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Montana artist Bye Bitney will probably never be accused of pretentiousness. At 30, he has attained extraordinary success, yet when it comes to self-promotion, he remains remarkably reticent. Bitney prefers to let his paintings speak for him and with good reason... his work shows a level of sophistication not often seen in an artist who has only been painting professionally for a few years.
In high school, Bye Bitney (his given name) studied with painter/sculptor Frank DiVita, then went on to work in commercial art, painting realistic wildlife pictures. After he made the decision to become a professional artist, it took little time for his work to gain notice in the art world. Art critics praised both his keen draftsman's eye and expert use of muted colors, and his career has been on the rise ever since.
Bitney lives in the modest cottage and studio he built on a corner of his family's property on the western shoreline of a Montana lake. The furnishings are sparse... the only luxurious features are the French doors that fill his studio with the clear north light. Their many-faceted panels take in a breath-taking view of the lake and the majestic mountains behind it. In a region where the majority of artwork depicts cowboys and ranch life, Bitney's still lives, landscapes and portraits are a bold departure. Although he resists categorization of any kind, Bitney acknowledges that he is not a cowboy artist.
Bitney finds many subjects for his brush and palette in the sweeping rural vistas of his home state. A landscape may evolve from a scene experienced on a drive through his Montana surroundings. An idea for a still life may spring from works by another artist. Often, the subject develops from something that simply captures his interest.
Bitney's painting schedule is not a conventional one. He can often be found fine-tuning a painting a month after he started it. In the meantime, he sometimes has up to a dozen other paintings in the works. Other times, he may spend the entire period sailing on the lake without putting down a single brush stroke.
"I try to get something licked out in one sitting," he says. "The fun is over about three-fourths of the way through. You've either won or lost. After that, you're just mopping up," says Bitney. "Even when it comes out right, you are never 100 percent pleased. But you reach a point where you're just not going to learn any more from it."
Bitney credits his open painting style and philosophy to the influence of Washington artist Delbert Gish, whom he met in 1982. "Gish approaches art solely for art's sake. The trappings of the art scene and the achievement of commercial success aren't big priorities for him," says Bitney. "Because of that, he seems to be one of the happiest and most secure artists that I've met."
Outside critiques pose no problem for Bitney. "I am able to see some of my own mistakes and it's refreshing to have other people see something else...good or bad... in my paintings. The mistakes I make foster a freer environment for growth and I don't end up taking myself so seriously."