Mor­gan Weistling

Western Art Collector - - CONTENTS -

Wit­ness from the past

It’s been 12 years since Mor­gan Weistling had a solo show. Not that he wasn’t ac­tive— de­mands for paint­ings at the Mas­ters of the Amer­i­can West and Prix de West mu­seum ex­hi­bi­tions kept him plenty busy—but now, at the fringes of his first solo show in a dozen years, the Cal­i­for­nia painter is thrilled to have a unique sto­ry­telling op­por­tu­nity knock­ing at his door.

“A solo show of­fers a great op­por­tu­nity to present a group of paint­ings that all go to­gether. It’s a rare chance to do that,” Weistling says. “One painting can stand on its own, but it’s a dif­fer­ent feel­ing when you can of­fer some in­sight on a group of paint­ings that are filled with new dis­cov­er­ies and new rev­e­la­tions.”

The solo ex­hi­bi­tion, A Brush With His­tory, which shares its name with Weistling’s new book, will fea­ture a dozen re­cent works, each of which looks back on pi­o­neer and Western fam­i­lies from the mid-1800s. Weistling’s works of­fer a glimpse into ev­ery­day Western life, par­tic­u­larly from a child’s point of view. “Time trav­el­ing with a brush, that’s what I’m do­ing with each new piece. These are paint­ings from my imag­i­na­tion, but they are guided by his­tory, so if I could just jump in a Delorean and go back 150 years or so I would. I’d take my palette with me and just paint what I could see, maybe hang around a one-room school­house and watch the stu­dents and the teacher,” he says, adding that his­tory guides his work, but he also draws heav­ily from live mod­els, on-site painting and phys­i­cal “sets” where his ac­tion is staged. “I will al­ways swear this job is close to be­ing a movie direc­tor, set de­signer, art direc­tor…i’m do­ing all these things and stuff­ing it all into one painting. Gath­er­ing the re­sources is fun be­cause it pays off in the paint­ings.”

For in­stance, in The Duck­lings, Weistling had been qui­etly search­ing for some­one with duck­lings for years. He fi­nally found some­one and im­me­di­ately re­turned home with crates of bor­rowed duck­lings. He turned his child mod­els loose on the an­i­mals and let them play and see what came of it. The re­sult is The Duck­lings, in which three chil­dren are play­ing with nearly two dozen duck­ling in and around a wooden bar­rel.

“An open door is an in­vi­ta­tion to vis­i­tors, hu­man or other­wise. I have had the plea­sure for the past 20 years of be­ing able to study the fas­ci­nat­ing world of chil­dren through my paint­ings. When peo­ple get a phone call to bring their kids over for a painting they never know what strange and won­der­ful ad­ven­ture it might be,” he says of the work. “In this case a bunch of baby duck­lings were met with great en­thu­si­asm. But at its core, as is with all my paint­ings, I am just as in­ter­ested in the light I am go­ing to cap­ture in the story I am go­ing to tell.”

Light plays a sig­nif­i­cant role in all of the new

works, and it is how Weistling is push­ing him­self with each piece. In The Laun­dry Helpers, light is dif­fused and com­ing from front, which cre­ates these soft shad­ows be­hind the two girls in the painting’s cen­ter. In The Law, over­head light cre­ates dra­matic shad­ows that cross a sher­iff’s face, while Hope fea­tures bril­liant and clear light that its young sub­ject stares in­tently into.

Weistling prefers to use live mod­els, and of­ten uses his own fam­ily as sub­jects, some­thing he did more fre­quently when his two daugh­ters were younger—they are now 12 and 22 years old. “It’s dif­fi­cult in this day and age of automation. Peo­ple just grew up dif­fer­ently back then and it cre­ated char­ac­ter in them. I wish we could see more of that now. I have no in­spi­ra­tion what­so­ever to paint my daugh­ters look­ing at their phones… it will prob­a­bly never hap­pen,” he says. “But when they’re do­ing some­thing real that’s where I can re­ally ob­serve and ap­pre­ci­ate what they’re do­ing. Back in the pi­o­neer days, ev­ery­thing they did was real, whether it was mak­ing but­ter or can­dles or do­ing the laun­dry. That’s why I’m so happy to paint those scenes. They are about real peo­ple do­ing real things.”

The Laun­dry Helpers, oil on linen, 26 x 30”

The Law, oil on linen, 16 x 12”

The Duck­lings, oil on linen, 36 x 36”

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