As a young art student, Ken Riley had the opportunity to study with Harvey Dunn; one of America's most influential artists and teachers. Riley attended Dunn's evening workshops at Grand Central School of Art in New York while studying at the Art Students League during the day. Dunn had been part of Howard Pyle's studio in Wilmington, Delaware, where luminaries such as N. C. Wyeth and Frank Schoonover also trained. Riley also studied for one year with American artist Thomas Hart Benton.
Riley is a direct link between the great Western artists of the late nineteenth century and the Western artists of the contemporary scene. He has been a member of the Cowboy Artists of America since 1982 and has worked and painted alongside some of the twentieth century's finest interpreters of the American West; including Robert Lougheed, John Clymer, and Donald Teague.
In the late 1960's, after working as an illustrator for many years on the East Coast, he was commissioned by the U.S. Park Service to create several paintings of the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. During that time, he decided to devote his work solely to Western subjects. “Those trips,” he says, “convinced me that the West was where I wanted to live and work.” In 1973, Riley moved to Tucson, Arizona, and he has been there every since.
Early in his career, Riley painted a wide range of historical Western subjects, but during the past several years, he has concentrated almost solely on Native American subjects. He has gradually moved away from direct narrative treatments to allegorical studies of Indian life and culture. A master of design, composition, and color, Riley has developed a style of work that is immediately recognizable. He won the Prix de West award at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1995. He was the first recipient of the Eiteljorg Museum Award for excellence in American art. Riley's paintings hang in the permanent collections of the White House and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.