religious-art competition held by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he’s been devoting about 80 percent of his working time to creating multifigure, very large-scale paintings—some as large as 8 by 16 feet—depicting scenes from the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, to be placed in new Mormon temples. “They push me to a whole new level of learning based on the scale, time, and skill I put into them,” he says. More importantly, he adds, “I feel like it’s appropriate for me to dedicate my work toward helping people in the Mormon faith to enrich their lives through the faith, and others to be appreciative of what I believe. I would be ungrateful not to dedicate a lot of my work to the God that created me and gave me that talent and put me in the position where I could use it.”

His ultimate goal in his religious works and his secular ones alike, he says, is for “my art to make a positive difference in someone’s life. There’s a lot of bad in the world, but there’s a lot of good in the world, too. I want to be part of that good.”

Veselka’s quest to spread and inspire goodness, however, extends far beyond his passion for painting. “My family is my first priority,” he quietly but firmly states. “When you reflect on your life, the art is not going to matter as much as how you treat people and what good you’ve done in the world. I look at my children as my ultimate art projects. That’s what I’m leaving the world with. I want to spend time with them and make sure they know I love them. And, through their children, it becomes a perpetual statement I will leave on the world for generations. I want that statement to be great.”

A. Banks Gallery, Bozeman, MT; Trailside Galleries, Jackson, WY, and Scottsdale, AZ; Waterhouse Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA; Montana Gallery, Billings, MT;

This story was featured in the September 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  September 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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