“I Have Dreams Where I Can Breathe Under Water” ~ Interview with Figurative Painter, Teresa Elliott

“We can’t blame children for occupying themselves with Facebook rather than playing in the mud. Our society doesn’t put a priority on connecting with nature. In fact, too often we tell them it’s dirty and dangerous.”
~ David Suzuki

“We all have wild dreams, fantasies, and ordinary thoughts. Let us feel the texture of them and not be afraid of them.”
~ Natalie Goldberg, Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life


otice what happens the next time you spill something onto yourself, get splashed from a roadside puddle, or even when your own children traipse back home all mud-splattered from an exuberant day of outdoor play. Sure, it means some clean-up is called for, the inconvenience of it, but I would suggest that our reaction runs far deeper. For many, there’s an unmistakable shiver of shame attached. That fall, mess, that could have been avoided. If only you’d have been more careful. And now here it is: punishment for the untethered mind.

Teresa ElliottAqua - Fria Oil on Aluminum 24 × 30 in 61 × 76.2 cm

Agua Fria | 24 x 30 | oil on metal | available at RJD Gallery, Sag Harbor, New York



Alpine, Texas ~

Deanna Phoenix Selene: Teresa, you’ve shared that your work has been heavily influenced by growing up in the small southern town of Weatherford, Texas, a part of this country commonly referred to as the “Bible Belt.” How would you characterize these unique flavors from your youth? What are the strongest sensory elements that have seeped onto your canvas?

The Bend | Teresa Elliott

The Bend | Teresa Elliott

First-To-Cross 16 x 20 Teresa Elliott

First to Cross | 16 x 20 | Teresa Elliott

Teresa Elliott:I was very young when the notion of sin, cross-carrying, crucifixion and suffering were introduced to me. I’ll never know the full impact these frightening imaginings had on me and my art, however, there is a startling resemblance between a Christ figure carrying a cross among throngs of onlookers and a herd of lumbering cows on their way to slaughter.

Warm-Winter Teresa Elliott

Warm Winter | Teresa Elliott

Teresa Elliott: At least Temple Grandin has offered up a much-improved system for the inevitable.

Temple Grandin, American doctor of animal science, a professor at Colorado State University, a best-selling author, an autistic activist, and a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior.

Temple Grandin, American doctor of animal science, a professor, best-selling author, autistic activist, and consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior.

Deanna Phoenix Selene: You have a definite preference for natural earth tones in your color palette, and for brown especially, inviting your viewers to abandon any resistance we might have to this color and instead “sink” down into the richness of it. What childhood memories or associations do you have with brown?

Teresa Elliott: Horned lizards running over hot sandy loam soil on my grandfather’s farm is seared into my brain. There were lots of them back in the ’60s, and I was awestruck by these tiny monsters leaving their trails in the sand.

I was also very much at home in the water and swimming, so the mix of dirt and water is very appealing to me.

AAI12_Elliott_CueroII_10x11_oilonlinen_2K 700.jpg

Cue Roll |10 x 11| oil on linen | Teresa Elliott

Teresa Elliott: Today, I live close to the Mexican border in the Chihuahuan desert where there are areas of fine silky Javelina Clay. The temptation to merge is hard to resist and reminds me of a primordial soup. I have dreams where I can breathe under water. Ancient memories.

Gully Wash | 24x18 | Teresa Elliott

Gully Wash | 24×18 | Teresa Elliott

Deanna Phoenix Selene: Can you tell me what getting muddy represents for you? Is it a sense of freedom you are exploring? As in allowing oneself to get vulnerable and messy, to let go of “pretty”? Or does mud serve as metaphor for something that sucks us down and under?

Teresa Elliott: There’s something irreverent about getting muddy. Plus, it’s related to play and recreation. My mother was OCD about keeping the floors clean, her hair in place. This is all counter to my mud series, which by the way is not appreciated by my parents. They have a visceral reaction to my mud paintings. That’s one advantage to being a mature artist, though, there’s no time to waste and I do what I want, but they remain scandalized.

Javelina | Teresa Elliott

Javelina | Teresa Elliott

Deanna Phoenix Selene: What is it about the longhorns that called to you and compelled you to capture them on canvas?

Teresa Elliott: I was riveted by the simple design of the horn. A natural candelabra on top of a cow’s head. It never occurred to me that the Texas Longhorn was such a strong icon for the state, that people had such an intense emotional investment in their symbolism. Also, the upsweep of the horn kindles a kind of spirited emotional reaction in many people. It’s a common fascination I think because there’s something kind of royal about it. A roadside pageantry.

Mescal | Teresa Elliott

Mescal | Teresa Elliott

BACA Teresa Elliott 700.jpg

Baca | Teresa Elliott

Deanna Phoenix Selene: If I asked you to choose one favorite piece out of all you have painted, which one feels closest to your heart?

