Some days, Ricki Klages isn’t sure when she’ll find the time to paint. She just knows she needs to find it— for her sake and everybody else’s.
“I’m just not a very happy person unless I get to do my art,” Klages says, a smile stretching across her face. “Seriously, I’m not. Plus, I don’t think you can be a good art teacher without being a good art maker.”
Since joining the University of Wyoming’s Department of Art faculty in 1995, Klages has worked to instill that same type of enthusiasm in her students, pushing them to explore and refine their talents regardless of life’s obstacles.
“What I tell students is, if you’re hungry, you’ll find time,” says Klages, an internationally acclaimed painter who currently has solo exhibits displayed in Lisbon, Portugal, and Vancouver, Wash. She has also shown in Denmark, Italy, the United Kingdom and across the United States. “If you’re living with five other people and they’re all partying and you can’t sleep and you’re working three jobs and yet you still carve out time to do your own work, you’re an artist.
“You need to be that passionate,” she adds. “You need to have to do it, no matter what.”
Between her administrative responsibilities as head of the art department, her teaching and interactions with students and her personal life as a wife and mother, Klages regularly overcomes hurdles to put paint to canvas.
Her time has been at an even greater premium in recent months. As department head, Klages played an integral role in the design and development of the university’s new Visual Arts Center, a 79,000-square-foot, two-story building that opened in December near the Centennial Complex at 22nd Street and Willett Drive.
The center provides expanded teaching studios and spaces for art history, ceramics, drawing, foundations of art, graphics, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture and small metals. In addition, the facility includes administrative offices, a student commons area, a gallery for exhibiting students’ work and to support the Visiting Artists Program and a lecture room.
“It has taken a lot of time and energy —a lot,” she says. “But we’re just so excited to have a building that is of the caliber of the faculty, the students and the artists who visit us. It’s the dawn of a new era in visual arts at the University of Wyoming.”
Through it all, though, Klages finds time to paint.
Klages’ paintings are a blend of straightforward landscape representation, dream imagery, intensive observation and subtly startling images that incorporate elements of magic, still life and the figure. A self-described restless traveler, Klages often draws inspiration from the places she has visited.
Two of her works, Earth and Bronwyn’s Factory, were selected in November to be included in the International Painting Annual, a 180-page, full-color survey of contemporary paintings from across the world published by Manifest Press.
“Even on my busiest days, I go into the studio and I’m like, ‘Oh, thank goodness!’ You can switch everything off and it’s just you pursuing the work you want to do that excites you,” Klages says. “The hours just disappear.”
She smiles again and says, “Who needs meditation when you can paint, that’s my motto.”