Cattle are commodities in the beef and dairy industries, but West Texas artist Teresa Elliott manages to evoke the creature's natural beauty in an ongoing series of beautiful bovine oil paintings. More incredibly, Elliot's practice captures the sheer variety of cows that exist. Most people think of cattle as a homogenous species, penned in and domesticated throughout human history. But Elliot paints each of her cows as a true individual and marvel of creation, albeit one of human interventionist breeding. Unlike some animal art, which turns them into human-like narcissists or uses them as the basis for dreamlike pop art, Elliott's work is purely representational but still achieves a sort of gorgeous otherworldliness.
Elliott tells Creators that she gave oil painting her full attention after seeing April Gornik's work in a Dallas gallery in the late 1990s. She stood in front of the artist's colossal pieces, which depicted cool, moist landscapes devoid of people, and found them very soothing and interesting.
"Texas is oppressively hot in the summer, so my emotional response was one of relief and awe that an oil painting could be somehow as deceptively simple and powerful as her work," says Elliott. "I was swept off my feet and it got me to thinking about the possibility of shifting my focus from commercial fashion work for local retailers to landscape painting."
As for many people, both in Texas and other parts of the United States, seeing cows in landscapes is common for Elliott. Her artistic interest in them, however, came about after seeing a black longhorn with white candelabra set against a dark field of green.
"Cows were always in my peripheral vision. but this one made me look twice and I visited the herd soon after," Elliott says. "I saw shapes, color, values and something that interested me, so I pursued it."
For 45 years, Elliott has been photographing things that interest her, and this practice, as well as her interest in illustration and the visual arts, intersect in the cow paintings. Elliott, who also worked in illustration in the past, uses her own photographs and a bit of computer-aided graphic design to create the artistic framework for the paintings. From there, she begins working with oil paints on canvas.
"Most of us see this part of the food chain from distance, making the subject emotionally removed," says Elliott. "I work closely with the cow for an immediacy that creates an instant connection that surprises many viewers."
Apart from her cow paintings, Elliott also does quite a few oil paintings of humans covered in mud. Like her encounter with the black longhorn, this body of work came as a surprise. "I just happened to catch some kids playing freely in a gully full of rainwater after a flash flood and captured something interesting," she says. "A big part of painting for me is all about about editing and good design."
Elliott, who regularly shows her work, has two upcoming exhibitions. Opening September 23, she will be part of Artists for the New Century at Bennington College in Vermont. On November 3, she will be part of Two Person Show with artist Jill Carver at InSight Gallery in Fredericksburg, TX. Click here to see more of Teresa Elliot's work.