AN INTERVIEW WITH KYLE PALIOTTO
Kyle Paliotto became an artist because his parents would not buy him a parrot. Like many 5-year-olds, Kyle asked his mom and dad for an exotic pet and, like many parents, they said no. But Kyle figured out that if he used his own creativity, he could create a parrot and anything else he imagined, making them come to life on paper.
“I wanted my mom to draw me [a parrot]. That was the next best thing [to a real parrot], and she said, ‘No, you can draw one.’ So I drew one, and I did a decent job. And that was when I started drawing, when I could make things that I wanted come to life,” he said. “I just started to draw the things in my imagination or from the books that my parents would read me, those types of things, those adventures. Everything I paint is from my experiences, so I have one foot in reality and one foot in what I want to become reality, so to speak.”
Kyle’s mother was a pastel portrait artist, and it was her work and the joy she took from it that actually motivated Kyle to become an artist during those formative years. He was also, and continues to be, deeply inspired by his childhood experiences in the outdoors, specifically the forest area near his Ohio boyhood home.
“I was in love with the woods. I was in love with nature and just being out in nature. When I go out to paint a new painting it all stems from the love that I had when I was 5, 6, 7,” he said.
Despite these early experiences, Kyle wasn’t able to dive into an art career right away. He took a circuitous, adventurous, and educational path to become the successful painter he is today.
“I will say that I never wanted to become an artist. I thought it was for old, boring people and so I did everything besides that for most of my younger life,” Kyle said. “I’d just do what boys do. I rode BMX bikes. I wanted adventure. And when I lived in California, I lived at the beach, and that’s what I went back to after high school. And all the things that I did, I believe, led me to be able to have a full-time career in [art].”
Kyle said he learned business skills by having a variety of ‘real jobs’ over the years and owning a small company, complete with employees, bills, and taxes. These were not things that they were taught in art school, but they led him, both inspirationally and financially, back to painting professionally.
“I couldn’t make the jump from school to making a career in art. I tried multiple times. I sold everything I owned and went to Mexico City. I sold everything I owned and lived on Sunset Boulevard, and tried to become an artist, and it didn’t work out,” Kyle said. “I just bounced around, and waited tables, and had jobs, and raced motorcycles. I did just anything I could do that was fun, that I was interested in.”
Eventually, having gained financial success through his business, Kyle and his new wife lived a comfortable life in the Golden State, but still found themselves unfulfilled. “I just was like, ‘This is it? This sucks. Another trip to Hawaii and a new truck? What does that do for you? It just wasn’t feeding my soul,” he said.
So, they moved from Southern California to northern Idaho, and Kyle started painting, taking and teaching art classes, and connecting with mentors who continued to inspire his creativity and feed his soul. Fueled by life experience and meaningful encouragement, Kyle finally began to make a successful career of painting, which continues to be inspired by more life and more experience.
“People want to paint more, and I think we need to live more. And so for me, all my inspiration for my paintings comes from living. And so to be inspired, I do things with my kids. We do 4H animals, I go on hiking trips or down by the water. So when I do that, I get motivated and I get inspired,” he said.
With a headful of inspiration and a handful of photographs, Kyle then returns to the studio to begin the sometimes exhilarating, sometimes vexing, process of creating art.
“It’s always exciting to start [paintings]. You’ve had this experience and you’re inspired and you want to recreate this experience or create something that isn’t even there, but you’ve been inspired to create it,” he said. “The middle part sucks, but when you start to finish [the paintings] you start to think, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’ It’s a head game. It’s an emotional game.”
Like many working artists, Kyle continually walks the line between staying fresh, creatively, and making a living, while at the same time prioritizing his own positive attitude and creative mood.
“It’s hard to be a professional artist, not because we’re special, but because people want to see the same thing again and again. Because that’s just human nature,” he said. “As an artist you can get bored of that quickly. So you want to push it, but you don’t want to change it too much.”
While he certainly appreciates and accommodates people’s enthusiasm for his known works, Kyle continues to experiment in the studio, with color, point of view, and subject matter.
“There are times that paintings can be exploratory and times when I really want to say something. I know that I have done something special when I finally say what I have wanted to say on canvas. I know when I’ve said it correctly and in a way that I am happy with,” he said.
Being a professional artist can tend to be a solitary existence, Kyle said, and outside factors, or “the politics of life,” can affect his outlook. So, he is careful to limit what he sees as discouraging influences, such as social media, and seek exposure to motivating human influences, such as teaching.
“[Artists] are very isolated people and you become lonely, and then you don’t give back to the community because you are working so hard on your craft,” he said. “So, I try to put myself out there and interact with people. It makes my art better.
It makes my life better, and that’s why I teach. Plus it helps me explain what I’m doing and when you can explain it, you know it better.”
Kyle has offered numerous workshops in a variety of locales, including Montana Trails Gallery. Sydney Weeks from MTG said Kyle’s workshops are extremely popular because he is so talented, yet so approachable in his method.
“You can tell that Kyle loves to teach and gets as much out of it as he puts into it,” said Sydney. “The participants really respond to his paintings, his style and his willingness to let them have their own perspective on canvas, not just be a copy of his style.”
In Idaho, Kyle teaches a weekly painting class, which he enjoys doing for the consistency, the interaction with students, and the perspective it brings to his own art. He has also been known to select subject matter for his own that may enhance, or even counteract, his mood. Thus, the fabulous pearled pigs
“I can be really lighthearted, but I can also go the other direction, really deep, and I can get really serious, and life gets serious, and I get introspective, and it’s a downward spiral. I started painting the pigs because I was like, ‘I need some comic relief. I need something fun to paint,’” Kyle said. “I put my personality into them. In all of my animals, I kind of put the things I see in people into the animals. I see their personalities in the animals.”
People love Kyles paintings, he said, because of what he puts into them and also what he leaves out. Creating a heartfelt response doesn’t require more paint, it requires the thoughtful use of less. “I always loved Johnny Cash because he could say so much in a sentence of a song. He could take you so far. And psychologically, with one sentence, you’re right where he wants you to be. And in painting that’s one of the goals that I have. And what people respond to is that I don’t draw every little nuance, but there is some emotional response,” he said.
In addition to teaching, Kyle makes sure he spends time with his family, instituting an open door policy in his studio for his kids, where they can hang out or even paint with him whenever they want. No knocking required. He also spends what spare time he has playing the piano or indulging his other passion, dirt bikes.
“I’m only five minutes away from the national forest, so you can go out there and ride. And that’s really one of the best times for me, because I go fast enough in the woods and my brain turns off, but I’m still in the woods enjoying what I like to paint,” he said. “I don’t know if that makes sense but you just stop thinking. And that’s a good place for me to be.”
Kyle is thoughtful about how he spends his time, both inside the studio and out, making sure his choices feed his creativity and continue to bring him inspiration for his work. But it is the pure passion for his craft that keeps him coming back to the studio, week after week.
“People’s motivations for painting are ‘How do we find success? How do we judge success?’ I like to sell paintings like the next person. We like to make a living, right? And I like to create a really good painting and step back and be like, ‘Dang, that one’s good. I really love that,’” he said. “I have told my students that I would do this for free. I love this. I just love painting. I love it."