To Wyoming artist Clark Kelley Price, Western art is more than a pretty picture of horses, cattle and country. He sees it as a way to tell an in-depth story or make a statement about a specific place, person or moment in time.
Most artists or art enthusiasts would not consider fixing fence the most dramatic—or even romantic—subject matter for a painting. However, artist Clark Kelley Price sees beyond the surface of the situation and paints it with a deeper meaning.
“When I was working on ranches, I liked fixing fence because I was usually alone and had time to think,” he says. “I found it to be an enjoyable time, because there weren’t many distractions and I could enjoy the beauty of nature without anyone bothering me.”
The quiet time at the end of the day, repairing a fallen fence, just a cowboy and his horse, was Price’s inspiration for Solid Gold. Created a few years ago for the Masters of the American West Fine art Exhibition and Sale at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles, California, the painting depicts a common ranch chore, but Price uses light and color to create a mood and meaning.
The artist occasionally paints from reference photographs, but most of his ideas come from his own experiences or what he feels. With a near-photographic memory, Price has the ability to take detailed mental pictures of what he sees and lock them into his mind for future recollection.
“I find I enjoy the painting process more if I don’t look at photographs or the real thing, and just paint what I remember,” he says. “That seems to bring out an added dimension in my art and is a greater challenge. If I rely too much on a photograph, the feeling of the painting is lost.”
Light can accentuate a painting and add to the story, or it can be distracting and confuse the viewer. Using dramatic, direct lighting, Price sets the tone for the scene. Viewers can feel the warmth of the sun, yet also the chill of that sun going down and the storm clouds moving in. Against the dark gray sky, the golden palomino glows heroically in the sunlight. Price planned this to make the focal point of his painting stand out.
“I wanted to portray the real star of the West, the horse,” he explains. “I tried to focus on the horse’s beauty, and the friendship between he and his rider. There’s something about the honesty of a horse that touches the inside of a person and inspires us to be better people.”
An avid outdoorsman who has spent his entire life in the West, Price has a deep respect for the landscape and the life it possesses. His connection to the land can be felt in the color and detail he puts into his foreground and background.
“Some people look at the landscape and think it’s pretty,” he says. “I look at it deeper than that. I look at the character of the earth—the wind, the sun, the water. I try to give the landscape particular characteristics, just as I express the individuality of the horse and cowboy. They all combine to tell a story, to freeze a moment in time so viewers can go back to the painting and get something new out of it each time they see it.”
Inducted into the prestigious Cowboy Artists of America in 2004, Price has painted full time since 1973. His work has been featured in books, on Leanin’ Tree cards, and on the December 1995 cover of Western Horseman.
He lives in Thayne, Wyoming, where he enjoys fishing, hunting, riding horses, and spending time with his seven grown children and many grandchildren when he’s not in his studio painting. His work can be found at Trailside Galleries in Jackson, Wyoming, and Scottsdale, Arizona, as well as on his website, clarkkelleyprice.com.