Coming full circle
Artist to lead pastel workshop in Big Sky Aug. 24-26

By Sarah Gianelli EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – Great Falls artist Steve Oiestad sold his first painting in 6th grade. It was of a caribou, he remembers, and he made it in the same medium he still works in today—pastels.

“I like the color better because you’re working with pure pigment,” Oiestad said, explaining that if you extracted the oil out of oil paint, pure pigment is what would remain. He also prefers the relatively obscure medium because pastels are light—convenient for painting in plein air—dry fast, and don’t fade.

“I like the brilliance of the color and it doesn’t change … what you put down is basically there forever,” he said.

But many years would pass before that young boy sketching animals on his family’s ranch near Big Timber, Montana, would dedicate himself full time to his passion for art-making, as he does today.

Oiestad created “Evening Overview” for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Public Lands Council’s 50th anniversary. The scene depicts ranchlands northwest of Red Lodge, Montana.

 

Oiestad pursued a degree in art at Montana State University but soon switched majors to agricultural education.

“During that period everything was pretty much modern art with a ‘do your own thing’ [approach], and I didn’t feel like I was learning anything,” he said.

Oiestad is glad he took the path he did. Working in the agricultural industry allowed him to live in places like Poland and Africa.

But in the early 2000s when he was relocated to Great Falls for work, Oiestad began to turn his focus back to art, and began to cultivate relationships within the healthy community of Western artists in the region. He took a part-time job preparing exhibits at the C.M. Russell Museum, and rented a downtown studio where his neighbors were other working artists. Many of them remain close friends and are fellow members of the Montana Painters Alliance, a group that gets together twice a year for “paint outs” in different parts of the state.

“It’s really unique,” he said about the tight-knit community. “I’ve never been anywhere else where all the artists basically get along, and there’s no competitive thing [among us].” Every Thursday the group meets for an artist lunch, and every year they participate in the big C.M. Russell Exhibition and Sale during Western Art Week.

Today, Oiestad works out of a home studio on a ranch in Fort Shaw, Montana, 25 miles outside of Great Falls. Set along the Sun River, it overlooks wheat fields, cows, and a duck preserve.

It is almost as if the artist has come full circle—painting the wildlife, Western landscapes and cowboy scenes that were part of his day-to-day life as a child.

“I know about [ranch] life and have a lot of respect for what they do,” said the artist. “They’re tough people but they’re also really, really, good people. I want to capture that.”

He believes people are drawn to iconic scenes of the West because they have a calming effect, and represent a dying lifestyle as small ranch owners are being displaced by corporate agricultural operations.

“It’s a way of life that’s kind of fading. There’s a real nostalgia to the cowboy life, but for the cowboy it’s a pretty tough life. It’s kind of like the art business,” he said, lightening the mood. “You never know where the next paycheck is going to come from.”

Steven Oiestad will lead a pastel painting work shop in Big Sky over the weekend of Aug. 24-26. Visit bigskyarts.org for more information.