Montana artist Kira Fercho paints aspens, horses and herds of wandering buffaloes against backgrounds inspired by her homeland.
By the time Kira Fercho was 13, she was selling Montana landscape paintings at local gift shops for $ 100 each. Today she still paints aspens, horses and herds of buffalo roaming around inspired settings of her home country, but now her pieces fetch up to $ 50,000 and can be found in several galleries and museums in across the West as well as in the collections of celebrities such as Emmylou Harris, Dan Rather and Karen Pence. “It’s part of the small town girl’s American dream project that I have going on,” Fercho says with heartfelt appreciation for her good fortune.
“My grandfather taught me to draw Joe Camel from the back of the cigarette pack,” Fercho says. “Technically, it’s the first thing I learned to draw. I was 3 or 4 years old. From there, she drew the donkeys and other farm animals from her grandfather’s ranch. Her parents noticed her and enrolled her in art classes so that she could hone her natural skills. “I always thought painting was magic,” she says. “It was my way of getting away from it all and dreaming of something different. I always knew that painting was going to be part of my life. I just didn’t know how important my paintings were going to be. My paintings are very famous – and much more traveled than I am. “
King of Yellowstone
These days, Fercho gets up every morning at 4.30am, hops in his Porsche 911 Carrera, and heads for his CrossFit class. After that, she heads straight to her studio, a 4,000 square foot space in the country just outside of Billings that also serves as a gallery. She dons her paint clothes – leggings, tank top, baseball cap, and apron – and trades her Nikes for a pair of paint-splattered Birkenstocks.
By the time she stands at the easel to start painting that day – usually four pieces at a time – she has already determined the range of darkness and light for each piece. With meditative music playing in the background – “something Native American with some type of flute or nature sounds” – she begins to apply oil paint in thick layers with a palette knife instead. of a brush.
“A lot of it is about the surface value and the texture,” says Fercho. “If I don’t have a fair enough idea of what it’s going to be like in the end, I can spend a ton of time in a painting and not make it look too good.” I can change the color a bit, but I can’t change a light source, and I can’t change the composition of a room.
Most of her finished paintings are so thick they are almost sculptural, with the thicker parts representing what is closest to the viewer and the colors evoking the subjects she knows best. Fercho describes the style as a Modern Impressionism and herself as a Modern Impressionist or Western Tonalist. “The colors are very close to where I’m from – the plains – so I really understand the slight variations in colors.”
Her pieces are large, 40 by 50 inches on average, and typically consist of at least 20 coats of paint – and sometimes up to 50 – requiring three to five days to dry. A single piece can take almost three months. To meet her deadlines, she typically paints for up to eight hours a day, with breaks for lunch and dinner. Sometimes she goes back there at night to work them a little more.
Because she has been working on it around the clock, the result is a finished job that changes as the light passes through her every day. “It’s exciting to see what the shadows and the drama of the play do. There are paintings that I have hung in my house for six years and every day they are different.
No matter what she’s working on – another landscape or the teepees she’s now known for – almost all of Fercho’s paintings are commissions, which she approaches as collaborations. “I love working with people and hearing their thoughts on what they want to accomplish, in terms of looking and being the vehicle for it,” she says. “I naturally like to build things and I like to be the last step or part of the design process. Most of the time, people help me find parts that are stronger than what I would have found on my own.
Still, ridges and valleys, layered neutrals, and pops of bold turquoise and red are all hers. “What is unique about my paintings is their tactile nature. I like that general feeling, ”she says. “This thick, tactile paint has always been my signature.”
Visit Kira Fercho online at kirafercho.com
From the November / December 2021 issue
Photography: (Yesking of stone ellowstone) Becky Lee / courtesy Kira Fercho; (All the others); Michelle Willis / courtesy Kira Fercho
Cover image: Cavaliers