A little girl in a red fringed cowgirl vest and skirt speedingly rides her tricycle. In another portrait the cowgirl sits meditatively on the branch of a big tree contemplating the vast blue sky. In another, she’s walking with her horse on a path. In other paintings, she’s tethered to the earth by crisp white sheets flapping on a clothesline, flying a kite shaped like a cloudy cow, or sitting alone on a lunch counter stool in the midst of adults.
On the cover of this month’s magazine (and at right), the cowgirl is in a green rowboat in an immense spread of blue water. Is she rowing away from something … or towards something? Artist Laura Tiede isn’t telling.
“People can respond to [my paintings] in many diverse ways. Something speaks to them. They take away different things,” she says, “but there’s a thread that goes through it.” A connection.
Her “cowgirl” portrait series are about a girl heading out on an adventure solo, Tiede says. “She looks powerful to me. She’s not afraid. She’s not in danger. She’s fearless and she’s not waiting around.”
Like Tiede herself.
She grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin with an adventurous spirit. She was often outside, riding her horse Champ bareback, fearlessly and fast. Tiede spent a lot of time alone as a kid, in nature. When she was in her late 20s, she set off by herself, traveling solo around the world, seeing over 35 countries. She lived for a year in West Africa as a Fulbright exchange teacher.
“Going solo means you constantly make choices about what you want to be doing,” Tiede says.
Her own perspective
She had a few art classes in high school and college, but Tiede describes herself as a self-taught painter. Although, she appreciates a painting class she took at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design with one particularly good teacher.
That’s where she discovered she “really could paint!” It was life-changing for her. For Christmas that year, she received a set of oil paints from her husband. “It was so cool, because it was just so encouraging,” she says.
These turning points told her, “this is what you want to do!”
In her colorful portfolio of paintings, Tiede puts a close lens on her subjects – people’s backsides when sitting on café stools, a landscape of rooftops, an unruly lineup of empty green chairs in Paris gardens, camels shown from the chest down, a night-shift worker’s jeans and boots, close-ups of a cow’s head.
“I like looking at things from a different perspective, in ways that most people don’t see,” Tiede says. “Then I invite others to use their imagination and their story, instead of me saying this is what you should see, feel, think or whatever.”
Today Tiede splits her time between the country and the city. “Growing up on a farm profoundly shaped who I am,” she says. She lives with her husband in an old farmhouse in western Wisconsin. She has a large garden of food and flowers. The colors and textures offer solitude and meditation, she says. For her day job, she teaches French at a Twin Cities high school. “I like urban life as well, but my soul needs nature,” she says.
And, creating art.
“All of my paintings are from memory. I close my eyes. I feel it. I remember the details, what things looked like, what it felt like. When I paint, everything comes together,” she says.
Tiede remembers having a hand-me-down red cowgirl outfit when she was a girl. “I thought I was the bomb. I was the cowgirl.”
And, she had a green rowboat.