By Todd Wilkinson EBS ENVIRONMENTAL COLUMNIST
To encounter AD Maddox’s school of trout up close, you quickly realize why she lives up to her reputation as an artistic tour de force. But, more importantly, to meet the painter herself firsthand, it also becomes abundantly clear why she is, by personality, nothing less than an unstoppable force of nature.
On the summer day we rendezvous at her new gallery in Livingston, Maddox’s latest scenes—many, the most ambitious of her career—hang on interfacing walls.
Before us hovers a monumental-sized Pop Art depiction of a rainbow trout soon to find residence in a young multi-millionaire’s Great Room; nearby, a series of smaller works explore the abstracted patterns of different fish species; and not far away are piscatorial portraits mesmerizing in their translations of water, shadow and light.
Equally conspicuous, however, are numerous blank spots indicating where other paintings used to be. That’s because just the day before, within hours of opening her gallery near the corner of B and Callender streets, Maddox watched 10 of her original canvasses quickly sell. Catch and release, she was reminded again, applies to fish, not art.
“If not completely on her own, then within a very narrow kind of movement in the sport, AD Maddox has brought to life an entirely new style of fishing art, a kind photorealism on steroids,” says Marshall Cutchin, a former longtime fishing guide in Key West, Florida, who lives today in Fort Collins, Colorado, and makes regular pilgrimages to Montana.
Cutchin publishes the online fly-fishing lifestyle magazine “MidCurrent” and every time he shares a new Maddox original, reaction is off the charts. “AD’s approach has since influenced many other artists, photographers and filmmakers. And remarkably her style continues to expand—always a step or two ahead of what could be expected.”
In addition to having her work featured on the covers of publications ranging from “Gray’s Sporting Journal” to L.L. Bean’s widely-circulated catalog, and adorning the hulls of StealthCraft boats and products sold by Montana Fishing Company, Patagonia enlisted her to help design displays at its retail stores as well as imagery put on its popular clothing.
Even when she’s casting or shooting clay pigeons, she does it with style, though these days she’s also apt to navigate the whirlwind of rising fame by unwinding on the back of a classic Ducatti 999. In Montana, where there’s a liberal speed limit on the interstates and rural backroads, she savors the liberating feel of her platinum-blond locks blowing out the back of her helmet, the sweet ambiance and scents of nature inundating her as she reaches warp drive.
Maddox’s effusive enthusiasm for the outdoors is both genuine and infectious; so, too, her art.
Born Amelia Drane Maddox in Nashville, Tennessee, those who knew her in her childhood say she was regarded as something of an art prodigy by her grade school teachers.
Hunting and fishing are engrained in her DNA. Her grandfather, Dan, was a renowned safari hunter and won prestigious awards from the Weatherby Foundation. Her father, Jim (known to many readers here for his involvement with Shikar Safaris) advised her not to attain an art degree in college because he believed she would have a difficult time making a living. Ironically, the advice turned out to be brilliantly prescient but not for the reasons her dad intended.
Drawn to the West, Maddox moved to Jackson Hole and lived there for 10 years. Maddox’ big break in art is not unlike the almost mythic tales of actors and models being discovered at coffee shops.
One day she walked into Center Street Gallery in Jackson and had a conversation with its owner, Beth Overcast, who had seen flourishes of Maddox’s talent in decorative chairs and furniture she painted. Overcast offered to show a trout painting and within 20 minutes of its arrival the piece sold for $1,000. Based on that reception alone, Overcast gave Maddox an advance to deliver more trout portraits and from there, things started to snowball.
Eventually, she went back to Nashville and immersed herself in the studio, free of distractions. Yet she grew homesick for the West. Her father had purchased a home up Tom Miner Basin near the wild back doorstep of Yellowstone National Park.
“I feel like Livingston is where I’m supposed to be,” Maddox says. “Everything I’ve been working toward has led me to this place at this moment in time.”
Impressionist Scott Christensen, an outdoorsman who is counted among the top American landscape painters and won the coveted Prix de West gold medal, has taken note of Maddox’s work.
“She has grown a lot in taking her designs to a whole new level,” he says. “She’s paying attention to her edge work instead of being overly graphic. You can see the maturation that’s happening. AD Maddox is on a roll.”
Todd Wilkinson is the founder of Bozeman-based “Mountain Journal” and is a correspondent for “National Geographic.” He’s also the author of “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek” about famous Jackson Hole grizzly bear 399.