Artist Spotlight: Greg Lahti

As was my habit, I was mindlessly scrolling through my Instagram feed when I stopped dead on the iconic Air Tractor yellow and blue, in beautiful broad strokes on a canvas. I follow a single hashtag on Instagram (admittedly I should pinpoint some more that would be appropriate..) and that is #cropduster. I was elated to have happened upon another artist's rendering of a spray plane, but better yet, it was the depiction of a loadpad in action. Now, I admit I have never loaded an AT-802, which was the model represented, but it recalled my first season which had just come to a close, and my first role in the business, ground loader.


(Photo Credit: Greg Lahti)


Having found the combination of my loves of art, agriculture and aviation in one place I contacted Greg right away through Instagram direct messaging, and soon enough, I was the new owner of "Preflight Loading", which is the perfect memento to commemorate my summer on the ground.


“Preflight Loading” - oil on canvas - 16x40 - by Greg Lahti


Greg made the transaction painless. The painting was soon shipped off with UPS to its new home North of the border. That is... after a teeny tiny 27 day vacation in the care of Canadian customs! Ironically, that is what got Greg and I talking as we were both monitoring the situation and grimly contemplated that the painting may be gone for good. It made it home safe, albeit late, despite our macabre predictions!


Throughout our chatter, we had exchanged social media accounts and photos. I explained why I insisted on owning Preflight Loading, and explained my background and the career change that Covid had expedited. We spoke of the relationship between plane and pilot, man and machine. I live for that, and miss it tremendously.


Next thing you know, the next time I am flipping through social media, I see an enormous bum that I recognize. Mine! I had given Greg permission to use any of my photos as reference material, and lo and behold; he had. I was ecstatic!


You always imagine yourself being painted like one of Jack's French girls in The Titanic. Some lavishly sprawled scenario with perfect soft lighting and a perfect serene expression. I had been represented with my large backside (exacerbated from having gained the Covid 19, if you know what I mean) and crinkled but determined bug-scraping face in the world's plainest outfit of a free company t-shirt and old freight-chucking steel toe boots; and you know what? It was perfect.


The reality is that perfection is not real and not interesting. We filter enough of ourselves in our online presence, in our daily lives, presenting only what we want people to see and what we assume they enjoy. What Greg does is highlight beauty in the mundane, an incredibly refreshing perspective to have.


Soon enough the final piece was revealed, and what Greg chose to name the piece starring my oil painted doppelganger was "The Loving Touch". I smiled so wide at the title because it was so clear by his choice of words that he had understood my fanatical rambling about the respect I afford these machines. Better yet? He composed a custom jam to accompany his post, singing f-f-f-fly girrrrrrl. I couldn't help but laugh.



“The Loving Touch” - oil on canvas - 24x24 - by Greg Lahti


"The Loving Touch" was based on a photo of myself in Grenfell, SK, with a Turbo Trush 510P, registered C-FDLO, belonging to Provincial Airways. For the uninitiated, I'm cleaning the bugs off the windshield for the pilot's next load. This is a hilariously simple yet critical part of the ground loading process. Forward visibility is incredibly important for noticing subtle yet deadly obstacles such as powerlines when you're skimming the Earth. It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it!


The beauty of Greg's portfolio, in my opinion, resides in his fun, flashy palette and unusual subjects. Rather then the oft-used earthy undertones, he usually slaps down some wonderfully neon colours in his bases and it makes for a poppy, bright, yet coherent mix that is colourful without being obnoxious. His broad strokes make for powerful statements and great, almost impressionist backgrounds, but still has the finesse of detail to give you depth and ease of capturing likeness'. To me, his style is the perfect meld of realistic and impressionist. Reality with enhanced colour and filtered in energetic paint strokes.


He doesn't seem to search for perfection but rather lets the subject matter shine in its own special light. From old tractors, to women of all shapes, to Santa Claus himself, Greg doesn't discriminate in his art, and doesn't stop at reality, sometimes spicing things up with a bit of comicbookish flair or Alice-in-Wonderlandesque surrealism.


Greg gave me the pleasure of answering to my first digital interview. So rather then indulge more of my opinions, let us hear straight from the horse's mouth and let Greg Lahti's soul shine through his words as well as his art!



