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Late on an autumn afternoon in northern Montana five mounted Indians scout the banks of a watercourse in Riverwalkers, a 40-by-70-inch oil on linen by Colt Idol. The piece blends vibrant colors with a mood conveying just how vast and intimidating the American West could, and still can, feel. “This piece to me is mostly about scale,” says Idol. “It makes one realize their smallness in comparison to nature. Also, I like to picture these riders on horseback quietly passing along the riverside in the late afternoon, never passing a building or seeing any signs of civilization.”

When Idol looks back on the work, which took roughly 80 hours to complete, the Montana native thinks, I could have done a better job on the figures, in capturing their essence. Self-criticism, he explains, is important for any artist who wants to do better. “There is always room for improvement.”

Yet for a young artist—about to turn 28—he is certainly garnering a lot of attention.

Idol has been featured in Southwest Art magazine’s recurring “21 Under 31” wrap-up of young artists, and he is the youngest artist to have participated in the annual live auction at the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Mont. That might not be a surprise when you consider Idol’s father. Noted outdoor personality Dick Idol is a painter, sculptor, author and designer of furniture and clothing. Spot an outdoor sculpture at a Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shops store, and chances are it’s one of his originals. Although Colt took a semester in art at Montana State University and enrolled in several workshops under artists he admires, he credits his multitalented father for most of his art education. “He’s a walking encyclopedia,” Colt says, “in terms of business and strategy, as well as anatomy and American history.”

The younger Idol’s first passion was athletics, specifically playing basketball. Injuries sidelined him, however, and at age 19, a college dropout, he took up painting. “I had no familial or financial responsibilities, which bought me time,” he recalls. “I was very fortunate to discover and develop a new, strong look to break into a competitive art market. I’d like to think that without the sports injuries I would have found painting, but who knows? I was heading on a structured path and probably would have continued to complete a degree in business.”

Idol’s muse is photography. “Whether historical or contemporary,” he explains, “that is where I draw most of my inspiration. I spend a lot of time and energy with my camera.”

And living in Montana certainly has been an asset.

“Montana is incredible,” he says. “My youth was spent hiking, fishing, looking for native American artifacts and fossils. The C.M. Russell Museum and the March in Montana auction and trade show in Great Falls had a profound influence on my brother and me. We would attend every year as kids to horse-trade fossils and arrowheads for art and other artifacts.”

A keen admirer and student of Charles M. Russell, Idol has adopted a slogan to push himself: “The New Face of the Old West.”

“It really does encapsulate my mission in oil painting,” he says. “Almost every piece is Western in nature and specifically old or historical Western reinvigorated via light and color. There are three concrete characteristics that you will always see in my work: high-value contrast, exaggerated—but hopefully still believable—color and a dramatic sense of light.”

His paintings run from 6-by-6 to 60-by-80 inches, and he’s usually working on anywhere up to a dozen at a time while wife Jennifer runs their gallery in downtown Whitefish—that is, when they aren’t busy with their newborn, Weldon Richard Idol, born in early 2018.

Idol doesn’t consider himself a historian—yet—but he’s working on that aspect of his painting. “For the most part my work now is more about emotion and less about storytelling. In the future I’d like to improve both on the technical side as well as the research side to join those ideas. That would make for some powerful art.” WW