From West Texas, a painter details her favorite four-legged subject.
Teresa Elliott didn’t deliberately set out to become a popular painter of cows. You might say bovines just become her — and inspire her. Once while she was living in North Texas, she remembers staring at a bull in the early evening as he repeatedly stomped his hooves to banish flies. She was suddenly moved to paint the beast. “You really ought to do more,” a friend told her. And so she did, lovingly committing more bulls, cows, and calves to canvas in “tip to tip” renderings that can reach 7 feet — about the same expanse as the horns of a steer or well-endowed cow.
Elliott, now of West Texas, just north of Big Bend National Park, was influenced in the 1990s by April Gornik’s dramatic landscapes and later by William Matthews’ Western watercolors. “I wasn’t really trained to build a sound oil painting,” she says, “but I did have the passion and the drive.” And the detail — whether she’s painting color-saturated photorealistic human figures or her favored four-legged subject matter. It’s Elliott’s penchant for exquisite light-imbued particulars, say fans of her work, that takes her bovines to a new dimension.
She covered some interesting ground on her path to galleries, exhibitions, and high-profile bio brighteners like being the featured artist at last year’s Coors Western Art Exhibit & Sale at the National Western Stock Show in Denver. She once was a quick-draw artist at Six Flags Over Texas, sketching portraits with pastels. Later she worked as a graphic illustrator doing advertisements and outdoor signage, and then as a photographer shooting human models. “When those jobs ended, other doors really did open,” Elliott says. At some point, she hit her stride with figurative painting and contemporary realism.
“I want my painting to allow people to interact with the work on their own terms as they discover the story behind it,” she says. “I put action and movement into my figures as though the work occurs between two moments, between the beginning and the end.” In that middle moment, we experience something transcendent — in the determined stance of a bull, the wet wobble of a newborn calf, the placid gaze of a cow. It’s then that we begin to understand what Elliott’s getting at when she says the animal is a landscape, and the art is a connection to something limitless.
Teresa Elliott is represented by InSight Gallery in Fredericksburg, Texas, and by RJD Gallery in Sag Harbor, New York.
From the August/September 2015 issue.