I stumbled upon your art on Instagram while following the hashtag #cropduster. Does social media generate most of your business? Are you active on any other platforms?


Greg: I heard a crazy statistic that 70% of sales happen online. That’s definitely not the case for me, but it’s wonderful (and convenient) when it happens that way. Most of my sales still come from someone falling in love with a painting they're seeing in person.


Instagram has definitely been my main focus for sharing my work and the process behind creating it. I have a Facebook account, but the long, exhausting political season burned me out from logging on there with any frequency. I’ve also been a long time member of the art site DeviantArt where I can post stuff and not have to worry about keeping it “Family Friendly” Finally, the Art Group Gallery has an exceptional website that streamlines the online sales process. *as I write this, I just sold my latest painting on IG. Woot!


How did you get into the fluorescent, neon based colors of your current palette?


Greg: I painted with acrylics for a long time and there are so many crazy colors available to work with. Acrylics are cheap enough to purchase and experiment with, and I tried them all. Then, I moved to oils and took some classes and workshops and they teach you to start with an underpainting with burnt sienna and build from there. I learned a lot about how to work through to a finished oil painting.


I also learned to be comfortable with a limited palette. Having only a handful of colors really teaches a lot about how to mix and use color. Eventually, I squeezed out a little rose madder to liven up one of my paintings, and when I started my next painting that rose was still sitting there calling to me. So, I started with that instead of burnt sienna and my entire palette opened waaaay up after that. Haha.


Currently, I start with an acrylic underpainting with all those bright colors and then I’ve got a palette of nutty oil colors that pairs nicely on subsequent layers.


I often see a couple of feline guest stars on your Instagram, are they your muses?


Greg: They’re more like a constant floor show in my studio. We adopted a couple of 2 y/o sisters a while ago and they’ve been non-stop entertainment.


I wanted two cats so they could play with each other and do cat stuff together. Instead, they just take turns harassing me. One will stop at nothing to get my attention. She’ll climb my easel, unfurl my roll of paper towels, attack my legs, bring me toys she wants to play with, or she’ll simply beg to be picked up and held.


The other cat waddles into the studio and yells at me to feed her, insisting (once again) she’s on the verge of starvation for the umpteenth time today. They make me laugh. Painting can be a lonely hobby, but having my kitty buddies hanging around makes it feel more like a party. I enjoy them so much I even created their own Instagram page to share the fun.


These girls and our former kitty make guest appearances in my paintings all the time. They instantly give a painting added character and personality.


You’re mostly a figure artist but I notice some tractors, trucks, and even a plane or two in your work. Is this just to mix it up? Or something you are trying to expand on?


Greg: I like to travel around and explore, taking my phone and drone out on adventures. I regret never learning more about film and photography. But I’m studying it voraciously now (shout out to all the helpful people putting great lessons, tips and advice on the Internet) I think the process of taking a great photo or video is very similar to painting in many ways. You’re just using different tools to tell your story. Lighting, composition, color, tone, atmosphere, hard edges and soft edges, foreground, middle ground, and background are all essential ingredients to my art.


I really enjoy editing photos and videos, it’s very artistically satisfying. Occasionally, I like to paint some of these photos I take. So, even though I love, love, love painting the figure you will catch me painting a decrepit barn, a funky tree or an old tractor as my main character... although, I usually have to fight the urge to add a sword wielding woman into the scene.


What inspired you to paint “Morning Loading”? Did you know what an Air Tractor 802 was before you painted it?


Greg: I love that it’s called an Air Tractor!


We went from marveling over floating into the air in giant balloons to working in the sky in air tractors and traveling in air busses. It sounds so utilitarian and commonplace like a science fiction movie where floating cars and interstellar transports are just common means to get to work.


To me, flying is anything but common. I can’t imagine how you’re feeling working to get back in the sky. When I fly my drone, there is a rush I get from viewing the world from above. Flying it over treetops and lakes or buildings and cars is exciting, and there you are buckling into an Air Tractor and personally participating in that same view and experiencing it on a whole ‘nother level. Wow!


