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Western Artist Spotlight
Interview with Morgan Weistling, American 1964- )
By Joanne Watson


I recently interviewed Morgan Weistling, one of the top Masters of the American West artists at the Autry Museum, whose beautiful paintings of the Old West are highly-sought after by collectors. Morgan shared a candid look behind the scenes into his life and art with openness, and his characteristic sense of humor.

I hope you will enjoy my interview with this gifted artist.

What inspires you to paint the Old West--Does it have a special connection for you?

My childhood was filled with Western movies and my father fostered in me a love of that time period. I used to walk around with cowboy gear and imagine I was living back then. I guess I am still reliving that time period but only on canvas now. I paint the American West and it's pioneering spirit. Others have focused on the men but I have primarily focused on the women and children and the role they played in building this nation. Often I am asked what draws me to this period and for me it's pretty obvious. What I can't figure out is why anyone would want to paint the period we are in now.

Your paintings are so much in demand that people often have to put their names in a box on a "draw" in hopes of getting picked to be able to buy one, and you have won many top honors at Prix de West and The Autry Masters of the American West--When you were starting out, did you think you would achieve this level of success or did it take you by surprise?

I didn't even know I could make a living as a fine artist. I was a illustrator in the movie industry for 14 years and tried this fine art thing as an experiment. I never realized how wonderful it could be to paint for collectors that understand the nuances of what my skills could bring to the table. Before this, I had only an art director to please and they rarely appreciated a soft edge.

Do you feel fortunate or do you feel burdened by the pressure to provide your many admirers with new paintings and new masterworks for the big annual shows?

I am blessed beyond measure that anyone wants this stuff I produce. It's all a gift and I never take it for granted. I feel a responsibility to my collectors to keep my quality forever at it's highest level. I see myself as a stock that people invest in and I want my stock to remain solid. That is why I do not produce a lot of work. I am very careful that every painting is something I would want to buy. This isn't to say that I don't enjoy the process or that I am not a free spirit like most artists. I am still crazy in many ways but I am also a husband and father with a mortgage and so I am not going to suddenly start throwing paint at my canvas like a crazy monkey

Has your success afforded you any interesting opportunities?

Yes, I can afford to keep painting as my career. I find this to be the greatest privilege. Because of that, I get to be with my family 24/7, which in my case, it a good thing.

You really show the emotions and spirit of the people you paint--you must be quite spiritually aware. What part does your faith play in your painting?

I use real people as my models first of all. I am inspired the same way a good movie director is by a great actor in their movie. I look for people that inspire new ideas for me. My family often shows up in my work and that , of course, adds to this. My faith in Christ (evangelical Christian) leads me in all aspects of my life including what I paint. I am interested in the beauty of His creation and I find his designs everywhere as my inspiration

The children you paint are so charming and their portrayal is very honest and appreciative of the way children really are. I know you work with live models. How do you work with your models when they are very young and not likely to sit still for a painting? Do you also paint from your imagination or photographs?

I use photo reference for paintings that obviously need it. Children, people dancing, etc. But I work with my models a long time to capture the spirit of their individual personality.

Children are my favorite because they are so spontaneous and free with how they pose. I especially love kid's hands and their expressiveness.

Your large masterworks with many characters like The Country Schoolhouse, The Quilting Bee, and First Dance Americana are magnificent works of art and were quite ambitious undertakings that you accomplished so well. I think these paintings will be remembered as historically important paintings, like Renoir's Le Moulin de la Galette. What unique challenges did you face in creating these masterworks?

These paintings have helped establish me better in the overall art scene but are exhausting to complete. I love the opportunity to tell a larger story but it certainly is not easy. My experience as an illustrator really comes in handy in those paintings. I feel as though I am putting together a movie with no one there to help me. From location scout to casting director to cinematographer to director. It's a really difficult balance. For instance, the schoolhouse painting required me to bring into my studio all those desks and then bring in the kids so I could get their relationships to one another correct. That was a nightmare to coordinate

But, in the end, it's worth it and I would rather do this than lay bricks in the sun.

There is a richness to your paintings and a realism, even though you have an impressionistic style where more detail is evident in the paintings from further back than from close-up. What are the key factors that bring this about?

I prefer to leave my brushwork a little impressionistic so that the viewer can connect and finish the work in their imagination. It allows one to interact with the painting. I find it exciting to see how little of something I need to show in order for it to be recognized.

I know you have taught many artists and have generously recorded a 10 hour DVD set instructing aspiring artists, but can you describe your technique briefly in a way that is art lover (but not necessarily trained artist) friendly?

I do drawings and color sketches to make my composition as strong as I can before beginning. I then map it out on my blank canvas with charcoal in a rough way so that I can allow myself the freedom to change things while I am painting it. It is not until I have the whole thing roughly on canvas that I can judge what is working and what it still needs to tell my story. It continues to grow until the very last stroke.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Hopefully, Lord willing, still here painting. I believe I will be changing how I go about painting my stories and hopefully it will be for the better. I want to get closer and closer to accurately portraying the pioneering spirit of the West and those values and truths that made America great. I am delving more into it's history and many more paintings will be dealing with that.

Are there any special paintings you have in mind for the future, or that you have always wanted to paint that you are willing to tell us about?

All I can say is that my next painting is going to make you laugh, make you cry, shock you and yet give you great comfort. Then again, it may be a real dud.

LOL, I don't think we have to worry about that!


To view artwork by Morgan Weistling visit J. Watson Fine Art

The above article reprinted courtesy of: Joanne Watson is the owner of J Watson Fine Art in Valencia, CA, specializing in beautiful original paintings and select limited editions in Western and Wildlife Art, Romantic Figurative Art, and Impressionist Street Scenes by award-winning artists including Morgan Weistling, Pino, G. Harvey, Serge Marshennikov, Mian Situ, Antoine Blanchard, and more great artists. Website: www.jwatsonfineart.com


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