Collector’s Fo­cus: Paint­ing Canyons and Deserts


Western Art Collector - - CONTENTS - BY JOHN O’HERN

Be­fore mov­ing to the south­west I al­ways con­sid­ered Ed­ward Cur­tis’ 1904 pho­to­graph of Navajo on horse­back rid­ing through Canyon de Chelly quintessen­tially the West. The canyon is not only a pri­mary mo­tif in the art of the West, but has been home to in­dige­nous peo­ple for thou­sands of years. Rid­ing or hik­ing through the canyon at cer­tain times of the year, it’s hard to imag­ine the crops that the Navajo have grown there.

One sur­prise is peaches. An ac­count of an ex­pe­di­tion into Navajo coun­try in 1849 men­tions the party be­ing greeted by the Navajo with blan­kets full of peaches. Fif­teen years later the peach trees were de­stroyed in Kit Car­son’s scorched earth pro­gram, which pre­ceded the tragic Long Walk when more than 8,000 Navajo were forced to leave their land and walk 300 miles to a fort in eastern New Mexico.

G. Russell Case painted the canyon from above in his Oc­to­ber in Canyon de Chelly with yel­low cot­ton­woods, a flock of sheep and a hogan. Case paints the soft colors, light, shadow and the mon­u­men­tal­ity of the canyon from re­al­ity fil­tered through is imag­i­na­tion. His out­look echoes that of Thomas Mo­ran (18371926), whose work he ad­mires. Mo­ran wrote, “I place no value upon lit­eral tran­scripts from na­ture. My gen­eral scope is not re­al­is­tic; all my ten­den­cies are to­ward ide­al­iza­tion.” Case’s ide­al­iza­tion may be more real than a lit­eral ren­di­tion, cap­tur­ing its essence in ad­di­tion to its ma­te­ri­al­ity.

A big­ger canyon in Ari­zona is the site of Phan­tom Ranch, built on the banks of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon nearly a mile be­neath the canyon’s rims. Den­nis Far­ris painted the Black Bridge that al­lows mule trains to ferry vis­i­tors and sup­plies across the river in Morn­ing Ar­rival, Phan­tom Ranch from the van­tage point of an an­cient Anasazi ruin.

Far­ris be­gan as an il­lus­tra­tor and says, “When I am re­search­ing a paint­ing, I nat­u­rally grav­i­tate to­ward con­trast. Con­trast of near or far, light and shadow, or bright and muted, is

a con­sis­tent theme in my work. I love open spa­ces. I like to paint the fleet­ing ef­fects of sun­light that come and go too quickly to fully ap­pre­ci­ate the beauty they re­veal.” In 2012 he was a Na­tional Park Ser­vice artist in res­i­dence at the Grand Canyon where he pho­tographed and sketched on his three-week res­i­dency. He brought his adventure to life in his blog but not as vi­brantly as in this paint­ing: a mule team crosses the bridge above the river, which is red with mud from the rains con­trast­ing with the green of the veg­e­ta­tion on the banks. In the paint­ing the qual­i­ties of light, con­trast and depth that he set out to cap­ture are fully re­al­ized.

Phil Bob Bor­man painted the source of the rain in Twi­light’s Crown, thun­der­heads ris­ing ma­jes­ti­cally above the desert in the light of the set­ting sun. He says, “I have been paint­ing clouds and skyscapes for the last 10 years. I haven’t even scratched the sur­face of all that I want to ex­plore in this genre. When I first de­cided to fo­cus on paint­ing clouds, a good friend asked me if I was afraid of be­ing pi­geon­holed. My re­sponse was that when I pick what I paint, it’s not a pi­geon­hole but a pas­sion. I feel great joy with each and every paint­ing.”

Gary Ernest Smith paints the unexpected colors of the land­scape in Coral Sand Desert. He says, “Art is a way of ad­dress­ing hu­man­ity, and my works at­tempt to merge ideas and

memories. Good art func­tions on many lev­els. There is the sur­face ap­peal of sub­ject, and be­low that are lay­ers that may be peeled off, re­veal­ing in­for­ma­tion about the in­di­vid­ual artist and the psy­chol­ogy of his era. There’s the sub­ject but there’s also the un­der­ly­ing theme.” Smith likes to paint the pres­ence of man in the land­scape, but here he por­trays the com­plex beauty of the land it­self.

Through­out this spe­cial sec­tion, col­lec­tors can view desert and canyon scenes from some of the most prom­i­nent artists and gal­leries, as well as learn about the vi­sion be­hind the works.

Sculp­tor Don Woodard’s cre­ations re­ally pop out—he’s con­tin­u­ously look­ing for ways to tell au­then­tic sto­ries through his art­work, of­ten de­pict­ing events he has ex­pe­ri­enced per­son­ally, in­clud­ing his many pack­horse ad­ven­tures through the Rocky Moun­tains.

“My pas­sion is sculpt­ing three-di­men­sional art­work in wood that hang on the wall sim­i­lar to a tra­di­tional paint­ing,” says Woodard. He refers to his work as “re­lief wood sculp­tures” when his work is fin­ished nat­u­rally and “three­d­i­men­sional paint­ings” when he fin­ishes them with paint. Woodard’s sub­ject mat­ter includes ev­ery­thing from land­scapes and wildlife to peo­ple and var­i­ous Western scenes. Risa Waldt, an Ari­zona na­tive, sees the beauty of the Grand Canyon State in a way only artists truly can. “In my 40-plus years of paint­ing wa­ter­col­ors and pal­ette knife oils, plein air is my fa­vorite venue—it cap­ti­vates me,” Waldt says. “I hope my work gives beauty and peace. I love the color that is in na­ture. I’m so ex­cited when I cap­ture that,” she says. A Women Artists of the West as­so­ciate mem­ber, Waldt has had one-woman and gallery shows across the United States and Canada and will be paint­ing in the 2018 Mon­trose Plein Air Fes­ti­val.