Over a year ago, my best friend (who isn’t a cat) discovered a small rural airfield on his own adventure, and enjoyed successfully painting the air tractor. Recently, he decided he wanted to try to find it and paint it again, and he took me along for the ride. It took half a day, but it was a goldmine of inspiration! We took pics and videos galore! Afterwards, He painted it, and I painted it, and then we both painted it again... and the best part of the story is you and I eventually became friends! (#cropduster, ftw) Thanks to you, when I’m painting the Air Tractor 802 I don’t have to fight the urge to paint a beautiful figure in the scene. Now, I’ve got you sharing pics of yourself tending to your amazing flying machines. The best of both worlds.


What makes a person, a figure or a photo compelling to paint for you? Based on the variety of expressions and “in the moment’” shots you’ve used as inspiration, it’s not exactly the Renaissance-esque mentality of displaying human bodies as flawless as possible and posed in very unrealistic positions.


Greg: I love the question. I’m an art geek. Those classical paintings and the long history of the world’s art are food for my soul. I have piles of art books and they all have little slips of paper marking my favorite works. I steal and learn from them often. However, I’m obviously heavily influenced by modern culture. The music, the energy, the movies, and this digital world is wild and exciting. Somewhere between the old masters, graffiti on trains and the latest car commercial lies my style.


How I choose what to paint is the most random thing. There are paintings I plan and think long and hard about, and other times when I’m just in the “painting mood” so I whip out a brush and start making a mess on a canvas.


I have tons of pics I’ve been saving for years. For some paintings, I’ll pick a photo from one of the folders of a model I’ve worked with, or a pic from an adventure or vacation I took.


A commissioned piece obviously requires a certain level of discipline and preparation, but most of the time, I just go with where my mood and the music leads me.


What were your artistic beginnings? When did you "go pro"?


Greg: Making art is just something I’ve always done. Even as a kid, I could always be quieted with some paints or a box of crayons. We moved a lot when I was younger and I never made friends easy, but I was never really sad, because I could always escape into my own happy world of doodles.


I guess I “turned pro” when more and more people around me kept offering to buy the things I was making. Every year, I start thinking of painting less and less like a hobby and more of a profession. So, now the struggle is becoming how to broaden my audience, and get more people to appreciate (buy) my unique take on Air Tractor pilots or ax wielding zombie hunters.


You always have some jams rocking on your Instagram stories. What’s the story behind your music?


Greg: I love music. I Listen to every genre and generation. I listen to music almost all day long. It’s like having a running soundtrack to my life. Paying for subscriptions to music apps like Spotify or Pandora has saved me from the Poor House. I used to spend so much money buying records, tapes, and CDs! Having a massive database of digital songs is wonderful. That and Bluetooth technology are probably my favorite inventions ever... and my iPad. Heart emoji.


Music can inspire, lift your mood, make you dance, or make you think.


As you can tell there isn’t a grand plan for my paintings. At first, I make a few composition marks that are important to me, but after that It’s a very instinctual process. I just put on the Jams and get to work daydreaming. I’m thinking of a million things and I’m rarely focused on the task at hand.


Once a week, I go downtown to paint at my buddy’s studio and hang out with him. I probably drive him crazy. He’s on his easel, dialed into creating his next masterpiece and I’m over on mine, rambling on about my latest adventure droning or about some gruesome horror movie I watched on Shudder. By the end of the evening we’re both usually dancing around, busting each other up with jokes and stories. I can be infectious like that. I don’t waste a lot of time in a bad mood, or wallow in self pity, and self doubt. Art should be fun, not a way to torture yourself.


A good song certainly helps too. It can brighten your mood and give you energy. Painting in silence is kinda creepy to me. The 2 things I’ve always hated about taking an art workshop is:


1. It’s really hard for me to sit and watch someone paint and not to want to be painting myself.


And 2. There is rarely music playing. Creepy.


The only time I want it that quiet is when I’m sleeping or sneaking out to pee in the backyard.


What do you think gets you most in the mood to paint?


Greg: I always want to paint. I wake up, open a Mountain Dew and start painting. I love to paint while I’ve still got a foot in last night’s dreams. I paint for a couple of hours then brush my teeth and start my day.


