Larry Pirnie's Unmistakable Art 

An Interview with Artist Larry Pirnie

You just finished up an extended break. In what ways would you say your sabbatical might influence your work now that you are painting again?

My time away from the marketplace allowed me to live with only my voice as I came to the end of a dream that brought me to Montana, painting my fantasies about cowboys and horses. I painted them the entire time I was on my sabbatical, but it was mainly to discover a new focus when I walk into my studio. I’m still painting people and mountainscapes, but the fantasy has been fully explored and now I must pursue a visual expression that captures the love I have living in the West; not just fantasizing about it.


What are you working on now?

I’m presently exploring my relationship with mountains, streams, and rock formations. I love the textures of nature and I hope to use that visual relationship to add color to the statement that expresses the energy I always experience in nature.

Dreamin - no border


The one thing we notice about your work is that is unmistakable. Unlike many artists, you know a Pirnie work when you see it. Why is that?

A Stream of Gold
A Stream of Gold 

People say my color makes my paintings stand out. I think that was true in the beginning of my painting career, 40 years ago when most Western art was painted in more earthy color harmonies. Now, when so many artists are painting the West with bright colors, I think the immediate recognition so many people have with my paintings is because the visual personality that comes through the playful style is expressed by the ‘kid’ in me. I hope not to lose the ‘kid’ in pursuit of new focus in my art.

You began your career as an artist with subdued colors, but now your coloring is strikingly vivid. Can you explain that transition?

Fall streamer
Fall streamer

In the first six years of painting my West I emulated what I thought was the universal style of a western artist, realistic rendering of cowboys and horse in very muted colors. I spent a long time in my seventh year contemplating returning to advertising because I wasn’t having any fun painting. I made a list of art and artists who I admired that weren’t considered Western artists. I then wrote down adjectives that described what I liked about those works. The two words that best described all my choices were BOLD and COLORFUL. Exactly what my paintings weren’t. It was after this discovery that I started having fun painting and I discovered a traveling partner through every one of my creations: MY KID!

We are very interested in the inspirations for your paintings. Where do you get your ideas?

 Mornin' stroll
Mornin' stroll

My ideas come from a combination of lots of childhood adventures with western movies and comic books, and numerous present-day visits to ranches and rodeos.  I doodle on a sketch pad as an idea begins to appear.  I then go straight to a canvas and start to bring color to the vision. Cowboys and horses are a fantasy to me and playing with color is a perfect ingredient in expressing my fantasy with the West.

What is a typical day like for you behind the easel?

Canyon Glow
Canyon Glow

My painting days are usually broken up into two three-hour sessions. I work on two to five paintings at a time so that I can stay spontaneous in expressing my color relationship with the subjects. I found out very early in my career that working on only one painting start to finish was very fatiguing; where bouncing around my studio to paint on a variety of creations kept my energy high. I switched from oil to acrylic because of the oil odor and acrylic fast-drying time. The only time I still desire to work in oils is when I paint outside where slow drying time is an advantage.

Finally, how do you relax and enjoy life when not painting?


When not painting, my wife, Irene and I hike in and drive around these beautiful mountains and lakes near our home. I read a variety of art-related books and go to a lot of movies. We have a large family who live all over the U.S. and much of our time is spent traveling to see them.


Capturing the color, excitement, vitality and romance of life in the West, Larry Pirnie exemplifies the spirit of Montana through his paintings. He has spent over three decades living and painting in Montana, yet he is widely known and collected throughout the country, because his art is unmistakably Pirnie.
Larry Pirnie was born in Iowa, and spent summers traveling to the West to visit his grandparents. He met Norman Rockwell and acted on his recommendation to attend the Pratt Institute in New York. He worked in advertising for many years before giving up a corporate position to live his dream of being a cowboy artist. He moved to Montana in 1978 and met Irene, who would become his wife two years later. She became his agent and has since placed his paintings in 130 galleries. In 2004, Lynne Himes opened The Pirnie Art Showroom and now represents his work exclusively.
In addition to the originals always on display in the showroom in Missoula, in recent years his work has traveled to Las Vegas, New York, Jackson Hole, Cody, and Scottsdale. He has often been a featured artist at the prestigious Western Masters art show associated with the C.M. Russell Museum, as well as the Rendezvous Royale at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. Pirnie is also featured among an esteemed collection of contemporary trendsetters in Western Art at the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, Georgia, which houses the largest permanent exhibition space for Western art in the country. Pirnie has found joy in authoring a book to tell his story, and has collaborated with his friend, renowned cowboy poet (and sometime bareback bronc rider) Paul Zarzyski on other published works. Pirnie has often given art to help the Missoula community.

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