Individualized Experiences | Universal Themes
by Michele Corriel
Art is personal. Yet, it is universal. It is appreciated by everyone, but not everyone appreciates the same art. And that is the beauty of it. For some, art expresses the natural landscape, the shifting light, reflections glinting off a slow-moving trout stream. For others, art is not only about nature, but it also touches our humanity, much needed in this upside-down and inside-out world. Art affords us a place to land.
Montana’s deep-rooted history of art comes across in every cinematic glimpse we take in. Whether soaring across the state on the highway, winding through mountain passes, or meandering down a gravel road, dodging hailstorms or basking on the porch while the sun dips for the day. All of these experiences have been reflected by the artists who have come before and the ones who are coming down the pike.
In this issue we are looking at the various ways we can behold art. Kira Fercho extracts the deeply personal and channels it into her commissions. Courtney Collins, of Courtney Collins Fine Art, sifts through the world of local and international art to offer photos and paintings from those artists who touch her personally, in the hopes it will do the same for others. SAV Digital Environments breaks new ground with a concept showroom/gallery that speaks to the idea of an organic creative space, combining lighting with visually exciting art conceived in an atmosphere that nurtures the artistic in us all.
Kira Fercho: Catching a waterfall in a tea cup
“The experience is just as individualized as the clients. Some clients have photographs for me to work from and others are people I’d met five years before and will call me out of the blue.”
The rush of color. The pull of a landscape. The quiet calling of a summer sunset. Kira Fercho’s art shines from within. She has the joyful confidence of a painter who trusts her path. Whatever comes her way is the way she follows. She trusts that her artistic instincts will not lead her astray.
“I look at who comes into my life each day and enjoy it,” she says from her Billings studio. “I’m just so grateful that people let me into their lives.”
The most emotional and, oftentimes, most satisfying are the commissions that come through her door from all over the world. Intensely meaningful, full of energy, these range from portraits of loved ones now gone to paintings created to match color swatches.
“The experience is just as individualized as the clients,” Fercho says. “Some clients have photographs for me to work from and others are people I’d met five years before and will call me out of the blue. Some want me to design paintings for their whole house. Even pet portraits can be so emotional; they want their pets’ lives to be celebrated.”
About 80 percent of Fercho’s business is this kind of custom commission work. Whatever she paints, it is always an emotional process. Many of those clients end up having her do several pieces for them over the years. Due to the time and energy spent together, clients become friends.
“It’s about relationship-building,” Fercho explains. “That might not make sense to someone who went to business school or art school, but it’s important to me. I grew up in rural Montana and I don’t have to be a millionaire to survive. I’d rather have a good life and massage these great relationships.”
Quite a few of her clients ask her to paint scenes they’ve dreamed about. For example, one client went on a trip and came home deeply affected by a vivid dream that she wanted Fercho to paint.
“She described the dream-image as a mother earth figure,” Fercho says. “She related it as feminine, in her 60s, maternal, and knowing, with worldly advice to impart. It was important that she didn’t feel scary. Feminine but not sexualized. It wasn’t meant to be religious or mythological.”
Fercho worked on the painting for six months. It turned out to be an abstract composition that brought out the exact feeling the client wanted. “It was so cool when I presented the painting to her; I portrayed it exactly as she had dreamt it,” she shares.
Fercho’s style leans toward abstraction, while supplying the viewer an anchor to hold onto. Her paintings suggest themes but don’t complete every aspect of the composition. This way she leaves room for the viewer to participate in the work, to dialogue with it, and allow for it evolve.
“I really feel that’s one of the strongest points of my work. I give people just enough detail to figure out what’s going on and give them the ability to connect with the piece,” she says. “The relationship people have with the work will change, in the same way a piece changes inside a house with the varying light. But it should be an experience, and it’s kind of a living thing.”
People have compared Fercho to Charlie Russell, or maybe more of a marriage of Russell’s color with Ted Waddell’s feel for texture. Either way, it’s all about a subtle color shift. It’s easy to make a mountain look beautiful. But to make an open prairie look interesting – that’s something.
For example, Fercho’s most recent painting Night Ride is all about mood and the feeling of a man at peace with his animals. Her thick impasto style reflects the eastern Montana prairie, complicated and serene, with a sky turning to dusk. Her love of color explodes in the foreground, with wildflower hues flicked against the idea of animals grazing, and a solitary man astride his horse, shoulders at ease, head bowed in contemplation.
“In fact, I feel like painting is a bit like trying to catch a waterfall in a tea cup. I have so many ideas and
only one lifetime of painting to share them.”
“The setting for this piece is in the Billings area, where I grew up,” Fercho says. Her familiarity with the landscape comes across as memories. “I love the narrative element in my paintings, because they oftentimes tell stories about very interesting people.”
