Charley Shipley grew up in Arizona. From his earliest memories he was an artist; taking inspiration from his father, who had a gift but never pursued it. They would sit for hours, drawing animals together. They also spent time in the remote mountains and canyons of Arizona; hunting, fishing and hiking. This is where Shipley discovered his love of the outdoors and the amazing creatures that inhabit such magnificent country.
Shipley’s love for the outdoors has always inspired and motivated his art. He spent innumerable hours exploring the richness of the Arizona landscape. From the deserts to the high country to the depths of its underground marvels; Shipley found the vision for his art. On one trip in the rugged mountains of west central Arizona, Shipley and his father were on the road to Burro Creek, aptly named, in his dad’s old pickup. Along the way they encountered a band of wild burros; several adults and one colt made their way across the dirt road and up the hillside, below a bluff before they turned to watch. This later became the inspiration for Shipley’s first oil painting, at about the age of twelve.
After graduating from high school, Shipley and a buddy packed up his pickup and headed for Alaska. It took seven days to get there, camping along the road. They saw grizzly bears, wolves, moose and much more. After parting ways with his friend in Anchorage, he headed for Homer, camping on the ‘Homer Spit’. In cramped quarters, Shipley was quite prolific producing paintings; one he still has, of two bull caribou making their way down a mountain.
Shipley made several more trips to Alaska, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon; always passing through Montana before settling down in Prescott, Arizona. Shipley and his wife raised four children there. It wasn’t easy, selling paintings was never a guarantee, so they also ran a corner market in historic downtown Prescott, transforming it into a natural foods store. The market became a way of life; every family member worked there, from the oldest to the youngest.
During this time, Shipley pursued a passion he picked up as a teenager. He became a skilled falconer, flying hawks and releasing them after a season. Never to be considered a pet, they are always wild, but, one bird became a little bit more. He was a Harris hawk, named Rowdy. They spent years hunting together; the hawk treated the Shipley family as his pack mates. In the wild, Harris hawks hunt in packs, much like wolves. So, it was natural for the hawk to treat the family the same way. Shipley learned from this experience to see things from a totally different perspective. The hawk would always see an animal first, be it a rabbit, deer, coyote or bobcat. Shipley found there was wildlife all around him, but never seen. It taught him to look for the unseen.
In time Shipley and his wife Cindy, sold the business and moved to Montana. They settled in Helena, in an old mining cabin that had been added on to over the years. His studio is in the gulch, looking into the mountains south of town, where mule deer are in the yard every day. Montana is incredibly rich in wildlife.
One of their first camping trips in their new home was to the Rocky Mountain Front, along the Sun River. Late in the day, after they had set up camp, the conversation turned to grizzly bears, a common topic in this part of the country. Cindy kept reminding herself of the rareness of grizzly sightings, a stance Shipley labeled as wishful thinking. The next morning they packed up the truck and headed for the plains. Not a half mile from camp, a very large grizzly bounded across the river in front of them. Making the rushing river look like a puddle. A painting was crafted from that experience.
In fact, all of Shipley’s paintings come directly from his experiences. The painting titled ‘Only Six Months Till Spring’ was inspired by a trip to Canada. An early snow that dropped nearly 18” had stranded the Shipleys. The day after the storm, when some of the snow had cleared they were able to drive a short distance from town to find a wild bison herd. One of the bulls was near the top of a hill using his huge head as a bulldozer to remove snow to get to the grass beneath. His head was covered in snow and the sun came out as the clouds cleared revealing the imposing Rocky Mountain Front beyond.
Another of Shipley’s favorite subjects is the Little Blackfoot River. After a lengthy winter, Shipley was out late one evening along the Little Blackfoot. It was overcast and the river was still high from snowmelt and everything was pretty much that dull gray color that pervades at the end of winter. However, as the sun started to disappear behind the distant mountains, it momentarily peaked out from beneath the clouds and lit everything with a wonderful golden glow. It didn’t last long, but it was enough time to record the scene.
Shipley’s work has been influenced by many artists over the years, both past and present. Some of the more prominent ones include George Inness, John Singer Sargent, Andrew Wyeth, Cyrus Afsary, Greg Beecham, Peter Nisbet and Valoy Eaton. His formal education consisted of art, design and drawing classes in college and intensive week long workshops over the years. He has been featured in Southwest Art and Western Art Collector and has shown in the Western Masters and Out West Art Shows. He has also been in the prestigious Charlie Russell Art Auction held in Great Falls, Montana each year.
Remote, lonely, forgotten, neglected, untouched and wild places such as the rugged deserts of Arizona or the snow covered peaks of Montana inspire the artist. These settings, along with bold lines and ample use of paint and contrasts between light and dark, cool and warm give life and character to Shipley’s work. His paintings reflect the raw, yet peaceful beauty of this world, removed from the crowded hustle and bustle of everyday life. His paintings invite the viewer to remember a distant time or place in the natural world that holds special meaning to them. It is his hope, that his paintings can inspire a greater appreciation for our Creator’s handywork and the artistry in nature.
Charley and his family have moved recently to Durango and we are very pleased to have him join us here at Mystic Trinity Fine Art Gallery.