One of the most powerful elements of David Frederick Riley’s monochromatic portraits is how the eyes follow you around the room.
“You have this other being that’s looking at you … a shared emotional experience between the painting and the viewer, an emotional quality that the viewer can relate to,” Riley says.
It’s this connection to authentic expression that sets his wildlife and human portraits apart.
While wildlife has traditionally been depicted from an observational, or removed, viewpoint, Riley captures the soul of an animal.
“I’m forcing a direct experience — it almost becomes a spiritual experience where you get to interact with something that’s more of an essence than looking at it from afar,” he says.
For Riley, a 3-by-3-foot canvas is small. His enormous paintings employ mineral spirits and three primary colors: transparent red oxide, ultramarine blue and white.
His 15-year professional career as a magazine and book illustrator informs his attention to negative space, because in magazines, text runs in open spaces.
Riley’s choices in composition are part of what makes his animal portraits stand out.
He transitioned from illustration and commissioned portraits to fine art after he painted a massive ram on a 5-foot canvas, as a break from his usual routine. The freedom he discovered in the large format hooked him, as well as others, immediately. He sold five of his first eight paintings to students who saw them in his studio during art classes he taught.
Living in the West — Colorado, and now, Utah — for the past 10 years inspired Riley to focus on Western themes. His passion for lifelong learning gives him an “excuse” to research the subjects he paints. When he came across historical images of Native Americans photographed in the late 1800s and early 1900s, he was captivated.
“They wear such complexity of emotions on their faces — pride, sadness, determination, grit and this deeply rooted wear — but great perseverance at the same time,” Riley says. “Where people’s life experience is on display is what makes a great painting.”
Though he has stepped away from the saturated colors he used in his illustrations, he envisions playing with various hues, and other fundamentals, in the future. He wants to explore various genres from African animals and aquatics to sports icons and human eras, like turn of the century, the Roaring ‘20s and mid-century Americana.
“For wildlife, I keep pushing it more abstract, more diffuse, while maintaining the connection, recognition and emotional quality,” he says. “I’m always pushing to see how much I can let go, and I still have more to go.”
Along with Riley’s stunning artwork, Horton Fine Art showcases pieces that delight visitors, drawing them in again and again to see what’s new. From Carrie Fell’s bold, colorful portrayal of Western life to Judith Dickinson’s playful and innocent paintings of children, the gallery highlights the powerful West and beyond.
Of course, the Hortons’ bronze sculptures still anchor the gallery with masterful and enchanting pieces. The late Walt Horton incorporated his experience as a cartoonist to fuse storytelling, humor and emotion into his bronze sculptures. His son, Jesse, carries on the legacy with his bronzes, while Walt’s wife, Peggy, continues to build relationships with clients and inspire them at every turn.
David Frederick Riley: Close Encounters
Horton Fine Art
156 Beaver Creek Plaza, Beaver Creek