Artist Q&A with Dusty Gilpin and Kristen Vails

Kristen Vails – Jael, 2018.

Dusty Gilpin - Untitled, 2018.


We are thrilled to showcase HORSEPOWER, the current exhibition by artists Dusty Gilpin and Kristen Vails at Halcyon Works.   We’ve asked them a few questions to find out a bit more about their work and processes.  Read on below!

What was the inspiration for your latest body of work?

Dusty Gilpin: A few years ago Kristen was working on a painting at home and I had never attempted to paint realistically with acrylics. Kristen is an incredible painter and one whose work I admire tremendously. I decided that I wanted to try my hand at painting, so I chose to paint a picture of a rusted old Ford F100. I’ve always been a car enthusiast, and the subject kept my attention. Since then, I always keep my eyes peeled for automobiles that would make interesting compositions for paintings. This is a body of 10 (9, one sold) automobile paintings that I have created in the last 6 months.

Kristen Vails: I have painted horses for as long as I can remember, but for this body of work I was really looking to add some secondary imagery along with the horses. I’ve always wanted my horses to evoke human emotion, so I had to idea to have my horses personify women from the Bible and their stories. I grew up in church, yet felt disconnected and unknowledgeable about the female figures. There are the well-known stories of course, but I wanted to dig into the stories of the lesser known women.


What is your process for developing a body of work?

DG: A majority of my paintings begin with a photo of a car I have encountered while cycling or driving around town. Sometimes when I’m at the hardware store, there will be an interesting car in the parking lot, so I’ll snap a quick photo. Kristen and I hand built and stretched all our canvases for this body, which just about doubled our time invested in each painting. I like to incorporate elements of spray paint in my work, so typically that is the first layer that is applied. Once a color palette has been established, I sketch the car and try to paint the subject as photorealistically as possible.

KV: For this show specifically, I spent a great deal of time researching and selecting the stories. I was looking for stories that inspired and interested me, yet I was also looking for stories that would allow me to incorporate and adorn the horses with iconic imagery. The thread, bees, sea shells, papyrus, streams and barley all allude to each woman’s story. I referenced various images of horses that I felt evoked a sense of each woman. I worked one painting at a time, sketching with pencil, then paint and layering washes of color to build the horses. The backgrounds are laid with layers of latex and blended into the horses.


What artist(s) influence your style the most?

DG: Quite honestly, Kristen has probably influenced this work more than anyone. I did not attempt this style of art until I met her. I am trained in sign painting, graphic design, and cartoon illustration. Before considering making art photorealistically, I painted and illustrated with a much more graphic style. This body was a learning process for me. The paintings I began with have a little less life than the final pieces I created.

KV: For painting, I have always been inspired by Wayne Thiebaud. His pastel palette, the way he lets color peek out from layers and his ability to literally make paint look delicious. There is an artist named Ashley Collins, whose work I saw in Santa Fe during college, that made me realize that art depicting horses can actually be contemporary and taken seriously outside of the western art world. I don’t think I would be painting where I am today if I hadn’t seen her work.


When did you first know you wanted to make art?

DG: I don’t think I ever had an option. I very luckily had the opportunity to grow up around a bakery and an art studio. Both my parents were self-employed craftspersons who cultivated my enthusiasm for creating. Drawing has been almost a daily ritual my entire life.

KV: It was never one major moment that I knew I wanted to make art. I was always drawing and painting as a child, and my parents noticed my talent and encouraged me. I pursued art in college because it was something I knew I had a talent for and thoroughly enjoyed doing. I do remember the first good painting I made in art school. The overwhelming encouragement from my professor and finally feeling proud of a piece I completed was probably the first moment I felt I had something worth pursuing.


What are you currently reading/listening to/looking at that fuels your inspiration?

DG: I have to be listening to something while I work or I’ll sing and whistle to my own annoyance. I love golden era hip-hop and 1970s ‘outlaw’ country. When I’m painting, I like to play long hip-hop mixes by Z-Trip or listen to my Spotify country playlist, Keep Every Body Country.

KV: [NOTE: no answer. will follow up shortly]


Featured Photo Credit: Quit Nguyen