You could say it all started with puffy paint. As a 10-year-old, artist Amy Ringholz painted sweatshirts using puff paint she was given for Christmas. She didn't hesitate about what she was going to paint --she automatically drew animals. In school she was steered towards painting landscapes or figures, but it didn't feel quite right.
"I always felt most connected to creating animals in art," said Ringholz, who is based in Jackson Hole, Wyo. "To this day when I purchase art myself, there is almost always an animal involved. My mind goes to that art and has a warm reaction to it first. Animals are a language that all humans feel something for. We respect them, admire them, study them, live with them, love them, and I can't imagine our planet, and how lonely and sad and without beauty it would be without them."
After graduating from college in 1999, Ringholz took a job working at a dude ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyo. She'd clean cabins each morning and paint in the afternoons. After finishing a piece, she'd hang it on the outside the small log cabin where she lived, so the sun and the mountain air could dry it faster. By the end of the summer she'd sold more than 30 paintings to guests who were drawn to the bright canvases. It was the beginning of her career.
"Her imagery speaks directly to soul of most people," said Simone Crotzer, the gallery director of Horton Fine Art in Beaver Creek, which has represented Ringholz for nearly four years. "Her passion is the great outdoors. Like most of us in Vail, she went for a summer and made it her residence."
'We are all given gifts'
This week, in a corner of Horton Fine Art, Ringholz set up her easel, canvas and slew of oil paints and got to work on side-view of a horse's face; now she's finishing up a buffalo.
"People's reactions have been 'Wow,'" Crotzer said. "Her work is very strong, pictorial, with a great sense of kinetic energy. There's lots of movement. You feel like you're looking deep into the soul of these beautiful animals."
In her new book called "Dreamers Don't Sleep," Ringholz describes her love for wildlife, and especially the buffalo: "The Wyoming Bison became my muse: strong, iconic, proud and peaceful ... Animals encompass all I love about the West." The book covers the first 10 years of Ringholz's career, a life calling that she credits a higher power for.
"I just feel like we are all given gifts and it is our job to try to use them to our highest potential," said Ringholz, who is in her mid-30s. "God gave me the gift and then the heart to do this and the faith to keep going even when it gets hard or tiresome or stressful. I have complete faith that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing with my life."
While her mostly Western wildlife subjects are instantly recognizable to anyone, her modern take on the subject is certainly her own. She uses thick black, almost messy lines to create the outline of the image and then fills it in with wide array of vibrant colors.
"I like to make up a full palette of color so that the painting can go in any direction," Ringholz said. "The trick is that my paintings each have different palettes. Sometimes you will go to a show and an artist will use the same seven colors in each piece, so you always know what is coming next. I like to create a show where you have no idea what feeling or mood the next piece will bring: Maybe laughter or a smile, peacefulness or a stoic feeling."
She's not just painting animal portraits, she's trying to make pieces that are bold and iconic, she said.
"So when you hang this horse or male lion in your home you are saying more than you like horses but you are the horse in some way," Ringholz said. "Some symbolism of the horse lives inside of you. So that can relate to the humor and trickery of the jackalope, to the confidence and boldness of the male lion, to the beauty and steadfastness of the horse. I want the art to mean more to you."