Fercho cannot imagine getting painter’s block. She finds inspiration everywhere. Inspiration comes from color and texture, from what the eye focuses on and what it leaves out, and of course, the emotions and energy those things bring with them.
“In fact, I feel like painting is a bit like trying to catch a waterfall in a tea cup,” she says. “I have so many ideas and only one lifetime of painting to share them.”
Courtney Collins Fine Art: Building relationships in Big Sky
Pure grit and determination enabled Courtney Collins to open her own art gallery in Big Sky. The fact that her clients followed her there makes this success story even more sweet. When the art gallery Collins worked for closed its doors, Collins just could not walk away from Big Sky. She’d come to love the town and the artists she’d worked with throughout the years.
“Somehow, I found the courage to open this gallery,” Collins says. It was July 2020. A scary time. But that did not deter her. Collins credits her success to Big Sky itself. “It’s thriving. Big Sky booms year-round, with world-class skiing and fly fishing. And it’s the gateway to Yellowstone National Park. All of this is what makes my gallery what it is, and why artists want to be in my gallery.”
Within the last year an entirely new Town Center blossomed. “It’s like Madison Avenue in New York City, and it’s still growing strong,” Collins says. She noted that a new major luxury resort is set to come to Big Sky and there are new restaurants, hotels, and multimillion dollar homes going up in Big Sky all the time.
“It’s very exciting to be located in this new Town Center,” she adds. “It’s the perfect place for artists to have their art seen. And the best thing about it is that I get to be a part of it all. I get to work in this incredible environment.”
Because Collins has been in Big Sky for 13 years, she’s built a network of relationships with her artists and the people in the community. As she explains, “Those relationships bring value and appreciation of the clients for the artists and the artists for the clients in this very special place.”
“It’s very exciting to be located in this new Town Center. It’s the perfect place for artists to have their art seen.”
Having a gallery in Montana means being able to show works by artists that resonate with people who live here, work here, and play here. It means understanding Western art as a genre and not as a cliché. It also means going beyond the expected with work by abstract artists, contemporary photographers, and exemplary sculptors who embody the spirit of place. Collins proudly shows the works of many renowned artists including Kevin Redstar, John Banovich, Miles Glen, Ben Pease, Kenneth Peloke, Greg Woodard, Robert Osborn, Jill Garber, Ben Steele, and Cyrus Walker. And David Yarrow.
David Yarrow, an internationally renowned photographer, uses his lens to create cinematic tableaus. He combines unlikely combinations of subjects in large-format black and white portrayals, often with the proceeds going toward charities. His work is narrative and unexpected, bending the idea of stereotypes into fresh perspectives.
“When people walk in the gallery, they always gasp at these fabulous, larger-than-life photographs,” Courtney says. “He’s such a storyteller; he really draws you in. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.”
In Yarrow’s piece Hostiles, a captivating scene of his own making, he presents characters from Westerns sidling up to a bar peopled with the Fur Trader, the Native American, the Gold Miner, and the patched one-eyed Geezer while John Wayne’s True Grit plays in the background. The “cowboy” character, a sultry black-clad woman, looks at the camera and a white wolf stalks down the snow-covered bar, also staring straight out and mesmerizing the viewer. Yarrow plays with stand-ins for ideas, juxtaposing so many characters with so many backstories that you just get sucked in.
“I really wanted him in the gallery. His work speaks to the power of color, space, and exposure to the elements. Sometimes he uses different elements within the work, such as sawdust. His paintings are really just poetry in color.
“David considers himself a storyteller guided by filmmakers, like the Cohen Brothers, who focus on making the backdrop as an additive, not an afterthought,” Collins says. “It makes you think. His work evokes excitement. It takes you away. And it’s really a huge privilege to sell his work.”
Another artist Collins feels lucky to have hanging in her gallery is abstract painter Ed Nash. Nash’s embrace of the Japanese aesthetic Wabi-Sabi, often defined as the beauty of imperfection, comes across on his large-scale canvases in drips and washes that express an acknowledgement of the melting façade of time.
“I interviewed with Ed so he would hire me, because his work was so unique and special,” Collins says of Nash’s grand prismatic style. “I really wanted him in the gallery. His work speaks to the power of color, space, and exposure to the elements. Sometimes he uses different elements within the work, such as sawdust. His paintings are really just poetry in color.”
Wabi recognizes beauty in simplicity, asking us to detach ourselves from vanity. Sabi teaches us about age/decay and hints at beauty beneath the surface. Taken together, Wabi-Sabi suggests a philosophy for staying in the moment and accepting life with all of its broken pieces. In Nash’s paintings, this is expressed through the abstraction of nature, the sublime experience of the wild, and an embrace of the unfinished, which allows the viewer to be part of the process.
