We caught up with painter AD Maddox at her home in Montana and talked about art, fish and how she wraps them on canvas.
JTalking to painter AD Maddox is like jumping on a motorcycle and shooting it. Which one is something Amelia Drane (“Drane is an old surname”) Maddox is known to do. Back when she painted denim and “bug guts”—and decided to go by AD because it sounded masculine and men made more money than women in art—Ducati used a photo of her on one of her bikes wearing her flame – Painted jeans, blond hair seeming to fly in the wind. Enough wow.
She always impresses people. But these days it’s more about his art, which has evolved considerably. You’ll find her paintings in some of her favorite places in the West: Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Livingston, Montana – two great places where she indulges her passions for fly fishing and mustang hunting.
Working in Livingston in a commercial building where she has a front gallery – her 3,500 square foot “park” – she is busy with a trout series. “I work exclusively with a guide who catches the fish and holds them for me to photograph,” says Maddox. When it’s time to paint, she repairs herself in her studio.
Bear River Cutthroat
Mill Creek Cutty
“The only thing that matters is doing it – completing the cycles of action so that the attention is not scattered, it reduces confusion and allows focus. The most important ingredient is focus. It requires extreme concentration.
And, surprisingly, it requires an absence of natural light.
“Where I paint, the walls are literally black,” says Maddox. “Everything has to be blacked out, I wear black – no highlights – so I can get the color right. It’s crazy how much reflection can mess up your eyes when you’re trying to color. She has a special lighting system that allows him to paint at any time of day.” It’s very specific about the temperature of the bulbs: 5,000 Kelvin at a specific angle to the art overhead I have to make sure my lighting is perfect. It’s very intense and involved.
Much like Maddox, who says his meticulous approach is needed in “Value Painting,” which focuses more on the color group and varies from dark to light to remove photorealism from his oversized works. “The work is so detailed that the workload of a 30 by 40 inch canvas seems to double its size. The largest pieces are 3 by 4 feet, but I do orders of 4 by 6.”
You could say that she catches very big fish.
We caught up with Maddox at her home in Montana and talked about art, fish, and how she wraps them on canvas.
Cowboys and Indians: After many trips, you have settled in the West. Why?
AD Maddox: Jackson Hole was a place my parents took us to when we were younger; it was a family vacation spot. I learned to ski there when I was 10 years old. It was in my diary at 12 how touched I was by this magical place. When I was 20 or 21, I made the decision to move to Jackson. In my twenties, I made my mark working with a local company making T-shirts and painting clothes. I was a cocktail waitress at the time and met a lot of tourists. I went back to school in Denver doing computer art, but was confused working with the computer. I stayed in Denver for about three years and then made this big push to move back to Jackson Hole. This is where I really found my calling. I could think of when I was in Jackson. My head cleared up. It’s not that open now, but back then there was plenty of space. In less than a year, I was in a large gallery. All the while in Denver I was painting western horses and cowboys and doing trunk shows in Santa Fe to sell my art. After a few years in Jackson Hole, I moved to Livingston, Montana three years ago. It is a very creative and inspiring community. Many writers live here.
THIS : You are known for your fish paintings and Jackson Hole is a great base for fly fishing. Tell us about your first fishing trip.
Madox: I grew up fishing, but it was for bass and with the family. I learned fly fishing in 2000 or 2001. My dad had bought a vacation home and took me to Yellowstone River. He put a rod in my hand and taught me how to fly fish. At first it was uncomfortable and hard to throw, but I got into it very quickly. The first two times the fly was everywhere except in the water. I needed to catch the trout to get them to paint. I was already painting them and selling them. I needed more information than the photos I had to paint from. It was something new and exciting that I had never done. Integrating all this universe that I created: photographing, painting, fishing. I like having new experiences, especially with my father, who is 76 years old and still a fly fishing and hunting enthusiast.
Isolated Water Series #3
Mustang Series #6
THIS : When and where did you first realize how visually evocative fly fishing and trout are? What did you see?
Madox: In 1998, a gallery owner suggested that I paint trout as a possible motif for the gallery, so I got some visuals to be able to paint them. The first coin sold out in 20 minutes for $1,000. I was 28 and I thought to myself, Wow, it’s done. I wanted to paint and earn money so I could do what I’ve always loved. I had tried to pay my rent and my credit card bills by working in a sports medicine hospital, being paid a very small hourly wage and working hard. So there was money that could be made. But there were the fish themselves. You don’t see how amazing they are unless you bring them to the surface. Rainbow. Chestnut. Stream. Cut-throat. They are so electric in color. And they vary in their colors. You would never know if you didn’t get them out of the water. I was bringing beautiful hidden creatures from the river bed and making them visible. The different color combinations blew me away. Then I started to learn about them. Not all rainbows have the same number of spots on their fins. Depending on the river and the surrounding vegetation, the coloring varies. I saw how the trout were not fixed in their color. The cutthroat has a red slash on its gills, hence its name. I learned the salient features, then the variations. I found so much freedom in painting them.
THIS : Your work uniquely captures water. How to visually render the liquid, the movement, the light?
Madox: It is an art form in itself to put on canvas. When I first started doing the fish, I was doing portraits with someone holding them, and zooming in on the head. I would find a composition that I thought was aesthetic. Then I worked with some photos taken by [photographer and fishing guide] Tom Montgomery that he would give me to work. Some were in the water. Then comes the interpretation of water. I got so much feedback on how I render water. I didn’t know how I did it, it was just my artistic interpretation. I slowly but surely rose to fame for painting the water like no one had ever done before with these trout. Then I started putting the trout in the water. He evolved. I don’t like doing portraits anymore. Fish squeal when you take them out of the water; they squeal like a chicken. It causes me pain to inflict any distress. So now the fish stay on the line in the water near the surface so I can see the brilliant color coming through. My guide holds them for me in the water and I move around to get the perspective I need. Trout are not deprived and are not harmed. They are happy on the line. This is the least impact for the fish.
THIS : You are an outdoorswoman and an artist. What is the balance?
Madox: My main love in life is painting. In summer, I photograph; in the fall, I resume easel painting every day. I work on the balance of being able to go out and breathe. There’s another job to living a good, clean life outside of the studio. I have to keep living a good life every day and doing things well so I can focus on the easel. You have to keep your hands clean, keep your ethics in order. You can’t do crazy things and expect to perform at a high level. You must be a good person.
Visit AD Maddox online at admaddox.com. See more of his art and read about his mustang paintings here.
Excerpt from our November/December 2021 issue
Photography: (All images) courtesy of AD Maddox
Cover image: Boulder River Rainbow