By Jim Flannery
Color of Trout
Her paintings of trout trumpet her passion for color and her love of fly-fishing. A.D. Maddox captures the chameleon-like quality of trout and the water dancing to the rhythms of the fish rising to the fly. She fires up her imagination in creative tension as she moves from the discipline of her Nashville, Tennessee, studio to the adrenaline rush of riding her Ducati motorcycle to the almost spiritual serenity of fly-fishing.
Born in Nashville, Amelia Drane Maddox, 46, grew up in an artistic family and as a youngster already was compiling a sketchbook of birds and animals drawn with colored pencils. Largely self-taught, she took art classes in high school and later worked under the Iranian artist Kamy Deljou. On a trip out West, she started doing cowboy paintings, found a niche painting trout on high-end furniture, then settled into painting trout as fine art, her focus the past 15 years. She also paints flies, trout skins and “bug gut art” — paintings created by capturing insects on a wet canvas mounted on her motorcycle during evening rides.
Maddox paints in oils on Belgian linen. Her work has appeared in Gray’s Sporting Journal and many fly-fishing publications, as well as Motorcycle Monthly and the Patagonia and L.L. Bean catalogs, and on a variety of merchandise — T-shirts, iPhone cases, fly boxes, baseball caps, even a StealthCraft hull (admaddox.com).
A Conversation With The Artist
My grandmother was a portrait artist, and my mother worked in acrylics. I started drawing when I was 4 or 5 and knew from early on I was really good. As a tot, I took art classes. By seventh grade I was painting clothes and had a sketchbook of animals and birds I’d drawn with colored pencils. I took art classes in high school — pastels, oils, sketching. I guess one reason I never stopped painting was that I was constantly validated. But I also loved it. I got lost in it, lost in the moment.
I studied sports medicine at the University of Colorado, but that’s not where my passion was. I missed the intimate connection to nature that my art gave me, so I set my sights on painting. I went to Atlanta and apprenticed under Kamy Deljou, learning many different mediums. Later I found a niche painting T-shirts, bags, clothing. I learned to paint to an audience. I moved out West and painted canvases of Western art specific to the area. I moved to the emerging art mecca of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and painted landscapes of mountains, aspens, horses, and scenes of cowboys and Indians. I was painting quite a large area of motifs until I discovered trout, and that’s where I’ve stayed. You have to narrow yourself down to one thing and get really good at it.
It’s a bit tough getting into big galleries when your work is not known. So at 27 I started painting furniture — cabinets, armoires, benches and mirror frames, beautiful works of art. Beth Overcast, owner of Center Street Gallery in Jackson, heard about what I was creating and told me I should try to paint trout on some of the pieces. My first trout piece, a cabinet, sold for $1,000 in 20 minutes. That’s when I decided trout was my bread and butter. In summer 2001, Eldridge French’s Sagebrush Gallery in Ketchum, Idaho, gave me my first show of trout on canvas. After that, I just didn’t stop.
I did plenty of bait fishing when I was a kid, but in 2000 my dad taught me to fly-fish on the Yellowstone River so I could learn how to catch these beautiful fish and take photos for painting material. I love to fly-fish, but I’m not a fly fisherman who does art. I’m an artist who fly-fishes.
After learning to fly-fish, I took photos of trout. I photographed them from every angle — top, below, side, head on. I would go to a hatchery, feed the fish and photograph them as they came up to eat. Early on, I tried to match my painting to the photos, almost like photo realism. Now I let a painting go where it wants to go. I look. I don’t think. I respond. I want what I experience to be on my canvas. I draw the image, then lay down layers and layers of base coats. I put stuff in, take stuff out. I tweak, harmonize and fine-tune colors until I’m satisfied I’ve got it. I don’t know how many ways there are to paint a trout, but I’m finding out.
The No. 1 thing that draws me to trout is their color. They are absolutely drop-dead gorgeous. Color is how I see. Color is life. Color makes me happy. The trout I paint are alive with color.
Motorcycling to me is just getting out and breathing. When you’re constantly creating, you have to get out and breathe a little bit. It’s fast action, living in the moment. I don’t go way too fast anymore — around 100 mph.
I’ve done 23 paintings in four months. I’m feeling pretty good about my productivity, so now I want to go and get creative. I want to take more front and side-angle photos of trout coming up to get the fly. I’ll be spending time in Florida and plan to do pen-and-ink and colored-pencil drawings, probably of snook.
Click through the gallery below to see more of A.D. Maddox’s beautiful work