Raised amid the rolling hills outside of Billings, Montana, Christine Sutton has been making art since she could grasp a pencil, and riding horses since she could sit in a saddle. With an aptitude and an affinity for both, she graduated from the University of Montana with an art degree and worked as a horse packer, guide, NOLS instructor and preschool teacher. She now blends all of those loves into a life rich with art, kids, horses, and nature.
Christine’s cozy house south of Bozeman spills over with art, paint splatters, and toys. She paints in her dining room, usually with her two young children playing and a dog snoozing nearby. For her the lack of boundary between art and life is very intentional – the art is her life and she wants her kids to grow up seeing the work of making art, not just the end product.
Her paintings are a visual journal, further blurring the line between art and life. Some work is deeply personal, representing heartbreak, loss, and family ties. Her current project, a series of memory trees, is sparked by her mother’s progressive memory loss. The trees hold memories in their bare branches. The memories are often coded symbols, something to be unraveled or interpreted by the viewer.
Other pieces are simpler, showing the places and things she grew up with and loves – the undulating hills of Eastern Montana, barns, horses, and birds. Birds are a theme that carries through much of her work, from tiny chickadee studies to flocks of barn swallows on a large landscape.
No matter the subject material, her unique fingerprint is always visible. Her work contains a combination of sharp, clean lines offset by soft, weathered backgrounds on rough wooden bases. There is a scrappiness to her process, quite literally. She builds all of the wooden bases for her paintings and prints using scrap wood salvaged from alleys and construction sites. Inspired by a folk art toy given to her by a friend, she recently created an entire series of wave boxes, little dioramas with wooden waves that could be made to roll with the turn of a knob.
It is modern folk art: deceptively simple in appearance, created from humble materials, and yet deftly crafted. It takes a lot of work and technique to make her work look so charmingly rustic. Layer after layer of paint is applied, then sanded and scraped, revealing rich strata of color and texture. Parts are masked off with tape, painted, then carefully peeled to reveal the crisp lines below. Here again, her art imitates her life, a little rough around the edges at times, but with layers of experience building up a vivid, well-rounded whole.
In Montana you can find Christine’s work at tart in Bozeman, the Artists’ Shop in Missoula, the Toucan Gallery in Billings, and Birds and Beasleys in Helena. Christine’s personal website is littlebirdpainting.com. She will be in a two-person show titled “Memory Tree” with Billings artist Jennifer Eli French at the Paris Gibson in Great Falls in December, 2015.