The Mon­tana 6

A new group of young, ex­cited Western painters are mak­ing waves in Big Sky Coun­try.

Western Art Collector - - CONTENTS - By Michael Claw­son

Blame Daniel Keys. He’s the linch­pin in this story. In 2012, Tyler Mur­phy, a young as­pir­ing artist and gallery owner, signed up for one of Daniel Keys’ paint­ing work­shops. Af­ter the work­shop a friend­ship took hold and be­fore long the two artists were tak­ing paint­ing trips to­gether. Keys had also be­come friends with sev­eral other artists, many of whom had also been friends with Mur­phy and had taken the work­shops.

“They all like to tease me, sort of an in­side joke, that you have to pay a fee to be my friend,” Keys says, laugh­ing at the op­tics of this dy­namic. “But that’s just how we all met, and once we had that in com­mon, we started in­tro­duc­ing ev­ery­one to ev­ery­one else. I might have been the per­son who led the work­shops, but Tyler was the glue that kept us to­gether, and now we’re all friends.”

This rag­tag group of artists, who of­ten found them­selves in Mon­tana paint­ing the sky and the land in in­tensely pro­duc­tive plein air ses­sions, would not for­mally or­ga­nize—no meet­ing min­utes, no roll call, no man­i­festo or shared web­site. They just en­joyed the com­pany, the mu­tual in­ter­ests and the art­work. The group was then, and still to­day, made up of Keys, Mur­phy, Nate Clos­son, Richie Carter, Ken­neth Yarus and For­rest Dick­i­son. Though Keys lives in Cal­i­for­nia and Dick­i­son in Idaho, the group is largely based in Mon­tana, and use Mu­phy’s five-year-old Mon­tana Gallery in Billings as a hub. They call them­selves the Young Guns, which is fit­ting be­cause all of them are in their 20s and 30s.

For Mur­phy his in­volve­ment with the group and the gallery nearly never hap­pened. In 2015, burnt out from the start-up and ini­tial years of Mon­tana Gallery, he needed a break. “I just had to step away from the art and the gallery for a bit,” Mur­phy says. “I be­came a barista for the sum­mer and I ended up on this cof­fee tour ex­pe­ri­ence where we’d serve cof­fee at mu­sic fes­ti­vals all around the coun­try. But then we all got laid off in the mid­dle of Ne­braska and when I came back I was thrown back into my life as an artist and gallery owner.”

For Mur­phy, the time away was ther­a­peu­tic and helped clear his head for what would even­tu­ally be­come a pe­riod of great for­ward mo­men­tum. By 2016, the gallery owner was ready to kick start the next phase of its de­vel­op­ment, which started with a move from Red Lodge, Mon­tana, to Billings, a much larger city where he was more con­nected to the Mon­tana’s thriv­ing arts and cul­ture scene, and the youth­ful en­ergy that flour­ished around it.

It was here that the group be­gan to so­lid­ify more and come into its own. The paint­ing

trips, which some­times in­volved dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of the six artists, be­came more fre­quent, and the art­work be­gan to flow more eas­ily.

“What’s great about the six of us is that we all kind of paint dif­fer­ently. We’re each our own per­son, and our own artist,” Mur­phy says. “You have peo­ple like Daniel, who is the pro­fes­sional artist and is taken very se­ri­ously, and who we are all drawn to as a friend and men­tor. He’s also played a big part of help­ing me keep the gallery go­ing and help­ing me find some di­rec­tion into the fu­ture.”

Keys’ work is cer­tainly the most rec­og­niz­able, and most valued, of the group. It’s also the loos­est, with raw im­pres­sion­is­tic brush­strokes and pow­er­ful color that ra­di­ates through his quiet land­scapes and beau­ti­fully com­posed still lifes. These qual­i­ties be­come more pro­nounced and pow­er­ful when you learn that Keys was men­tored by the great Richard Sch­mid. Some of those im­pres­sion­ist qual­i­ties can also be seen Mur­phy’s work, which of­ten ex­plores life in Mon­tana amid the moun­tain peaks, golden val­leys and on mag­nif­i­cent farms and ranches.

Clos­son, who lives in White­fish,

Daniel Keys paint­ing in Par­adise Val­ley, Mon­tana.

Daniel Keys, left, Richie Carter, Tyler Mur­phy and Ken­neth Yarus pose with their easel stands.

Richie Carter, Last to Leave Here, oil on linen, 48 x 66”

For­rest Dick­i­son, Pamiri High­way, gouache on wa­ter­color pa­per, 6 x 9"

Daniel Keys, Mis­sion Moun­tain Barn, oil, 6 x 12"

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