Artist Riley Wolery freely admits he has always had a pencil in his hand and art on his mind.
“My mother, she would be the first one to tell you, I had a pencil in my hand before I could walk,” he said. “I have just always been drawn to art, no matter the shape or form. … It’s always been there from a very young age.”
Artists Ruby Hahn, John Potter, Kevin Red Star, Elyssa Leininger and 20 other artists will join Wolery at the Generations 2022 Art Show in Billings, Montana, on May 14. The exhibit will take place from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Petroleum Club. A VIP event is from 5 to 7 p.m. General admission is $5. The VIP tickets are $25 per individual and $40 per couple.
“This show would be my second show that I’ve curated,” he said. “And me personally, I’m trying to restructure the art scene that takes place here in Billings. I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of local people that are artists.”
As a child, Wolery refused to use color, preferring to draw using black, white and gray. His mother enrolled him in an art class to introduce him to new methods because she recognized his skill. After the class, Wolery began using color. His experience includes sculpting, photography and painting in addition to sketching.
“I’ve only been painting regularly for the last five years,” he said. “But as far as other forms of art, I like to try new things. Painting with acrylics is what I’m most comfortable with. But as far as trying new forms, I’m always game for that as well.”
While he creates most of his art in an organic way, Wolery also sets aside time to refine his techniques and develop new skills. It can be a challenge to carve out time for art since he works full-time. Among the local artists he knows, a few are full-time artists, but it is rare.
“Others that are in the same boat where I am, it’s where you have a Monday through Friday job, and we just do it when we have time,” he said.
Wolery hopes to become a full-time artist.
“I would like to see it to where I could make this a living someday,” he said. “I know it’s easier said than done. But my overall hope for these shows is each year that I do this, it gets bigger and bigger and more people are aware of it and more people come in.”
The Bowles family descendant gets inspiration from a variety of sources: the natural world, music and his Potawatomi heritage.
“Now lately, I’m getting more interested in my roots — learning about (Potawatomi) arts and art forms. And that’s where I learned more about Woodrow Crumbo,” Wolery said.
Crumbo, the Potawatomi artist, was known for his work celebrating the culture of the Potawatomi, Creek, Sioux and Kiowa nations. The Smithsonian Institution, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Thomas Gilcrease Institute in Tulsa, Oklahoma, all display his work.
“I feel bad I never got to meet him in person, but just from what information I could gather from him, I’d say he was an advocate for the arts,” Wolery said. “And the history, he was trying to create an art movement where his paintings reflected on traditions that the Tribe had.”
Crumbo’s dedication to preserving history and culture through his images struck Wolery.
“That’s what I love about it. You know what’s going on and it solely tells a story,” he said.
Artists like Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso also provide Wolery inspiration. Growing up, his family appreciated all art forms. His mother often purchased the work of local artists, which hung in the family living room.
Music is also a great influence. As Wolery puts in his earbuds and listens, an image begins to form in his mind. He then paints the picture he sees.
Wolery believes many forms of art are closely tied together, from music to painting, sculpture to photography. He hopes to show those relationships through his work as well as remind people that art and inspiration are everywhere.
“That’s the emphasis of my shows,” Wolery said. “I’m trying to (show) people art is in multiple forms. It doesn’t just stop at a paintbrush. Art is everywhere.”