Teresa Elliott: The kids in the mud: Deliverance. I knew at the time that I had caught a rare authentic moment in time. It was like finding a diamond and pocketing the treasure to reveal later.

Deliverance | Teresa Elliott

Deliverance | Teresa Elliott

Deanna Phoenix Selene: I once asked the UK painter Pam Hawkes which quality she felt was more crucial to being a great artist: technical excellence or creativity, and she responded, “creativity,” explaining that the rest can be learned. Would you agree? If so, what are some of the ways you nurture this quality in yourself and in your work? How was it fostered in you as a child?

Teresa Elliott: I think having the best skills possible to bring ideas to fruition is necessary and that the two facets are forever linked as one. Learning techniques and mastering the “doing” of it is a lifelong schooling process to support the creative mind. I fool myself constantly thinking I’ll reach some grand conclusion or finally arrive at the artistic alter and be confirmed. It’s ongoing and infinite as I see it, and I’ll never become “made.” All I can do is be as mindful as possible and herd the cats of creativity and picture-making.

imgpiece Teresa Elliot 632 not 700.jpg

Teresa Elliot

Teresa Elliott: To nurture myself can be hard for me since I get tunnel vision, especially with the internet and its constant funneling of seductive images. I have to force myself to get out of the studio and experience life outside where my attention is diverted.

I remember Chuck Close said it’s as simple as altering your routine and bumping into something different.

Self-portrait | 2012 | Chuck Close

Self-portrait | 2012 | Chuck Close

Kara | Chuck Close

Kara | Chuck Close

Teresa Elliott: My family of origin is from a small Texas town close to where author Larry McMurtry grew up, so artistic endeavors were not perceived as useful. It was up to me to keep the flame alive and burning. My father did buy a five-dollar John Gnagy drawing kit for me when I was ten. I can still smell the pencils and charcoal inside that box.

John Gnagy

Deanna Phoenix Selene: Who or what most inspires you?

Teresa Elliott: Well-made art, illustrations, photography, cinema, animals, and the human face and body. I may be most recognized as an artist who paints cows but I was a portrait artist right out of high school, sketching faces at a theme park in St. Louis. Every day a line of people would snake around the park waiting to get their pastel portrait. It was intense work but a great way to acquire hard-earned drawing skills. In college, I wasn’t able to get the training I was expecting, but I was mesmerized by Diane Arbus‘ photography and I learned to see the world in a different way through the lens.

Mujer con sombreo de rosas diane Arbus 700.jpg

Diane Arbus

Teresa Elliott:  Today, I can utilize my love for both photography and painting. I could never give up one over the other.


Teresa Elliott

Deanna Phoenix Selene: Greatest advice you’ve ever received?

Teresa Elliott: At a workshop in Scottsdale, painter Dan Mieduch said no matter where you show your work, even if it’s at a Seven Eleven, make sure it’s the most exciting work there.

Coffee-Flats Teresa Elliott 700

Coffee Flats | Teresa Elliott

Further Notes

Teresa Elliott began her art career working at a number of prestigious advertising agencies in Dallas. She followed that with a successful freelance career as an illustrator and graphic designer, supporting herself for 26 years.

The majority of her work was rendered in black and white and all the values in between; it wasn’t until much later that color was incorporated into her images.

Primarily self-taught, Elliott is perhaps best known for her extensive group of Texas longhorn oil paintings which are included in corporate and private collections across the United States, Canada, and Australia. She has been selected to exhibit in many invitational museum shows nationwide, winning awards in Colorado, Texas, and Arizona.

Her work is represented in galleries in Fredericksburg, TX, Santa Fe, NM, and Jackson Hole, WY where she has had individual and group shows.

Teresa lives and paints in Alpine, Texas, north of the Big Bend National Park.

To view more of the artist’s work, please visit her website.

teresa_elliott_mud with frame 700.jpg
Combustus Managing Editor | + posts

My dream: to create a unique vehicle for artists and visionaries from all genres and all over the globe to inspire and learn from one another.


  1. M crow on December 5, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    Love Teresa Elliot’s bold, gorgeous work….straightforward, elegantly simplistic, yet complex…real, down to earth, eternal…..thanks for the great interview!

    • Teresa Elliott on December 6, 2014 at 8:22 am

      Thanks you so much M crow! Appreciate it. Teresa

  2. Vince Natale on December 6, 2014 at 8:43 am

    Ha! John Gnagy! I used to draw from my mother’s copy of that from when she was younger.
    Teresa’s handling of the paint, especially in the ‘mud’ pictures, is fantastic! And thanks for the link to Temple Grandin, great bundle of information there. Cheers!

  3. Laura Smith on December 6, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    I love her paintings of the bulls! So potent and majestic…

  4. Royden chick on August 12, 2018 at 7:57 am

    The quality and detail of the brush work is astounding. A master craftswoman at work. Such life shown…

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