Organizations* : CAA, NAWA
Kenneth Riley was born in Waverly, Missouri and raised in Kansas. He began his formal art education at the Kansas City Art Institute in 1938 when his high school art teacher recognized his talent and offered to pay for the first semester. There, he studied with Thomas Hart Benton.
In 1941, Riley moved on to the Art Students League and Frank Vincent DuMond in New York City, with evening classes at the Grand Central School of Art with Harvey Dunn. Soon Riley was selling illustration to the pulp magazines for fifteen dollars each, but enlistment in World War II as a combat artist redirected his work. After the war, he returned to illustration, working for the National Geographic, The Saturday Evening Post, and other national publications. One of his works was even accepted by President Kennedy for the White House collection.
Riley moved west after doing paintings of Yellowstone National Park and the Tetons for the National Park Service, when he “became excited about painting this country and tying in the historical aspects of it.” The intensity of the light “probably triggered the whole excitement about coming to the West,” he commented, “especially the breaking light when you could see patterns. When you get into a big space with immense patterns moving across the countryside, it’s unbelievable. Trying to get some of these effects is a lifetime right there.” He also taught at Brigham Young University in Utah, which influenced his relocation as well.
Riley is a charter member of the National Academy of Western Art, and in 1982 was elected to the Cowboy Artists of America, an exclusive group of painters and sculptors dedicated to western art in the tradition of Charles Russell and Frederic Remington. He has also been written up in magazines such as Artists of the Rockies, Art of the West and Southwest Art.