Madeline Kiel, a Nashville-based artist channels her passion for people into portraits of figures from the West. We dug into Kiel’s art inspiration and passion for the West in an exclusive Q&A.
COWGIRL: Tell us a little about yourself.
“I was raised on the clean air of Northern California, gold mining with my father in the American River, endless horseback riding with my mother, and southern rock late in to the night with friends. I grew up on a cattle ranch south of Tahoe, California, and just north of San Francisco. My father is a computer engineer and my mother, the rancher. Whether it was riding horses across the ridges of mountains, backpacking through national parks, traveling all over Europe, or camping in the backyard, my life was never shy of moments to be remembered. I grew up in a family that had a high value for experiencing life, daring to dream and put action to whatever they set out to do. This trait stayed with me and has led me all over the world!”
I became almost obsessed with painting, and painting specifically humanity. The pain, the grief, the success, the love, the loss, all of it. I then became entranced with the desire to capture people, their stories, their heart.Madeline Kiel
COWGIRL: Where did your passion for painting come from?
“I dreamt of being a painter since I was little, so I think that passion just was apart of me! From the age of 5-12 you could find me painting or drawing, most likely horses, daily. I am not sure why I stopped, but around 14 years old I stopped painting. My guess is I was insecure and painting (mainly horses) wasn’t the “cool” thing. However, around 22 years old I decided to paint again. I remember the feeling of completing my first piece after years of ignoring my gift. My heart felt alive! I became almost obsessed with painting, and painting specifically humanity. The pain, the grief, the success, the love, the loss, all of it. I then became entranced with the desire to capture people, their stories, their heart.”
COWGIRL: What about cowboys, indigenous people, and Western icons makes them great subjects?
“The short answer is that I love the unseen history of cowboy and Native American culture. The first cowboy I ever painted was an immigrant from Mexico. His face was a deep leathery texture and I could imagine that his story is one of extreme bravery and hard work. I’d never heard of him before my google search, but once I had, I knew I wanted to give a face to this incredible soul. I called him El Paso Cowboy.
I paint Native Americans because they are rich with life and beauty. The first Native American I painted was Chief Crazy Horse. I remember learning about Crazy Horse on a reservation in North Dakota. Hearing about his power and passion was [so] incredibly moving, I couldn’t ignore it. After I painted him, I was asked to paint a portrait of Sitting Bull. Wow, another incredible soul I hadn’t heard about before! I became so moved while painting Sitting Bull I remember crying and thanking God for Sitting Bull’s life.
To sum it up my artistic vision is to create pieces that bring healing, capture the heart of a person and give a face to those who haven’t been fully seen in the past or present and that happens to be in the form of Cowboys and Native Americans.”
There’s something about the culture of working with land and animals that is incredibly free. For me, when I think of a cowboy, I think of someone grounded and wicked smart, yet wild and unconventional.Madeline Kiel
COWGIRL: What do you love about the Western way of life?
“I instantly think of freedom! There’s something about the culture of working with land and animals that is incredibly free. For me, when I think of a cowboy, I think of someone grounded and wicked smart, yet wild and unconventional. Plus, growing up in Western culture is something I miss daily now that I live in the city. [I] couldn’t tell you how many times a week I dream of dodging town, getting my horse back, and starting over in New Mexico.”
COWGIRL: You are also a musician – tell us a little bit about your music.
“Honestly, my art and music stem from the same vein. People. I love telling both my own [and] someone else’s stories. One of my favorite songs I’ve written is called Wolves At The Door. I wrote it with my friend Larry Weiss who wrote Rhinestone Cowboy. The song is my journey through life and how it seems like I’ve had to avoid several “wolves at the door”. I think I’ll be releasing it soon!”