Montana artist Kira Fercho paints aspen trees, horses and roaming buffalo herds against backgrounds inspired by his home country.
By the time Kira Fercho was 13, she was selling Montana landscape paintings in local gift shops for $100 apiece. Today, she still paints aspen trees, horses and herds of buffalo roaming across backgrounds inspired by her home country, but now her pieces fetch up to $50,000 and can be found in multiple galleries. and museums across the West as well as in the collections of celebrities such as Emmylou Harris, Dan Rather and Karen Pence. “It’s part of the small-town girl’s American dream plan that I have going on,” Fercho says with genuine appreciation for her good fortune.
“My grandfather taught me how to draw Joe Camel on the back of the cigarette pack,” says Fercho. “Technically, it was the first thing I learned to draw. I was 3 or 4 years old. From there, she drew the donkeys and other farm animals on her grandfather’s ranch. Her parents l noticed and signed her up for art classes so she could hone her natural skills. “I always thought painting was magic,” she says. escape and dream of something else. I always knew that painting was going to be part of my life. I just didn’t know how important my paintings were going to be. My paintings are very famous – and much more traveled than me .
King of Yellowstone
These days, Fercho wakes up at 4:30 a.m. every morning, hops in his Porsche 911 Carrera, and heads to his CrossFit class. After that, she heads straight to her studio, a 4,000 square foot space in the countryside just outside Billings that doubles as a gallery. She changes into paint clothes — leggings, tank top, baseball cap and apron — and swaps her Nikes for a pair of paint-splattered Birkenstocks.
By the time she stands in front of the easel to begin painting that day – usually four pieces at a time – she has already determined the range of dark and light in each piece. With meditative music playing in the background – “something Native American with some sort of flute or nature sounds” – she begins applying oil paint in thick layers with a palette knife instead. of a brush.
“A lot of it comes down to surface value and texture,” says Fercho. “If I don’t have a pretty good idea of what it’s going to be in the end, I can spend a ton of time in a painting and not turn it around too well. I can change the color a bit, but I can’t change a light source, and I can’t change the composition of a room.
Most of her finished paintings are so thick they are almost sculptural, with the thicker parts representing what is closest to the viewer and the colors evoking the subjects she knows best. Fercho describes the style as Modern Impressionism and herself as a Modern Impressionist or Western Tonalist. “The colors are great where I’m from – the Plains – so I really understand the slight variations in color.”
His pieces are large, 40 by 50 inches on average, and typically consist of at least 20 coats of paint – and sometimes as many as 50 – requiring three to five days in between to dry. A single piece can take nearly three months to complete. To meet her deadlines, she typically paints up to eight hours a day, with breaks for lunch and dinner. Sometimes she goes back there in the evening to work on them a little more.
Because she worked on it at all hours, the result is a finished work that changes as the light moves across it each day. “It’s exciting to see what the shadows and the drama of the room do. There are pictures I hung in my house for six years and every day they look different.
No matter what she’s working on—another landscape or the tepees she’s now also known for—almost all of Fercho’s paintings are commissions, which she approaches as collaborations. “I love working with people and hearing their thoughts on what they want to achieve, in terms of looks, and being the vehicle for that,” she says. “I naturally like to build things and I like to be the last step or part of the design process. Most of the time people help me find parts that are stronger than what I would have made myself. .
Still, the peaks and troughs, layered neutrals and pops of bold turquoise and red, are all hers. “What is unique about my paintings is their tactile nature. I like that general feeling,” she says. “This thick, tactile painting has always been my signature.”
Visit Kira Fercho online at kirafercho.com
Excerpt from the November/December 2021 issue
Photography: (Oyellow stone king) Becky Lee/courtesy Kira Fercho; (All the others); Michelle Willis/courtesy Kira Fercho
Cover image: Horsemen