As the grandson of a cattle rancher and son of an art teacher, it is no surprise that Greg Kelsey is an award-winning western sculptor. Growing up in the western lifestyle in Oklahoma and Texas, Greg is drawn to the spirit of The West and his every day cowboy way of life is inspiration for his art. The success of his work comes from the authenticity he brings to his craft—rather than just having an appreciation of The West, he lives and breathes it, and that realness appears in his sculptures. Greg aims to portray real life through his art and he immerses himself in his subject matter, the western lifestyle.
How has growing up in the western lifestyle shaped you as a person?
“Growing up in the western lifestyle—my granddad had a longhorn herd and a commercial beef herd—gives you a lot of confidence to be able to do a lot of different things, because with ranch work there is a lot that you have encountered and been exposed to—from animals, to equipment, to science. So even though you have lived a rural life, you have been given a lot of confidence to go out and try other things while having an understanding of how things work without a lot of outside interference.”
How has it shaped you as an artist?
“All the influences come from family, how I was raised, and where I was raised; it was all very western. And that's a nice place to create from—it’s a very western feeling to be able to go create from that background. I am able to go at it from a life lived and the confidence of what that kind of life just gives you. It is in everything I do.”
How do your experiences, such as being on the back of a bucking horse, influence your art?
“It is about being as deeply immersed into a subject matter as you can be. That is what we all want to do when we are going after things—immerse ourselves in them. And if you want be great at it, you're dang sure it's not a part-time deal. For instance, when you're sculpting a bucking horse, in order to pull that off you need to know the feeling of being on one. Because what that feels like translates to what you want to bring across. If you haven’t felt it yourself, it’s hard to bring that feeling across. In this genre, you live the lifestyle and create from it. So the cowboy lifestyle, it is professional and personal. You do it because you love it, but also it is research for your art. Everything I do, I create from. Those are my influences. And it's worked, not because it has had to; it's just because that's the way it's supposed to work. We're supposed to go after our subject matter; we're supposed to go after that lifestyle. If we're going to portray something through artwork, you have to immerse yourself in your subject matter. And I do. I just happen to really, really love showing up for work every day.”
What drives you to execute your craft?
“It's a performance-based situation. While form is the most important thing, we still need to tighten up certain areas that we want the viewer to look at. To do that properly, you have to live the life so you know how and what to tighten up. Otherwise, you would just show action but the true feeling wouldn’t come across. Most of the people we sell to have a discerning eye toward western subject matter, and they should. It is because they love the West and they understand authenticity. When you can be authentic with it and really portray how real-life is with it, they can recognize that authenticity. If I'm not feeling it, they're not going feel it. And there is a different kind of magic that comes from understanding that and knowing how to go after that. It is a mind, eye, hand relationship that goes on there, and your spirit is all in the middle of it, transferring it. You hope you get to bring that across. And if you're not, if you're not relaying that message back to the viewer, then you have to start back over. Getting that message across is what drives me.”
What specifically about the western lifestyle draws you so strongly to it?
“The independence part of it, for sure. There's a self-reliance that the western lifestyle just demands. And that's something about the West that we all get drawn to, and I don't want to see that part change. No matter what changes in the West, the spirit of the West needs to stay being what it is—the wide-openness of it, being with animals out there, and doing better for something and somebody else. It's not all just for you when you are doing those things out there.”
How does that translate over to art?
“For the cowboy part of it, you are out there feeding people. And the same thing goes with art: you're feeding a different need for them, because art is a need, as well. Think of all the different artists that have come from all over the world just because the West drew them to it. Certain places do draw us, and I'm glad that the West has drawn me.”
How do you capture themes of the West in your work?
“There are a lot of different textures to the West. For instance, right now I'm looking across from an irrigated pasture to some native grassland to sage, canyon, hillsides, ponderosa pines, and mountains. They all create different textures. The surface of the sculpture is all about texture. And the different textures that we experience—rocky to sandy—they become like visual feelers. If you can actually feel things with your eyes, and your brain tells you what it feels like, you get to play with those things. Out West, that's a fun place to play with that kind of a thought.”
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
“The spark that you have, it's just a promise. That's all it is. But you have to keep it. How good you are today is not near as good as you're going to be tomorrow if you keep at it. And it's the keeping at it part that creates great artists—the ones who make it look easy. They didn't start out that way. It's something that you need to stay working at. It's the most rewarding thing I've ever done. And it is pretty free as far as a human spirit gets to be living today.”