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When Brian Timmer was a teenager in Wayland, Michigan, a friend gave him a gift of oil paints and thus sealed his fate. “I was like, ‘Now I’m a painter,’” he says. And so, from that point forward, he was.
Today, Timmer, now 42 and living in Cody, Wyoming, with his mixed-media artist-wife, Betsy Timmer, has his own gallery, where he sells his oversize paintings in the front, and paints in his studio in the back.
It wasn’t planned, this ideal gallery-studio situation, nor was the move to Cody, or even the style of painting that he’s best known for today. Like the art of creating itself, he prefers to let intuition — and a guiding force from above — lead the way. After getting a bachelor’s degree in painting, Timmer had left art to pursue a master’s in divinity. It was on a whim, or following that guiding force, that Timmer decided to start painting seriously again.
Then living in Lawrence, Kansas, he decided “out of the blue” that he would try to do a landscape painting. “I wasn’t painting regularly. I had never painted a landscape. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. My artwork in undergrad was primarily abstract kind of work. Landscapes seemed boring to me.”
Over the next several weeks, late at night, with an image of the Flint Hills on his iPad beside him, Timmer moved streaks of acrylic paint around a canvas set up in the corner of his basement, filling the space with ultramarine blue, crimson red, cadmium yellow, and shades of green.
“The acrylic paints dry instantly and provide a more energetic, gestural, and sometimes abstract quality to the brushwork,” he says. When it was finished, just for fun, he posted it on his Facebook page. It sold right away, and then he started getting commissions for more. He kept painting these big Kansas-inspired landscape scenes; over time, they grew on him, and the opportunities kept coming. Soon he switched to water-based oils. “They act like oils, dry like oils, but clean up like acrylics,” he says. And they allow him to do “subtle skies” — and to use not-so-subtle pops of color like the hot-pink Luminous Opera.
He was named best artist of Lawrence in 2018, but before he could accept the award, Timmer and his wife and two children, then 4 and 6, had moved to Cody, to be near her family. Things fell into place even before he arrived. A gallery-studio space downtown opened up, his Lawrence house sold in five hours, and someone called and asked if he would consider renting out his Lawrence studio space even before he had a chance to list it with an agent.
Now that he and his family are settled in Cody, his scope as an artist has continued to expand. These days, along with more landscape commissions than he can handle, he’s painting abstracts again and experimenting with collage, too.
One of his recent pieces, Everyone Needs a Hero, features a photo of John Wayne as a centerpiece, with random images torn from history books — a house on fire, trains about to crash into one another, a damsel in distress — floating around him. It came together like everything else for Timmer does: naturally and intuitively. “One of the TV channels in Cody is called GRIT. I enjoy watching old westerns. I love watching John Wayne in these movies for the same reasons everybody else does: the way he talks and just handles things.”
Yet for all of his vast landscape paintings and now a John Wayne piece, too, Timmer still doesn’t consider himself a Western artist. “If you look at traditional Western art, I’m not that kind of artist,” he says. “I don’t do realism, and I’ve never painted cowboys and Indians. But I’m fascinated by the people and the culture here, and I’m trying to find my voice in the middle of this. Painting Wyoming is challenging. The landscape is so technical and diverse with the rock and the sagebrush. I can see why historically Western art has been high realism, because it’s one way of handling the information.”
Every morning, he heads to the studio to paint. If it’s winter, when the gallery is quiet, he might have a western on. Or he’ll have music playing through “these great Monitor Audio Silver RS6 speakers” (he favors John Prine and Robert Earl Keen, “whose Americana style reflects the simplicity of everyday life”). And he’ll probably be drinking coffee (“peaberry!”). He’ll step up to the canvas, pick up a brush, and start. Mostly likely, it’ll be a landscape, maybe even something just outside. “I can’t believe I resisted painting landscapes for so long,” Timmer says, dipping into a puddle of cerulean blue. “I never tire of these big-sky scenes. I love it.”
Timmer Gallery is located at 1371 Sheridan Ave., Cody, Wyoming. Visit the artist online at briantimmerart.com.
From our April 2022 issue
Photography: (All images) courtesy Brian Timmer; (Cover image): We Americans
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