Pursuing Her Passion

Terri Kelly Moyers captures the American West

by Vicki Stavig

Published online courtesy of Art of the West, November/December 2014

Terri Kelly Moyers has earned several prestigious awards for her paintings, but she has her feet firmly planted on the ground, continuing to challenge herself to paint the scenes and subjects that inspire her and to do so in a way that touches viewers.  Affirmation of her doing so has come in the form of numerous awards and a growing cadre of collectors.

Moyers captures the American West and its people, along with scenes from her travels to other countries, with great skill, imbuing her paintings with vibrant colors and light, as she paints her emotional response to her subjects.  “When I see things that I think have something special – light, design, color that I think is really beautiful – I want to share it and I want to keep looking at it myself, to preserve that impression or feeling,” she says.

Those impressions have served Moyers well, connecting with art lovers – and judges – at various art shows.  IN fact, one of her paintings earned the prestigious Prix de West Purchase Award in 2012 – the same year she became a U.S. citizen – making her only the second woman (Bettine Steinke was the first) to win the show’s top honor.  She also earned the Frederic Remington ward and the Nona Jean Hulsey Buyers’ Choice Award.

Moyers isn’t about to let past awards lull her into complacency.  Instead, she remains committed to creating the best paintings possible.  Art has been a part of her life since she was a child growing up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  “I was always drawing,” she says.  “All I wanted to do was draw and paint, and  I loved horses.  I don’t know where it came from.  I can’t explain it, it was just there.”

In pursuit of her passion, Moyers enrolled at the Alberta College of Art in Calgary, but stayed for just one year.  “At the time, in the 70’s, the focus was mainly on modern art, and I loved to draw animals,” she says.  “They wanted us to abstract everything, which wasn’t the direction I wanted to go.”  Moyers later enrolled at Mount Royal Community College, which offered courses in commercial art but, once again, she was disillusioned.

Everything changed in 1978, however.  “It was a momentous year for me in many ways,” Moyers says.  “I met Clarence Tillenius, who was teaching  a summer school at the Okanagan Game Farm in British Columbia.  I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted, wasn’t sure what it entailed, and I was pretty shy and afraid of the world but, through some prodding from good friends, I went.  It was like an epiphany.  I walked in and met Clarence, and I knew I found what I had been looking for.  It was a tremendous experience; it changed my life.”

After that workshop, Moyers says, Tillenius decided to gather a group of artists to paint landscapes and animals at the game farm for a month every fall, starting that November.  Moyers eagerly signed on.  “Other artists included John Clymer, and Ken Rile, some great artists who each had a group of younger artists they were mentoring,” she says.

If Moyers thought 1978 was a ear of change, she had no idea what was coming.  In 1979, she again went to the game farm to paint and met two men who would have a tremendous influence on her – personally and professionally.  The first was noted artist Robert Lougheed; the second was a young artist named John Moyers.

“Bob was a great teacher, very gifted, and a painter’s painter,” Moyers says.  Along with his incredible talent and teaching skills, Lougheed brought John, a “cute” young artist from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and he and Moyers began a friendship that found the two talking by phone the following year and then eventually travelling to visit each other.  In 1982, three years after meeting, the two talented young artists married and made their hoe in Albuquerque, where they remained for four years before moving to Santa Fe.

In 1991, the couple was blessed with what Moyers describes as her greatest creation: their son Josh, who now is 23 and pursuing a career as a screenwriter/director in California.  The couple moved again, this time to Pagosa Springs, Colorado, where John’s parents had a home, but they returned to Santa Fe in December 2002, where they remain today.

Early in her career, Moyers worked odd jobs while also drawing and painting, selling her work wherever she could.  “I would go to horse and bull sales and draw people’s horses and sell them for $1,” she says.  “And I was doing pet portraits.  I started out loving animals and wanted to do them.  It was great, because I sure learned how to draw.  Horses are still one of my favorite things.  I don’t do them as much as I have in the past, but I’m getting back to them.”

After she and John married, they worked hard to make it as professional artists.  “We had no money; we went to flea markets to try to make the rent,” Moyers says.  “There weren’t many opportunities for young artists back then.  We painted from life all the time and tried to get better.”  By the time Josh was born, she adds, she and John were selling their work from galleries, and their careers were progressing nicely.

“It was a gradual progression of clawing our way up,” Moyers says with a laugh.  “We were making little bits of money all along.  I was honored that someone wanted to give me money for something I made.  Then John became a member of the Cowboy Artists of America, and that was great; his career took off.” Moyers says she realized her own success, when she began to exhibit with the National Academy of Western Artists, which later evolved into the Prix de West.

Asked about her subjects, Moyers says “People want to pigeon hole you as an artist.  I love doing a lot of different things.  We travel and paint all over the world.  I used to do more wildlife, but have turned to figure work.  I love painting women and lace and fans and shawls.  I love the intricacies of those things, because I can do so much with color and design.”

Moyers and John have been traveling to Hawaii once or twice a year for the past 10 years to paint the landscape there.  “We’ll go find a spot and paint from life,” she says.  “We paint with oils, but now we do more with watercolors, because they’re easier to take on trips.  We also go to Europe and have made several trips with Curt Walters to France, Spain, Austria, England, and Italy.”

Back at home, Moyers prefers to paint with oils.  “It’s what I learned,” she says.  “I love the depth of color, and it’s more forgiving; you can change things as you go along.  I also like the edges you can get with oil.”

Moyers finds inspiration no matter where she is.  “I can see something that gives me an idea, and the fact that we travel a lot opens up ideas of things to paint.  We enjoy going and seeing old architecture and great art, what people have done before.  It opens the door to new ideas and other ways of thinking.”

Closer to home, when Moyers is painting her figures, she finds models pretty much everywhere, often using family members and friends, as well as servers at area restaurants.  And, she adds, “almost everything you see in our paintings are things we own: horse [equipment] and costumes.  I try to research everything and make it as close to the period as possible.”

Moyers and John shared a studio for many years, but today have separate studios in a structure about 30 yards from their house.  “We just nee to be inside our heads and be on our own while we paint,” she says, adding that they do occasionally wander into each other’s space to visit and see what is going on there.

Asked what advice she would give to young artists, Moyers is quick to respond, “Draw,” she says.  “Paint as much as you can, but learn how to draw.  The digital age has arrived, and there are a lot of things being done that I don’t think are helping people.  They enable people to do things faster and do things mechanically, but they’re not learning to do things on their own.”

Moyers says she is grateful that she is able to create art every day, adding that to make a living at it is a bonus.  “I do not recall ever wanting to do anything else,” she says.  “It’s a drive, a compulsion that I can’t explain.  If I hadn’t found a way to pursue a career as an artist, I think I would have lost whatever sanity I have.  When one is truly driven to do something in the arts, it is all consuming and can’t be denied without losing a huge part of oneself. I’m grateful; I feel blessed.”