Oakville artist channels home through his paintings of the vast American West
A painting is propped up on Kevin Haller’s mantel in a South Dakota log cabin once owned by the late poet Badger Clark, a cowboy-poet and the state's first poet laureate, resting informally above his fireplace. For Haller, the painting represents an ideal way of life, out in the middle of nowhere.
This is what was on his mind when he left a fulfilling and lucrative career in IT that enabled him to travel widely and meet many new people. For the past couple of years he reflected and pivoted in his professional life.
“I was [always] a serious hobbyist with art. I did watercolor, that’s where I got my start. And then over the last 15 years, I’ve been doing oil painting,” Haller said. “I’m not getting any younger, so I decided I’m just going to stop with the IT [work]. Even though it was a good career … I just wanted to pursue my art passion.”
Haller’s journey reflects a larger trend. According to a 2022 report from CNBC, some 53% of adults in the United States decided to leave their current field of work to pursue other interests. Additionally, theWall Street Journaldescribes current trends for people who are 60 or older as highlighting work flexibility as a big factor for the disproportionate number of early retirements in the pandemic years.
For Haller, this desire for flexibility is tied to his own sense of home. He said that through his art, he is able to portray his history and connection with nature. As an example, he walked toward a painting of his family’s old tractor. The image is one of the many he has created that reflect the nostalgia of his rural youth. It informs much of the art he’s doing today.
“My parents were raised on family farms. … I’ve lived in the city my whole [adult] life, but my mind has sort of been out in the country all the time,” Haller said. “Doing paintings, like this little tractor painting, allows me to bring that rural side out, and I can see it and I can experience it anytime I look at the painting.”
Haller now captures images of rural life in his travels to the Great Plains and American West, where he spends weeks at a time, several times a year.
As he crammed several boxes of supplies into his SUV in his garage, he explained how his sense of home emerges while on these trips and how they have enabled him to capture and identify with various styles of country living.
“I really do paint people’s homes a lot. … I paint teepees. I paint the poet’s home. I paint the lodge, which is a home away from home. … Painting home and creating a feeling of home is a big part of my art,” Haller said.
While long road trips to capture remote home settings might get lonely for some, Haller enjoys them. He has always had the support of his wife, Penny Martin, 59.
Adjacent to his home art studio on the kitchen wall hangs a portrait of his wife baking cookies. The portrait represents the two sharing their passion for creativity.
“Art is what gives us the ability to express our individuality, and both of us get to show that we appreciate that part of you,” Haller said. “Like I created that painting of my wife baking cookies. I guess that’s probably my favorite painting of all time, ‘cause she’s the love of my life.”
The couple’s home art studio, a sunroom off the kitchen, was repurposed into a space where they can express themselves artistically.
Even though the studio can often get a little cluttered and might draw occasional looks from his guests, the two of them view it as a space where they can authentically express themselves.
“Neither of us have regretted setting up this hobby room. … For us, it really worked,” Haller said. “Me being able to express my art, and her accepting it, kind of is a home, it creates a home feeling for me. You know, I can feel like she loves me for who I am.”