The Enlightenment of Seth Winegar
The young painter has conquered physical challenges to position himself among the top Western Americana landscape artists
August | September 2014 | August 2014
AFTER MANY YEARS UNDER THE RADAR, Seth Winegar is rapidly gaining altitude, soaring into the bucolic skies of Western Americana art. The prolific landscape artist, who turned 40 this year, is raising eyebrows and selling well at high-end Western galleries. His work sold out at the prestigious Coors Western Art Exhibit last January in Denver.
Winegar uses a muted palette, bold brushstrokes and strategic glazing to create classic, tranquil Western scenes. His favorite subjects are barns, old farmhouses, rivers and trees. The mostly self-taught painter draws inspiration from masters such as Richard Schmid and James Whistler.
“I was most inspired by Michael Coleman, the Utah wildlife artist. I couldn’t get enough of him,” Winegar recounts. “When I was in high school, just learning to paint in oils, I called Mr. Coleman and he invited me down to his studio. He was so generous. I just kept looking at his work. I thought, ‘Man I love this stuff.’ Right then and there I knew I had to be an oil painter. I didn’t care what it was going to take or what I would have to give up.”
“I tried painting wildlife like Coleman, also horses, but I wasn’t very good at it. I kept going back to landscapes, especially barns. Most people think of Western art as cowboys and Indians and horses. I think my barns are Western, too. Where do you think those horses hang out at night?” Winegar has built his career on his uncanny command of subdued, close tones. “I’ve always been kind of a dark painter,” he admits. Some have called his low-key landscapes “seductive.” Winegar chuckles at the characterization. “I just think of them as moody,” he counters.
"The Grazers" | Oil | 28 x 48 inches
Rose Fredrick, curator of the revered and eclectic annual Coors Western Art Exhibit, prefers the word “tonal” to describe Winegar’s masterful renditions. “It’s a stylistic choice, never clichéd, never gaudy,” she observes. “It’s eye-catching because the shapes are really harmonious. His barns have personalities of their own in a way. He kind of puts his own feeling, his own love and appreciation into the work.”
“Seth is still relatively unknown outside our region,” says Susan Meyer, of the venerable Meyer Gallery in Park City, Utah. It was his first gallery. When he sheepishly appeared at the door almost 20 years ago, a few small oils in hand, Meyer was intrigued. “He was a truly intuitive painter. There was an ethereal abstraction to his earliest landscapes. His collectors have been passionate and dedicated, drawn to a unique quality in his work that is hard to find in other landscape painters.”
Those first few paintings sold quickly and Meyer asked for more. Winegar remembers the first check from the gallery. “It was a lot more than I expected. I thought, ‘Holy smokes, I figured it out. I can make a living at this.’”
Making a living, even living at all, has never been easy for Winegar. He was born with cystic fibrosis, a devastating disease that attacks the respiratory and digestive system. It’s nearly killed him more than once. Six years ago he endured a risky, double lung and liver transplant that saved his life. “I was only a couple of weeks away from dying,” he shares. Last year his kidneys failed and he’s currently on dialysis three days a week, waiting for a new kidney. In spite of the setback, he remains upbeat and paints almost every day.
“Seth continues to be an inspiration to me; he’s been through so much,” Meyer confides. “Once he had a one-man show scheduled at the gallery, but he was so sick and struggling terribly. I went to his home to pick up some paintings and found him sitting in his studio, putting wire on one of his pieces for hanging. He handed me the painting and I suddenly realized he was too weak to stand up or help carry the work. That turned out to be a gorgeous show of great depth and variety. I’m so grateful to Seth. His hard work and strong sales, year after year, have kept this gallery profitable during some dramatic ups and downs in the economy.”
"River Boat" | Oil | 42 x 48 inches
Winegar has always been a hard worker, in spite of his disease. “I feel a real obligation to be self-sufficient and pay my own way. I could just collect disability, sit on the couch and watch TV, but where’s the quality of life in that? I am so lucky I found painting. It’s been my passion since I was 12 years old. I love to paint, I really do. I’d like my story to be an inspiration to others in similar situations. To help them realize they can follow their passion too, whatever it is.”
The Saks Galleries in Denver is the newest venue representing Winegar’s work. “I chose to represent Seth for several reasons,” says Catherine Saks. “Of course, his work is stunning. I am drawn to the subject, the palette and the sense of atmosphere in his work. I love the sunsets — very romantic. I would describe his work as traditional, representational but with a contemporary edge.”
Winegar’s work is evolving. “It’s interesting really, I think my paintings have become just a little brighter,” he says. He credits his wife, Brandi, with his “enlightenment.” He married five years ago, a package deal complete with step-children. “I realized that if I was going to progress any farther in life, fulfill my potential, I needed to have a family. I’ve got a great one.”
His perspective on the work has evolved as well. “When I was a kid, first starting to paint, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to be the best artist out there.’ As I’ve gotten older and seen how many wonderful artists there are, I’ve settled on being the best artist I can be. I just want to keep growing. Ten years from now I want my painting to have value, and I’m not talking about money. My paintings will be my legacy.” He pauses, raw emotion clouding his face for a moment before concluding. “I can’t have children of my own. My painting will be my little Seth Winegars.”
This Land is Our Land
The Denver Art Museum’s exhibit, Mi Tierra, showcases Latino experiences of the West as works of contemporary art
Custer’s Last Fight
The inspiration behind and curious legacy of an oft-seen barroom print
Redefining What’s Real
Artist Ed Mell captures Southwestern features in a way that has become as iconic as the ￼￼￼landscapes themselves
Photographing The West She Knows and Loves
An excerpt from Barbara Van Cleve’s latest book of photography, "Pure Quill," written by Susan Hallsten McGarry