AN INTERVIEW WITH RICK KENNINGTON
Rick Kennington did not touch a paintbrush until he was in college, but he found his passion for western art many years before, as a boy growing up in northern Utah. Today, he is one of the brightest additions to the western art scene, with collectors all over country.
Rick developed his passion for his art and subjects while working on his grandfather’s ranch, doing everything from baling hay and hauling pipe to moving cattle. And while his grandfather taught him to work the ranch and ride a horse, it was his sisters who first ignited his passion for art when he was in grade school.
“I remember watching my sister drawing, and I was captivated. I just loved it.,” Rick said. “From that point on I started drawing and just never looked back.”
One of the early admirers of Rick’s work was his fourth grade teacher. When he presented her with his first drawing, a self-portrait, Rick said she became very excited about it, making copies and showing it off to other teachers. It was then that he knew he had talent. He also knew that this was what he wanted to do with his life.
"In high school, I was one of those kids who hung out in the art hall. I was one of the art nerds. I was always into sculpting and drawing and graphic arts a little bit, but I never picked up a paint brush until I was in college," he said. "My foundation is on drawing. I feel like my painting is only as good as my drawing, so I am glad I built that strong foundation."
Once he began to paint as a college student, Rick's passion and talent for art became even deeper. He genuinely loved and was awed by the emotion, the subject, the colors, and the challenge.
"A blank canvas can be so daunting, but overcoming that and creating something from literally nothing is so rewarding," Rick said. "I enjoy the solving problems aspect. There are things that I am trying to figure out, like how to manipulate light, how to adjust my values and the warmth and cool colors, so I am always learning. I have been painting for 20 years and there is still so much I don't know, and I am looking forward to learning and exploring it."
Eventually, Rick said, he would like to focus on Utahan Native Americans, but Rick's work currently centers on the American horse, which, he says, is as difficult to paint as the human form. Mastering both, though, has made him a better painter.
"People can look at [a painting of a human form] and tell if its accurate or not. And that's the same with the horse. Most people can view a drawing or painting of a horse and know if it's correct or not. You don't even have to be a horse person. I love that challenge. I love studying the horse and the [human] figure and getting better at it," Rick said.
An avid outdoorsman, Rick spends almost as much time painting outside as he does in the studio. He learned from mentors and through experience that painting his subjects live and on site, while much more challenging, is more rewarding and makes him a better painter.
"Painting on site helps me to see the colors accurately and to recognize the shift in planes and color temperature and the anatomy of a horse. Sometimes photos don't quite capture those things," he said. "I can take the knowledge of hundreds of hours of painting on-site and it helps me in the studio. My experience helps me capture the true likeness of the horse and riders, and it's more than just being a slave to the photo reference."
As an artist and an art lover, Rick understands the kind of emotion that art can bring out in people. As a young man beginning his career, Rick remembers being awed and genuinely moved by the western paintings that hung in galleries that he frequented.
"As I walked through the gallery I remember feeling the excitement and just wonderment of these amazing paintings, and so it's always just been in my heart, been in my mind. It's just my thing," Rick said. "You could feel my heart beating just looking at these paintings."
Rick learned early that his work excited people in a similar way, starting with that fourth-grade self-portrait. Another of his earlier cherished works, if not his most proficient in Rick's estimation, was a painting he did of his grandfather on a horse coming through the pasture gates on his ranch. It was Rick's first horse painting, done almost two decades ago, and his parents have it hanging on their wall to this day.
"I tried to explain to them that it's not very good. It's my first work and not one that I am most proud of, but they're super proud of it, and it's not coming off of their wall," he said, laughing.
Today, the emotion and appreciation that Rick's works inspire is even more evident. Sydney Weeks of Montana Trails Gallery said Rick's paintings consistently draw admiration from visitors to the gallery.
"Not only is Rick a genuinely nice person, he has become one of our most popular artists," Maria Abad, Gallery Director, said. "His work is as technically and artistically masterful as it is beautiful and compelling."
The most rewarding part of being an artist, Rick said, is seeing those reactions to and appreciation of his own work; the recollections and the emotions that they draw from people.
"If my work can connect to people and bring out emotion about a certain place or a certain time. That's a huge reward for me," he said. "When people say 'I can tell you love horses' or 'I can tell you know the horse's anatomy', or when they say 'I know that place. I can feel that place.' That's where I want my work to be."
Rick says he has many heroes and mentors in the western art world, including beloved artist Chad Poppleton. And while he has learned a great deal from each of them, he has not tried to emulate their style but has created his own.
"I tend to use a more of an impressionistic style. A bit more paint buildup with a pallet knife. I tend to have a warmer palette in my color mixing," he said. "I've learned from several different artists with different viewpoints, different approaches, and I've kind of generated my own unique style from all of them."
By Kim Weeks
Copyright Montana Trails Gallery 2022