Water­color and acrylic artist Buf­falo Kaplin­ski is no stranger to get­ting out in the

open when it comes to his bold, col­or­ful art­work. “Work­ing plein air is al­ways a thrill and chal­lenge. When you go out it’s a do-or­die sit­u­a­tion—[it’s] not sup­posed to be a walk in the park,” Kaplin­ski ex­plains.

The enor­mity of the Grand Canyon, the lay­ers of con­trast­ing colors and the ways in which light dances across those dis­tinc­tive rock formations are an end­less source of in­spi­ra­tion for Linda Glover Gooch. Hav­ing both stud­ied and worked at the Grand Canyon, it’s a place the artist knows warmly. She ex­plains how the canyon it­self can in­flu­ence weather con­di­tions that re­sult in dra­matic light changes, cre­at­ing pic­turesque paint­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. “I con­sider the Grand Canyon a gift—a place on earth that never dis­ap­points me,” she says.

So widely ap­pre­ci­ated is the al­lure of this nat­u­ral won­der, the Grand Canyon Cel­e­bra­tion of Art pro­vides a space for artists to ex­clu­sively ex­plore their fas­ci­na­tion with the na­ture of the Canyon. An an­nual event that be­gan in 2009, the Cel­e­bra­tion of Art strives to keep artis­tic tra­di­tion alive within the park, al­low­ing par­tic­i­pat­ing artists to paint in plein air for a week.

“I have vis­ited the desert fre­quently since

I was a boy. It is amaz­ing how such a harsh en­vi­ron­ment can have such haunt­ing beauty,” says land­scape artist Jay Moore, whose oil paint­ing Sun­rise over Sabino Canyon cap­tures the strik­ing hues of an Ari­zona sky.

Com­ment­ing on Steven Datz’s Heart of the Fire, Medicine Man Gallery pres­i­dent Mark Sublette says, “Most don’t think of moun­tains with snow as desert re­gions, but in fact many moun­tain ranges fall in ar­eas which are clas­si­fied as true deserts. As a na­tive Coloradan, Datz un­der­stands the South­west’s vi­brant colors of red and orange, which are trade­marks of his paint­ings.” Also at the gallery are works by Ray Roberts, whose canyons and blan­ket se­ries will be on view at the gallery in July, and Fran­cis

Liv­ingston, whose vivid colors are re­minders of the south­west.

Maura Allen’s pieces em­pha­size the drama of the desert, with its jagged rock formations, spiny flora and glar­ing sun. “There’s al­ways magic in the air,” she says. “For me, that’s the lure of canyons and deserts. The light and shad­ows are al­ways shift­ing; they just seem to dance. My work show­cases the sharp con­trast be­tween light and dark... and the story it tells is my start­ing point.” Allen’s work can be viewed at Sor­rel Sky Gallery.

Bischoff’s Gallery, lo­cated in his­toric Old Town Scotts­dale, of­fers a wide range of work by Western painter G. Russell Case in both price and size. “His sweep­ing ver­sions of the Western land­scape are com­po­si­tions that com­bine the beauty of the nat­u­ral world with the rich imag­i­na­tion and orig­i­nal­ity of an artist’s mind cre­ated by edit­ing the forms in na­ture,” says the gallery.

In June, vis­i­tors of The Erin Han­son Gallery can view a new col­lec­tion of works by con­tem­po­rary im­pres­sion­ist Erin Han­son—a col­lec­tion fea­tur­ing pieces in­spired by her ad­ven­tures through the na­tional parks and mon­u­ments of Ari­zona, Colorado, Ne­vada and Utah, ac­cord­ing to gallery man­ager Amy Jensen.

Trav­el­ing along the Colorado River, west of Moab, Utah, R. Ge­of­frey Black­burn painted Twi­light on the Colorado dur­ing his last trip with a dear friend. “I added two great blue Herons and took a few artis­tic lib­er­ties with the red rock cliffs, but the scene as we came upon it was pretty much as I painted it,” Black­burn says. “It re­ally was an amaz­ing adventure.”










12. Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Heart of Fire, oil on can­vas board, 32 x 48”, by Stephen C. Datz. 13. Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Coral and Turquoise, oil on panel, 24 x 18”, by Fran­cis Liv­ingston. 14. R. Ge­of­frey Black­burn, Twi­light on...







2. Maxwell Alexan­der Gallery, Oc­to­ber in­canyon de Chelly, oil, 36 x 46”, by G. Russell Case. 3. Al­tamira Fine Art, Coral Sand Desert, oil, 24 x 30”, by Gary Ernest Smith. 4. The Legacy Gallery, Twi­light’s Crown, oil, 51 x 38”, by Phil Bob Bor­man 5....







26 25. Grand Canyon Cel­e­bra­tion of Art, A Canyon of Colors, oil, 29 x 29”, by Michelle Con­drat. 26. Don Woodard, Mount Rush­more, re­lief wood sculp­ture made from lin­den wood, 18 x 25” 27. Linda Glover Gooch, On the Edge of Twi­light, oil on linen, 15 x...




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