This story was featured in the January 2019 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art January 2019 print issue or digital download
In mid-2017, when Utah artist David Frederick Riley began creating large-scale, monochromatic paintings of western wildlife in his studio, he viewed it as nothing more than an opportunity for some free-spirited experimentation. The former illustrator and Savannah College of Art and Design alumnus had already found success as a traditional portrait artist. “When I started playing around, it was for fun,” confesses Riley. “I simplified my color palette and gave myself a whole lot of free range to experiment with throwing paint at the canvas.”
Riley’s painterly experiments “got such a good response from the people who saw them,” he says, “that I sold five of my first pieces without even putting them in galleries.” His expressive new style also attracted the attention of several top western fine-art galleries that now represent him. Most of the artist’s paintings these days are built from just three colors—transparent red oxide, ultramarine blue, and white—and he also incorporates generous splashes of mineral spirits. Many of his pieces portray the wildlife around his home in Park City, including elk and bison, but Riley has also been creating Native American portraits using historic photographs for reference. “There’s a part of painting for me that’s about getting a likeness, and then there’s this other part,” he says. “I’ll paint my subjects until they look back at me. It’s almost more about trying to represent the spirit of an animal or person, as if you just bumped into them in the astral plane.”
Find Riley’s work at Meyer Gallery, Park City, UT; Rare Gallery, Jackson, WY; Montana Trails Gallery, Bozeman, MT; Marshall Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ; Manitou Galleries, Santa Fe, NM; Sorrel Sky Gallery, Durango, CO; Horton Fine Art, Beaver Creek, CO; and Robert Lange Studios, Charleston, SC.