A member of the prestigious Cowboy Artists of America since 2004, Clark Kelley Price never tires of painting the Western life that inspires him.
It was 18 years ago that Clark Kelley Price was judged for membership into the prestigious Cowboy Artists of America. He remembers it all, starting with the imposing brass door outside the conference room at The Ritz-Carlton in Scottsdale, Arizona, where the members were meeting. Price hesitated outside, wondering whether to knock or just stride in. In he stepped. Then they told him: He's made the cut. "It made me sit a little taller in the saddle, I guess you'd say. I've always tried to do my best, but when you get into that position, you want to do it even better. It made me more conscious of not only my own work, but that I was sort of carrying on my shoulders the reputation of a lot of other men in the past who were some of my heroes," says Price, now 77.
Autumn Gold, 2020, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 in.
He hasn't missed the group's annual exhibition and sale since. Born in Idaho, Price lived summers in a log cabin in Montana that his parents built themselves, then earning a B.A. in oil painting from Brigham Young University. He's been painting full time since his late 20s. Based in Star Valley, Wyoming, near Jackson, he's a master at the Western realist tradition, known for his authentic scenarios involving cowboys, Indians, pioneers, hunting, and wildlife. His modern-day cowboy paintings are the most sought-after. They're painted from memories of his days cowboying in Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming and when he wrangled pack strings of horses and mules for ranches. "My job was to pack all the horses and mules and keep them moving through the mountains to where our job was," Price says. Any reference photos from back then? Nope. "I didn't have a camera on me, and I didn't have time to be taking pictures anyway."
Price often paints with a limited palette, concentrating on the traditional three primary colors of red, yellow, and blue. "One will dominate, but the other two will be in there. So that creates a color harmony," he explains. "I like to juxtapose colors and let the eye mix the color, rather than the brush."
Ambushed, 2021, oil on canvas, 24 x 30 in.
An intricate use of golds and blues lends ambience to paintings such as The Houlihan Man, Autumn Gold, and Ambushed. And an obvious affection for horses lends insight into the depth of relationship between man and animal. In Loyal Partners, which depicts a moment of connection on a cliffside with an ethereal sky in the background, you can sense the horse's breath. "Your affection grows for a good horse," Price says. "They get you where you're going, and they get you back. And they sometimes do it through some pretty hard country, and it takes a toll on them. ... My favorite horses over the years have been mongrels or grade horses."
Action dominates in Autumn Gold, in which Price conveys differing temperaments among the cattle being herded across a creek with subtle touches around their eyes, some animals nonchalant, some determined. "I do it subconsciously rather than thinking too much about it," he says. "Some cattle have more respect for you. Others don't. Some of them have a degree of hatred for people. You learn to pick up on their personalities and the way they view the world."
With credits including the Jackson Hole Art Auction, The Russell art auction, and the Masters of the American West Art Exhibitions and Sale at The Autry, Price often brings such firsthand observations to his artworks. As he puts it, "There's always something going on in the painting, I'm trying to tell a story of something."
The Houlihan Man, 2021, oil on canvas, 30 x 24 in.
Clark Kelley Price will be exhibiting at the Cowboy Artists of America's 56th Annual Exhibition and Sale on November 4-5 in Fort Worth, Texas. He is represented by Trailside Galleries. Visit him online at clarkkelleyprice.com.