The year is 2006.
A tall blond woman stands on top of her pickup truck as 300 wild mustangs gallop toward her.
The horses can smell water from miles away, and her truck is filled with water. The dust cloud was thick, the sound was deafening, and the woman stood transfixed, moved beyond words by the beauty and power of the scene.
Years later, describing that moment, Claudia Strepp says she realized it was something special.
The next day, she drove to K-Mart and purchased a $200 dollar Sony camera, on sale with a zoom lens. She spent the next 2 years of her life coming back to that location, photographing that herd of wild horses. Maybe people seeing her photos would help to protect these beautiful creatures?
The year is 2019.
Claudia is now a prolific award winning photographer with photos published in National Geographic.
As we talk with her, she shows us her art studio, a room with wall-sized canvases covered in conceptual sketches of the scenes she intends to depict. She has moved on from photography to a medium which gives her more creative freedom: Oil.
Claudia has felt drawn to the world of fine art for as long as she can remember. Born in Cologne, Germany and raised by a single mother, she was encouraged to pursue something more practical: Law.
After studying law in university for a short time, she realized it was not for her. She left to pursue a career in dance, studied in Vienna, then founded her own company in Duesseldorf. Her choreography work took her out of Germany and into Tel-Aviv, Israel, where she began acting in TV commercials. Her agency encouraged her to move to NYC where she began to seriously study acting.
A turning point came when a mentor asked Claudia: “Are you acting because you want to, or because you NEED to?” This question lingered in her mind. Claudia realized that acting was not something she felt compelled to do. It was just a step leading to something else in her life.
A cross country drive to California and a stint as a volunteer on a wildlife reservation led her to that transformative moment, standing on her truck, watching the horses run.
In that moment, Claudia realized that wildlife conservation was going to be her main focus for the rest of her life.
When you scroll through her portfolio, that driving force comes through clearly. Every photographed animal is exquisitely captured, with love and respect.
We asked Claudia about her move to becoming a full time artist. So many people struggle to make the jump to doing art full time, how did she make it work?
For years, Claudia supported her art by doing side jobs. Teaching German, event coordination, anything that would pay the bills while she continued to create art. On one of these jobs, she met Yumi and they bonded over mutual love for animals.
When Claudia made the jump to full time painting, she stopped all side work and told her friends she would be MIA for a year. If they wanted to see her, they had to come visit, and bring food! This bold move required self discipline and sacrifice, but it gave Claudia the space and time to grow as an artist. Youtube painting channels became her best friends, as she developed her skill as a painter.
We asked why she prefers oil as a medium over acrylic.
“Light and shadow, and everything in between. That is what you want to express in paintings, right? I feel that oil has higher all-around color spectrum. It’s smooth, it’s beautiful. The colors are so much richer. Because you work in layers, light gets through each and every layer differently until it actually hits the true color.”
Claudia’s first oil painting was of a swan rising out of the water. No easy subject for someone learning a new medium, but Claudia’s characteristic courage in approaching new art forms was in full effect. She spends all of her spare time studying the old masters, reverse engineering their work. Her range of techniques continues to widen with each new painting.
We comment to Claudia how that day standing on the truck in that dusty pasture seems to have been a pivotal moment. That she spent two years to communicate the beauty and power of that first moment with the mustangs, and that it seems she is still on that same basic mission.
“Yes. My mission has become far more focused with a medium that allows me the most freedom. I think to understand that everything and everyone is connected is so powerful. What we do to those horses, we do to us.”
We look forward to Claudia’s upcoming exhibition “Titans” featuring spectacular wall-scale oil paintings of majestic animals. For more information about upcoming exhibitions or Claudia’s talk at the explorer’s club, check here. With every print sale, a donation is made to select conservation organizations.
Photo Credit: Claudia Strepp