Going on vacation can be mildly traumatic. I feel unbalanced when I don’t paint for awhile. That’s another reason I love my iPad. Now I can draw and paint in my lap wherever I go. Although, it’s not quite the same, is it?


Here's a better answer… As I mentioned before, watching someone paint puts me in the mood to paint. Especially characters in movies! Movies make being an artist look unrealistically majestic, hyper-passionate, other worldly. a rebel rock star with a colorful palette. Lol. Being an artist is a unique way to make a living, but not nearly as glamorous as portrayed in movies. Most of the artists I know are just lifelong students. Always studying the world and learning to improve their craft.


Although, when someone gets excited by something I created it’s a mini Rock Star moment for me. Seeing someone appreciate what I made is very rewarding and feels special.


Watching YouTube, looking at art books, the Internet, or seeing an artist in the movies inspires me in the same way. I always want to be the one who is trying to make something. I feel connected and identify with people who create, and when I see their art, or watch them work, I always want to participate and make stuff too.


I just bought another killer Sargent book. It’s got a few antique photos of him posing in his studio and then page after page of these amazing portraits. I slide through a few pages of that and I’m at the easel in no time!


Do you ever get ignorant comments through social media about your art? Do people ever try to haggle for your work?


Greg: Yes and yes.


Neither really bothers me. People know I’m easy going and funny. So, when they crack jokes about the girl in my painting I usually laugh along with them, even if I know their comment is probably hurting my sale.


If someone wants to haggle for a painting of mine I just appreciate the fact they picked THAT one over all the others in the gallery or online. Two of my friends are hagglers big time! I’m not sure if they’ve ever paid full price for anything. It’s a game for them and I’m jealous. I lack even a hint of that. I probably could have gotten a discount on some of those used CDs I mentioned.


What hurts is, I don’t figure haggling into my price. I have a variety of people who collect my art. Rich and poor, hotels and hovels, leaders and students, male and female, and everyone in between. I try to price my work where everyone can be included in the artistic journey I’ve been on.


Was there ever one of your pieces that disappointed you? That didn’t turn out how you imagine?


Greg: Nothing I paint turns out how I imagine. For me, painting is like putting together a puzzle with a few pieces missing and I’m always trying to find the right piece that fits to finish it. I always think I can make something cool that makes me happy, and even if it’s a rough start I’ll just keep painting and painting until I find those missing pieces.


Once in a while they just don’t come. I always work on several things at once and when I realize I haven’t touched a painting for a long time I put it aside into the ‘Nope’ pile of fails.


Is there a piece you will never part with?


Greg: Ya, and that stack is growing. I’m my favorite artist. I like how I paint and I like my growth. I appreciate the landmarks in my artistic adventure, the stories they tell and the lessons I’ve learned. My silly paintings will always mean more to me than anyone else. Looking at one of my paintings, I can hear the music that was playing and relive the dreams I was having. I like studying my own stuff as much as the other artist I hang on my walls.


Is there an artist you look up to? and why?


Greg: I look up to so many artists! From my buddy I paint with downtown, to graffiti artists bombing an underpass, my partners at the gallery, and all those artists I’ve studied under... on through to more historical figures.

Right now (if I disclude today’s artists), I consistently reference the color and marks of Degas, Frazetta, and Sargent.


As loose as Degas’ pastels feel he labored hard over composition. That’s important to me. He was a genius at the Golden Ratio and other tools of composition. Yet, his paintings flow so beautifully and naturally. They’re not stiff and over composed like many of his predecessors.


Frazetta’s fantasy artwork is right up my alley, but if you look beyond the big booty girls, crazy creatures, and wild warriors, his composition, colors and marks are inspiring.


There are so many great figure painters I study, but Sargent has been blowing my mind. That book I bought has humbled, encouraged and challenged me. I’m going to eventually crack Sargent’s code, even if I’m painting big booty warriors or Canadian pilots polishing cropdusters.


What is a go-to snack for artistry?


Greg: Does gum count? I chew a lot of gum.



Interested in discovering more about Greg Lahti and his work?


I recommend you give him a follow on your platform of choice!


DeviantArt: Sloppygee

Instagram: @art_of_greg_lahti

Facebook: Greg Lahti Painting

Website: Art Group Arkansas