By MANDY MARKSTEINER
Looking at a Chris Pennington painting is a lot like going on an incredible hike and taking in the most spectacular view. That could be because she often gets her inspiration while on hikes or horseback rides near her home in the open and secluded hills between Moriarty and Edgewood.
“Horse rides are a big part of my creative process,” Pennington said. “I always see things that I have to paint.”
Creativity is a driving force in her life
Pennington grew up in Los Alamos and said that ever since she was a child she always felt like she needed art … she didn’t have a choice … creating was something she just had to do.
“Creativity is a driving force. I get a creative idea and keep moving forward until I make it happen. I get inspired and have to act on it,” she said.
Growing up she had parents who were very supportive of her art and she was able take a wide variety of art classes, she said. Pennington went on to earn a BFA in graphic design and fine art from Eastern New Mexico University. After she graduated, she initially focused on pursuing a career in graphic design. The competition was fierce, and the job didn’t immediately materialize so she started her own custom t-shirt company along with her husband Carlton, xltshirt.com. After a few years she got a job that let her make use of her college education, doing graphic design for proposals. When that job ended, she knew she needed to focus on painting.
“I delved into painting, and continued to work from home with the t-shirt business,” she said, adding, “It was freeing to be able to tell the whole story with images and color.”
Inspired by French Impressionists
When Pennington was in college, she did a student exchange for a semester in England. Before she went to school, she and a friend took a month to travel throughout Europe to visit some of the great museums of the world, including the Louvre in Paris. There she saw the display of French Impressionists.
“I had seen photos of these paintings in books but had never seen them in real life,” she said.
She was so inspired by that gallery and she knew right away that when she painted, she wanted to work toward that.
“The colors were so intense. The images were clean and there was an economy of stroke,” she said. “That was what I wanted to work toward. I still go back to those paintings.”
It’s all about color
As much as she loves impressionism, her work doesn’t strictly follow that style.
“I may not qualify as an impressionist,” she said. “But maybe a ‘colorist’.”
Pennington started painting using watercolor, but even watercolorists would agree that it is not a forgiving medium.
“If you make a mistake it’s start-over-time,” she said.
She uses acrylics because she loves the intense bright colors.
“I’m attracted to color combinations I haven’t seen before, lit in a certain way. It inspires me to go home and paint,” Pennington said.
There is a wide variety in her work and she rarely paints the same subject. There are Aspen forests, desert landscapes, flowers, waterfalls and horses that are so lifelike you think they’re going to run right off the canvas.
“Each painting is a lesson,” she said. “I’m always evolving.”
See Pennington’s Work at the Karen Wray Gallery
Pennington is one of the newest artists at the Karen Wray Gallery and her work, including Valle Grande Herd, is included in the group Holiday Art Show. The Holiday Art Show is an annual tradition at the Karen Wray Gallery. All the artists represented by the gallery bring in work that is either seasonal or perfect for gift giving.
The Karen Wray Gallery is at 1247 Central Ave., Suite D-2, in Los Alamos. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday. Like their page on Facebook here.