Next weekend in a small house across the street from the Spokane River in Peaceful Valley, a handful of artists will exhibittheir work.
The house has been converted into Shotgun Studio, a place where artists gather and participate in shows and painting classes with live models. The artists include John Thamm, Darrell Sullens, Jared Anderson, Tom Quinn, Charlie Hamm, Elsie Stewart and Natalie Utley.
Utley, 28, is Stewart’s daughter. “I knew she would be an artist,” Stewart said. “She drew all the time and she has an artist’s temperament; quiet, introspective, and observant. Her hand/eye coordination was pretty good, too.” While Stewart painted, Utley would be working with her own set of paints, studying her mother’s style while finding her own.
At North Central High School, Utley took every art class that was available and then went on to study at Northwest College of Art in Poulsbo, Wash. After a year, she left. “There was too much partying going on,” she said.
Upon her return to Spokane, she enrolled at Spokane Falls Community College for more art classes but that wasn’t her cup of tea either. “Doing art for school felt more like a burden,” she said, “There’s so much pressure to get a degree. I don’t care about a degree. I just want to learn.”
Utley married and had three children, and her priorities and perceptions changed.
“Soon after my first child, I experienced a new sense of awe and wonder of creation. The simplest of things would excite my daughter – flies, petals, blades of grass. I wanted that appreciation for all things large and small. I really began slowing down, soaking it up, seeing that every day is a new day with new wonder and beauty. I wanted to paint it, capture it and humbly celebrate life, to be thankful for it, enjoy it and love it,” she said.
Working in acrylic paint on canvas or clayboard, Utley captures the beauty in the world through landscapes, birds and the occasional portrait like the one of her husband and his dog. Her style is soft and realistic; introspective studies of things often overlooked.
Walking into her North Side home, you cannot help but smile at the “imagination land” that takes up half of the main living room; it is a child’s playground complete with a bar to hang from, all kinds of art supplies including paper, glitter, scissors and paint, and projects in various stages of completion. On an easel in another part of the room sits one of Utley’s pieces, waiting to be finished.
Utley is not in a hurry. She simply wants to paint and to raise good kids. She doesn’t worry that they run around barefoot and explore their property freely, spreading their arms and running like they might take flight.
“I hope that with my paintings I can catch a little of that wonder and beauty,” she said.