Collector’s Focus: Painting Canyons and Deserts
PAINTING CANYONS & DESERTS
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...