The sounds of the Goo Goo Dolls or maybe OneRepublic ricochet off the turquoise and orange walls of Cody Oldham’s small downstairs art studio as he approaches the canvas.
He’s ready to put the finishing touches on a close-up portrait of an African lion, done in what he calls his style of Impressionist Realism. Lions are one of his favorite subjects to paint, and they sell very well, which isn’t a bad thing for a 16-year-old professional wildlife and landscape artist. “The Rising,” featuring one such creature, measures 22 inches by 28 inches and will cost its buyer $1,000.
His work can be viewed online at codyoldham.com.
“I always look forward to it,” Oldham says from the family home southeast of Woodland Park. “After about half an hour, I am absorbed in painting. There is always so much room to experiment. I tell myself that I could do anything today when I go down to the studio.
Oldham is attracted to big cats, including tigers and cheetahs. Also “epic landscapes,” he says, having recently completed a painting of the Grand Tetons surrounded by clouds and fall foliage.
There is also another good reason why the young painter could find so many felines on his easel: his family has a sanctuary of pumas. Big cats roam their 20-acre property. It’s not open to the public, although they run occasional tours. Oldham’s father has worked with animals for two decades and regularly takes his family of five, including Oldham’s two younger sisters, on cross-country vacations to retrieve injured or abused lions. They rehabilitate animals and provide a forever home on their property.
“It gives me a chance to study them, and the way their facial structure is, what their eyes look like and what their fur looks like,” he says. “They look like other cats.”
The homeschooled teenager spent his 16th birthday steeped in art. His father, at different times, was an animal photographer, Salida gallery owner and abstract painter. Oldham didn’t pay much attention to his father’s work until he was about 11 years old when he began putting art on canvas and imitating his father’s style. He slowly began to move away from abstraction, and towards wildlife and landscapes. There was a small detour into sculpting and making dinosaurs, but he soon returned to oil painting.
“I just started doing it without asking myself why,” he says. “Over the years, it started to be part of my life. In 2016 and 2017 I said I guess that’s what I’m going to do. I will run my business and earn money.
His hard work and innate talent has paid off with a number of exhibitions, including two solo shows at the Steamplant Event Center in Salida and one at the Manitou Art Center this year. Southwest Art Magazine included it in their article “21 Under 31: Young Artists to Watch in 2019”.
MAC director and curator Alain Navaratne said it was one of the centre’s most successful sales-based exhibitions, due to Oldham’s age and the large scale of his paintings, some measuring around 5 feet by 4 feet.
“For a 16-year-old, he paints really well. He is not afraid of the scale of the paintings,” explains Navaratne. “He’s really confident working that big. It’s not afraid of color or texture, and it normally takes time to build to do so. He seems to paint animals extraordinarily well.
Now that Oldham feels more proficient in his painting skills, he is focusing on the business side of things, notably YouTube, where he will begin uploading weekly videos to his own channel that teach people how to paint. He also plans to release a full instructional DVD this summer.
“At my age, I think it would be inspiring (for people) to see that,” he says.
He’s not wrong. His age makes his work even more pop. Navaratne is also looking forward to the future of the young painter.
“If he can do that at 15 or 16, what will he do at 25 or 35? said Navaratne. “That’s the exciting part for me.”
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