“Nash’s work has been in museums and historical spaces,” Collins says. “He adds a lot to my gallery, and everybody seems to want his pieces.”
Medium Gallery at SAV Digital Environments: Where light, technology, & art converge
Expanding the definition of the workplace, SAV Digital Environments’ studio on the northeast side of Bozeman now includes artwork along with innovative sound, lighting, and visual augmentation for enhanced living. The recent addition of fine art showcases pieces from various galleries in the Gallatin Valley and Big Sky, including Visions West Contemporary and Echo Arts.
Cory Reistad, President of SAV Digital Environments, saw a need for creative spaces. The idea to bring artistic/design people together in one building meant being able to nurture a synergy of innovation that crosses disciplines and encourages people to reach beyond the everyday in whatever they are working on. Aside from the artwork, SAV also houses the firm Minarik Architecture and Open Studio Collective. The result is a tangible collective where energy, like filaments, zing through the air.
“We call the gallery aspect of the business Medium,” Reistad says. “It adds to the fusion of collaborators that can coexist inside one space.” They also joined the Bozeman Art District, to be part of the growing contemporary art scene on the north side.
Next March he intends to open a satellite space in Big Sky that will also feature an Italian furniture design collective from Studio Como, a luxury European design showroom with a Rocky Mountain aesthetic. “That space, a larger space, is under construction now,” Reistad says. “There’s so much art out there, and our idea is to provide more representation for artists and to expose clients to the refined aspects of their homes.”
“We call the gallery aspect of the business Medium. It adds to the fusion of collaborators that can coexist inside one space.”
–Cory Reistad, President, SAV Digital Environments
Medium turns the notion of a traditional art gallery around, by putting creative people actively working on projects in the same space as the art hanging on the walls and displayed on pedestals, along with unique rugs underfoot. The beauty of this kind of makers space is it that it speaks to people on an intuitive level, opening them up to possibilities they may not have seen before.
“Right now, we’re working with existing galleries,” Reistad says. “We’re giving them additional spaces to showcase their artists and elevating the possibilities in the home marketplace. This was a way to take our own ideas and add an additional layer to high-end homes, an opportunity for clients to perhaps see really good art in the context of their own intimate environments.”.
The lighting they showcase works on a similar level as the artwork, adding signature aspects to a space that supports how humans experience indoor environments in the modern age. Ketra lighting, installed with tiny computer chips in every bulb, allows the client to customize every space, according to the time of day, or the mood of the moment.
“Gone are the days of just dimming the lights,” Marketing and Creative Director Scott Abel says. Abel picks up a hand-sized remote and touches one of the buttons. Lights change from cool to warm, colors subtly shift, and what was a workday environment morphs into a “sunset, sit on the deck, and sip a glass of wine” evening feel.
“Synchronizing our circadian rhythms to support better health, human-centric lighting can adjust our daily lives, promoting overall well-being by enhancing concentration while improving motivation and productivity. Human-centric lighting dynamically changes throughout the day to precisely mimic the temperature and intensity of natural light outside, or you can take full control and adjust the mood yourself with a full range of advanced color and dimming capabilities.”
–Scott Abel Marketing & Creative Director, SAV Digital Environments
“We install advanced lighting tuned specifically to the needs of the client to enrich their living space,” Abel says. Not only do the “white” bulbs change from cool to warm, but the colors can change, too. He touches another button and the white overhead lamps switch to orange, then blue, and again to pink upon demand. “The command can also be voice-controlled. Our idea is to keep things clean and sleek with tons of technology packed behind the scenes.”
The entire system can be timed to the rising and setting sun.
“Synchronizing our circadian rhythms to support better health, human-centric lighting can adjust our daily lives, promoting overall well-being by enhancing concentration while improving motivation and productivity,” Abel says. “Human-centric lighting dynamically changes throughout the day to precisely mimic the temperature and intensity of natural light outside, or you can take full control and adjust the mood yourself with a full range of advanced color and dimming capabilities.”
The system can be fine-tuned to spotlight details with a “vibrancy control” from artwork to a bouquet of freshly cut flowers. “We consider ourselves to be creative problem solvers,” Abel says.
“We’re enhancing living environments with art, furniture, and technology in ways people just haven’t experienced before.”
–Cory Reistad, President, SAV Digital Environments
And that may be thanks to the imaginative environment Reistad creates in the workspaces. Like a collective of art studios, the organic development of ideas and solutions stems from exposure to creativity weaving in and out and around the space. Ideas build off of each other. Whether it is subconscious or just “something in the air” time and again, studies have shown that creatives beget creatives.
“We’re really excited about the direction we’re taking with SAV Digital Environments,” Reistad says. “We’re enhancing living environments with art, furniture, and technology in ways people just haven’t experienced before.”