JACKSON, Wyo. — As a kid, David Frederick Riley allowed himself to get lost in the moment, his sense of time and language dissolving with the wonder of observing a blade of grass or a favorite toy. “I would find myself so entrenched in that object’s existence,” he said. “It would become a magical moment. Everything else would fade away.”

Riley channels such all-consuming awe into his new series, Ethereal, on display at Altamira Fine Art from July 18 to 29. True to the exhibition title, each wildlife portrait in the show exudes an undeniable presence. “I’m focusing on getting the painting to emerge out of the ether,” he said. To do so, he’s concentrating on the creatures’ expressions, their compelling personalities, and their fixed gaze. “I’m really pushing the focus of the painting on the emotional quality and the interaction with the viewer.”

Set against a background of negative space, his animals exist untethered by context as if suspended in the aforementioned aura of fascination — so readily available to children, so elusive for adults.

“As adults, we get so busy and our minds get so busy,” Riley said. “It’s great to have something suck you out of your head for a moment. That’s the benefit I get from painting. There are long moments when I’m working, where I’m completely engrossed in just doing instead of thinking.”

To inspire such awareness, Riley is leaning into the ethereal quality of his work — an adjective often used to describe his paintings, rendered in meticulous detail before adding a final layer of abstraction in the form of mineral spirits. The corrosive chemical dissolves and softens the definition he worked so hard to achieve. By relinquishing control, he is forced to accept the painting — and the moment — as it comes. Such consciousness underpins his painting practice.

“I’ve been playing around with this idea of ‘Why do you paint?’ and ‘What do you do as a painter?’” Riley said. “After reading contemporary philosophy based on Eastern spirituality, I’m drawn to the idea of being fully aware of the present moment. I want my paintings to be so arresting that they almost shock you into awareness, where your brain shuts off and you just feel for a second without the running chatter.”

Jack Red Cloud. Oil on canvas. 48 x 60 inches. Photo: David Frederick Riley

“If I can provide those moments of respite from the mind, then I feel like I’ve made a positive impact on people,” Riley said.

 For more information about Riley and his new paintings, please contact Altamira Fine Art by email — connect@altamiraart.com — or phone — (307) 739-4700.