The Idaho painter’s works are rich in texture and bold in color, bringing to life the landscapes of the West.
“Every time I create, I feel like I’m painting for one specific person I haven’t met yet,” says Idaho artist JanyRae Seda from her home studio. With two canvases propped up on a huge wooden easel in front of her, she wields a palette knife, layering in texture to her most recent oil. A Meyer’s parrot named Fynn perches on her shoulder, and an 11-year-old golden retriever named Mollie relaxes among floor-to-ceiling paintings.
At 68, Seda brims with energy and ideas. Having come to the full-time artist’s life only 10 years ago, she seems to be making up for lost time, painting seven days a week at her studio in a late-19th-century house in downtown Boise, Idaho. “The demand for creating comes from within,” she says. “I have no choice — I have to create.”
And so it’s been since her childhood in Mountain Home, Idaho, where she could be found drawing, poring over images on the light table her father built her, and experimenting on walls and ceilings with paint her mother gave her. After graduating with a BFA in design from the University of Idaho — where a professor discouraged her from painting during her senior year — Seda embarked on a circuitous creative journey. She raised three children, worked in design (everything from window displays to supertankers and submarines), managed her parents’ bowling alley, and ran a Hallmark store, ice cream shop, and restaurant. When her youngest daughter took a painting class in high school, Seda picked up the paintbrush again. She earned a scholarship at the Art Institute of Chicago at an age when most people are eyeing retirement and proceeded to paint with a passion: to date, more than 2,000 paintings representing more than 15,000 hours at the easel.
Having experimented for a decade with watercolor, pastel, charcoal, and graphite, Seda ultimately found that bold, rich oil pigment and rough texture suit her best. Her colorful canvases range from landscapes and city scenes to depictions of the long-abandoned ancient cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde.
While an artist in residence at Mesa Verde National Park, Seda gained access to rarely visited locations. One of her visits resulted in a favorite painting, the 60-by-40-inch Square Tower — a favorite partly because the artist risked her life to reach the location.
Climbing several ladders and traversing a cliff using toeholds and handholds, Seda had to overcome her fear when her foot slipped for a moment and managed to get to the spot she wanted to paint. She slept in a Navajo hogan built just before the national park opened in 1906. The traditional dwelling, which she believes is haunted, gave rise to disturbing dreams, and, Seda says, the high jinks of an unseen trickster. She had brought along a puzzle to play with in order to relax, but when she began to work it, she discovered a piece was missing. Seda couldn’t find the missing piece until the last day of her stay, when it mysteriously showed up right next to the spot where it should have been placed in the puzzle.
Among works infused with shadow, light, and color, another of Seda’s favorites is the 2017 60-by-48-inch Western piece titled The Girls Headed Out. “It depicts women headed out on another adventure into the West, breaking the rules of the Victorian era,” she says. “They represent venturing into uncharted territory, and they represent leadership. These women may have followed their husbands to the West, but they were vital to the survival and success of the family. They were aware of the risks. And through hard work, they were determined to succeed.”
For more on JanyRae Seda’s art and her show schedule, visit janyrseda.com. See her work at her studio and at the Inn at 500 Capitol hotel in Boise.
Images: Courtesy JanyRae Seda
From our January 2020 issue.