Art in Re­view Robert Lougheed: A Bril­liant Life in Art

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - — Iris McLis­ter

NE­DRA MAT­TEUCCI GAL­LERIES, 1075 Paseo de Per­alta, 505-982-4631; open­ing re­cep­tion 2 p.m. Satur­day, Nov. 14; ex­hi­bi­tion runs through De­cem­ber

“Most of the time we were soli­tary adventurers in a great land as fresh and new as a spring morn­ing, and we were free and full of the zest of dar­ers.” When Texas rancher Charles Goodnight ut­tered th­ese words, prob­a­bly in the early part of the 20th cen­tury, he spoke not only to a cat­tle­man’s love for open spa­ces, but also to any­one who’s ever been daz­zled by the ro­mance and majesty of the Amer­i­can West. Cer­tainly, his words would have rung true for an artist like Robert Lougheed. Among his­toric Western pain­ters, Lougheed oc­cu­pies a unique niche. Rather than de­pict cow­boy-and-In­dian skir­mishes or ram­bunc­tious cat­tle trains, Lougheed’s sen­si­bil­ity is sub­tle, man­i­fested in com­po­si­tions that cham­pion bril­liant light and lush brush­strokes. For the most part his pal­ette is re­strained and bright, and al­though he was lauded by or­ga­ni­za­tions like the Cow­boy Artists of Amer­ica and the Na­tional Cow­boy Hall of Fame, Lougheed mustn’t be thought of as strictly a “cow­boy artist,” as his artis­tic out­put con­tains far more grace than grit.

Lougheed was born in 1910 in Massey, On­tario, a ru­ral com­mu­nity near the U.S.-Cana­dian border. Grow­ing up on a farm, he was sur­rounded by coun­try­side and keenly at­tuned to the sub­tleties of his nat­u­ral sur­round­ings. At eleven, Lougheed re­ceived his first paid job as an artist, to de­sign an ad for chicken feed for a poul­try merchant. By the time Lougheed en­tered his teenage years, he at­tracted the at­ten­tion of the Toronto Star, whom he worked for as an il­lus­tra­tor. Lougheed was em­ployed by the news­pa­per for sev­eral years be­fore pur­su­ing train­ing at the ven­er­a­ble Art Stu­dents League in New York City in 1935. While in New York, Lougheed stud­ied un­der artist Frank Du­Mond, whose em­pha­sis on plein-air paint­ing would greatly in­flu­ence Lougheed’s predilec­tion for on­site drafts­man­ship. Soon, Lougheed was

lead­ing a suc­cess­ful ca­reer as a free­lance com­mer­cial artist, paint­ing cover art for mag­a­zines like Reader’s Digest and Na­tional Ge­o­graphic, and de­sign­ing lo­gos like the fa­mous red Pe­ga­sus for Mo­bil Oil Com­pany; through­out his ca­reer, he il­lus­trated a num­ber of chil­dren’s books.

Ne­dra Mat­teucci Gal­leries’ com­pre­hen­sive ex­hi­bi­tion Robert Lougheed: A Bril­liant Life in Art acts very much like a his­tor­i­cal sur­vey, com­pris­ing more than 80 orig­i­nal works that span the artist’s ca­reer. Re­gally framed oil paint­ings are joined by a num­ber of works on pa­per, in­clud­ing Un­ti­tled

(Rid­ing Navajo), a pen-and-ink draw­ing of a horse-mounted man in pro­file. Lougheed’s abil­i­ties as a drafts­man are made ap­par­ent in the mod­estly scaled work, whose sub­ject is con­fi­dently con­veyed with easy black strokes that man­age to de­pict even minute de­tails with seem­ing ef­fort­less­ness. The horse­man’s Con­cho belt, for ex­am­ple, is con­vinc­ingly por­trayed with just a row of linked cir­cles.

In 1973’s An­te­lope Pas­ture, al­most two-thirds of the oil-on-Ma­sonite com­po­si­tion is of golden grasses, their pale tones achieved with ver­ti­cal, del­i­cately ren­dered brush­strokes. Only the up­per por­tion of the work fea­tures a clus­ter of the piece’s tit­u­lar an­te­lope, and the an­i­mals fore­ground a dis­tant, ver­dant mesa dot­ted with sage­brush and piñon. The per­spec­tive is markedly more dra­matic in Un­ti­tled (Back Lit Snow Scene), which dan­gles the viewer high above a snow-cov­ered home­stead. Long shad­ows cast a steely blue light on the ground, em­pha­siz­ing the stark­ness of the land­scape as well as the in­ten­sity of the com­po­si­tion’s dizzy­ing over­head cant.

Many of Lougheed’s works em­ploy a more tra­di­tional, straight-on per­spec­tive, with cen­trally aligned sub­jects that draw the eye to the mid­dle of the com­po­si­tion. In Wait­ing by the Saint Croix Mill, a pair of golden brown horses face away from us, their muz­zles al­most touch­ing at the ap­prox­i­mate cen­ter of the paint­ing; just be­yond this point is the cen­ter of a mill. Thickly painted shoots of bright yel­low and green grass cover the lower half of the can­vas, and the top por­tion fea­tures a cerulean sky dot­ted with cot­tony clouds. In the dis­tance, a jagged range of emer­ald moun­tains ap­pears with its high­est peak po­si­tioned al­most smack dab in the mid­dle of the paint­ing, fur­ther un­der­scor­ing its cen­tral align­ment.

Trav­el­ing was para­mount to Lougheed’s artis­tic iden­tity, and he took roughly half of each year away from com­mer­cial obli­ga­tions in ex­change for fine art pur­suits, in­sist­ing on the im­por­tance of paint­ing from a land­scape in­stead of a pho­to­graph. His first jaunt to New Mex­ico was in 1952, even­tu­ally set­tling there with his wife Cordy in 1970; Lougheed died in 1982 in Santa Fe. Re­mem­bered and beloved for its re­fined brush­strokes, daz­zling light, and cel­e­bra­tion of tra­di­tional Western sub­ject and style, Lougheed’s oeu­vre isn’t par­tic­u­larly provoca­tive, but it cer­tainly is mes­mer­iz­ing.

Robert Lougheed: An­te­lope Pas­ture, 1973, oil on Ma­sonite; top left, Un­ti­tled (Rid­ing Navajo), 1974, pen and ink; top right, Un­ti­tled (Back Lit Snow Scene), oil on board; op­po­site page, L’Isle d’Or­leans, oil on board

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