On a dreary, rainy May morning, artist Carrie Ballantyne slides open the barn doors on Paul and Sandy Wallop’s historic Canyon Ranch, exposing the eastern slope of the Big Horn Mountains.

Carrie Ballantyne

Their lower reaches covered by fog, the tips of the Big Horn’s granite peaks rise above the clouds and the softly rolling valleys of northern Wyoming. For more than a century, these mountains have served as the backdrop for cattle and sheep ranches.

On this particular day, the ranch is the setting for a photo-shoot with horsewoman Sandy Wallop to gather reference material for a new painting. Pleased with the diffused light created by the clouds, Ballantyne straps her camera around her neck and begins to work, nitpicking every detail of her model’s hair, clothing and posture as she photographs from every angle.

A perfectionist when it comes to posing her subjects, Ballantyne directs every aspect of the shoot, instructing her model to lower her chin, tip her head slightly to one side, gaze toward the camera and then down. The artist knows exactly what she wants to portray in her portraits of contemporary cowboys and cowgirls, and each adjustment changes the mood of the portrait.

“I’m looking to evoke introspection, moral fiber, strength, sometimes innocence—edifying qualities that make a viewer stop, reflect and connect with the person portrayed in the painting,” she explains.

Cowgirl Shantel Rae of Shoshoni, Wyoming, posed for the painting Shantel, a 15-by-12-inch oil.

The best artists tend to gravitate toward painting subject matter they are familiar with and passionate about. For more than 30 years, Ballantyne lived the lifestyle of her subjects, and the majority of them are longtime friends or family members who are also well-known in the horse and ranching industries. Ballantyne’s kinship with and knowledge of her subjects is revealed in the portraits she paints.

“[She has the] ability to show her subjects’ personalities and emotions in a way that really reaches the viewer,” says Ballantyne’s daughter, Hannah, a cowgirl on the Padlock Ranch. “She has a drive to affect people’s emotions, to move them somehow.”

Ballantyne is painting second and third generations of ranch families, including her own. She has painted her daughter for nearly 20 years because Hannah has “the look”—intense, reflective and almost stoic.

“She used to tell me to pretend that my dog had just died,” Hannah recalls. “A blunt and quick way of getting that introspective expression she often portrays. It was always easy to be in front of her camera and it still is. I do recall the day I figured out she was paying her other models, and I told her I was going on strike until an agreeable amount could be presented to me. She said, ‘But, I pay you by feeding you.’ She won that battle.”

Ask Ballantyne what she looks for in a subject and the responses she offers include facial features, but more important is a feeling. For example, Wallop exuded a passion for riding horses and the Western tradition that captured Ballantyne’s attention.

“With Sandy, it’s not about her being a hard-core Wyoming cowgirl,” Ballantyne explains. “It’s more about a middle-aged woman who loves her horses, and I want to convey that connection.”

For years, Ballantyne shied away from painting middle-aged women because art collectors favored portraits of innocent youth and rugged cowboys. Lately, however, she has gone against the grain and painted older women with the look and expression she seeks.

“I’m drawn to people with a very strong profile, chiseled facial features, and intense, compassionate eyes,” she says. “They convey a deep understanding, strength and calmness that comes from life experience.”

Cowgirl From Kinnear, Wyoming, a 16-by-12-inch oil painting, portrays native Wyoming cowgirl and Western designer Thea Marx.

Nevada pencil artist Asher Freeman considers Ballantyne his mentor, and he and his brother, Barak, have posed for her several times

“Every artist has their own style,” Freeman says. “Carrie’s style is a reflection of the [cowboy] culture and people. She portrays people who come from strong ranching backgrounds and have a lot of pride. She is very professional and condent, and knows exactly what she wants. She has a way of making her model’s true personality shine through, and portraying them exactly how they are.”

Besides a specific look, Ballantyne is also drawn to texture. She rarely paints just a face; some portraits are full body, while others are from the waist or chest up. This allows her to incorporate a splash of color and texture in a silk wild rag, felt hat, canvas jacket or leather gloves.

“I love mixing feminine beauty with the contrast of things often con-sidered rough and masculine,” she says.

Upon first glance, Ballantyne’s paintings seem relatively similar. That is, until you look into the eyes of the subject and study the details and expression of the person.

“You can almost feel what the person is feeling by looking in their eyes,” Freeman says. “Many ranch people won’t tell you a lot about them-selves; you have to search them out. The way Carrie paints the eyes, they speak to you, and you get a real sense of who the person is.”

For more information on Ballantyne’s artwork, visit bighorngalleries.com or legacygallery.com.



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