JACKSON, Wyo. — Select three subjects. Explore each in four different styles. These parameters—set by David Frederick Riley for his Fall Arts Festival exhibition—offer the artist the opportunity to push his stylistic exploration even farther than recent forays. Four views of a bear, wolf and bison respectively; four investigations of character through composition. His exhibition runs from Sept. 6-18, with a reception during Palates & Palettes from 5-7 p.m. on Sept. 9.
When approaching a blank canvas, Riley often picks one aspect as the guiding principle for the painting, such as line or atmosphere. “To a degree, you have to focus on all elements of the composition in every painting,” he says. “But for me, the painting will vary depending on what aspect I’m focusing on. For instance, if I’m thinking about form and structure, the painting will look different than if I’m thinking more about design. It’s fun to hyper-accentuate one of the fundamentals of art to push into a style.”
Stylistic variations include playing with white versus black backgrounds, the latter lending drama, the former inviting atmospheric splatter amid negative space. Other versions might evolve more as line drawings, while a fourth may focus on brushwork and the abstraction that emerges from loose painting.
Beyond painterly devices, Riley embraces the varying character profiles of his wildlife subjects. “I could do a whole show of bears, from black and brown bears to grizzlies, cubs and big old males. The repetition of painting the animal multiple times allows you to explore different emotional states.”
Riley plays with the control inherent in adopting a focus, embracing instead the moments when his paintings defy his grip. “Sometimes, such focus can dissolve the painting to a degree. If you are focusing on mark-making, how do you build the form up with those marks but then how do you also let the painting disintegrate within those marks? It’s a push and pull between control and relinquishing control.”
This interplay inspires Riley and also keeps his perspective as a painter in check. “Creativity springs from limitations,” he says. “In general, artists create the box that they are going to work within. The mistake you can make is in believing that the box you’ve created exists beyond your art, beyond the purpose of entertaining and inspiring others. You can’t let your ego get too attached to the box you’ve created.”