by Pam Olson
The Legendary West showcases three of Modern West Fine Art's longest practicing artists, including Billy Shenck, Ed Mell, and Gary Ernest Smith, each making their own distinct, interpretive mark on the established narrative of the West. During gallery stroll, we were privileged to hear from Schenck and Smith as they gave us more insight into their processes and practices.
Pictured below, Billy Schenck stands in front of Taos Descanso [middle], which he revealed was one of his favorite pieces.
"I first started my career in New York City without a lot of access to the West," Billy said. In thinking, then, about how to approach the iconography of the West, someone suggested to him, "Why don't you use movie stills?"
It's from this romantic and cinematic point of entry that Billy Schenck first engaged formally with Western tropes in order to problematize them.
"So, I started using black and white movie stills," Billy said, "and eventually gravitated to images of Southern Utah. Almost everything here tonight is from Monument Valley or the surrounding areas of Canyon Lands into Northern Arizona."
"For quite a few of these, I use photographs to put together my skies and my landscapes. It's sort of a collage of images that I build."
This technique of Schenck's is obvious in the photographic flattening of the scenes he paints. His signature, reductivist style also mimics the stylization of printmaking and Pop Art.
"I like to set up situations," Billy continued, "It's sort of like being on a movie set with all your actors, waiting for your light to be right. But instead of using moving images with sound, I’m just shooting film to make stills."
"This is a cowboy [above left] friend of mine who actually appears in a lot of Westerns and we rodeo together. We have a cattle-broker who got us these longhorns, and I photographed them."
Schenck's captioned-pieces [above] were inspired by a series of black and white photographs [below] he made which are also captioned with excerpts of narrative fragments that he terms "revisionist history." These are made-up histories that Schenck reinserts into Western mythology to reinforce and highlight the fictive and invented nature of the Western, American myth.
"I'm interested in exploring Western mythology, and diving into something that goes beyond the more traditional imagery. I wanted to make a war against this legacy," Schenck said.
While Ed Mell was unable to join us for the opening reception, we were thrilled to showcase three new works that are emblematic of his iconic, signature-minimalist and angular-style. Mell was inspired as a child by automobiles and the futuristic designs of the late '40s and '50s and began his career in advertising and illustration. These influences are evident in his approach to the landscape of the West.
Pictured below, Gary Ernest Smith stands in front of a few of his works at the opening of The Legendary West.
No doubt a product of living here and having deep connections to the West, all of Gary Ernest Smith's paintings in this show highlight Utah landscapes.
"The field pieces are paintings that I have painted locally in fields that are in the process of becoming housing projects," Gary said. "Some are very near my home. This is happening so quickly that I said to myself, 'I’m going to do what I can to preserve a little bit of what this used to look like.'"
It's this act of preservation and celebration of natural land that inspired these beautiful field and desert pieces.
Of course, this preservation is metaphoric. Smith attempts to engage the viewer in completing the image, and essentially, its meaning.
"I like to emphasize form and structure," he says, "and I delete details of things I consider unnecessary. I put in shapes where your eye [and your mind] can complete the rest of the form."
Using this technique of exaggerating basic, generic form, the end result is quite breathtaking, as Smith relies on color and shape to evoke the simplest memories and emotions.
"This field, [pictured blow], is a soybean field." Speaking of his experience there, Smith recounted the vibrancy of the deep purples and reds. "When the soybeans ripen," he said, "they turn all shades of brilliant oranges."
Smith talked about how enamored he was with the beautiful textures and colors in nature. It was on this vein that he revealed a bit of his practice that helps him remain true to natural textures.
"My paintings are all done with palette knife," he said. It looks like a brush, but it’s not. Sometimes I shape my knives to give me the specific shape and texture I want."
Smith likes to remain true to natural colors, as well. Speaking of the rich hues of canyons and mountain ranges he said...
"I never exaggerated these colors."
It's clear that Smith's works are all imbued with memories and contact, evidence of his relationship to the land he paints. Speaking of his experience in Snow Canyon, [pictured above], Smith told of his encounter with a rattle snake as he was painting. Although an alarming moment, all that remains is a fond memory that this painting evokes for him. "I didn't bother him and he didn't bother me," he said.
There is definitely an abstracted quality to his work. Speaking of his painting, Gateway [below], he said, "I saw this as one of the great symbols of the American West. You have this abstracted fence with different meanings depending on which side of the fence you're standing on. This became a symbol of interest to me."
"One side looking back represented the old West of the past, and standing on the other side was a paved road going up to a gate, looking into the future. For me," he said, "this was a portal that captured time," and no doubt the sentimental feeling of capturing this changing, Western landscape.
The Legendary West is on display now through November 13, 2017
Modern West Fine Art's represented artist Jann Haworth and Liberty Blake hosted another inspiring and productive workshop for their project, "Work In Progress" at TEDWomen2017. Participants choose from a selection of woman who have been a catalyst for change throughout history. They are then taught how to create a stencil with the help of Haworth and Blake.
At the conclusion of the workshop the images produced are then complied and placed onto a panel that will travel with the project. Haworth hopes that "Work In Progress" will help inspire women to make a positive change in the world. If you are instested in hosting a workshop please reach out for more information and visit the projects website https://workinprogressmural.org/
We had the chance to sit down with Jann Haworth after her opening reception to talk more about her inspiration for March, her new and timely body of work investigating the conventions of representation of bodies, of materials, and inevitable dissent. March is now on display through October 14th, 2017.
Can you talk about the bodies as mannequins in your work? They're at once completely individualistic, yet faceless and consumed by large groups and masses.
The idea of the mannequin as an archetype, a simplification, an abstraction, a substitute, a surrogate, and an objectification is of prime interest to me. I see the mannequin as the center point of a great many things that I want to talk about visually.
I like the idea of Plato's “forms,” and his thinking about archetypes that stand for the multiplicity of variants. Like the word 'dog' stands for all dogs, of which there are a myriad of types and individuals within types. I see in this the concept of the simplified human; the Brancusi version--smoothed and pared down to essential forms. I see my figures moving away from realism toward geometry and abstraction, like the trajectory of bodies in the art historical tradition.
Then is the idea of the substitute. The doppelganger, or the fake, really appeals to me, and this is straight-up Hollywood. On the sound-stages you would see a stand-in or a double for the “star” or a latex version of Kevin McCarthy, or Dana Winters...it’s them but not them. I love how that messes with reality. This too is the surrogate, or something that takes the action replacing another. And that surrogate is a point in psychology, as is “objectification,” where one person takes the place of another, or is de-personed all together and is only a fill-in for someone else's reality.
It’s all very complicated, but we have all been in that Alice in Wonderland-like position where, like Alice, we are insisting we are real and yet we are not being treated or really perceived as real, with respect, or focused understanding.
So, the mannequin for me is a very powerful nexus of a multitude of ideas.
You're known to utilize and repurpose unconventional materials. What was the inspiration behind using cardboard?
For me, form follows idea, not the other way round. Cardboard as a form arose out of the idea that this was a parade, protest, or a march. The signage of marches is often cardboard and the images and writing may well be chalk or things that are at home, hence the use of pastel -- a refined version of chalk. Further, most of my work involves cutting. I like exact edges and I am drawn to the cut line, the stencil, the collage, cut and sewn fabric. I don't like blurred edges like you might find in impressionism.
Were there any particular challenges you had or insights you gained with this new material?
I decided that I wanted to make the composition difficult. I did this by relocating the larger figures on the edge of the picture plane, or putting the smallest figure in the middle, or reversing my normal color pallet, or having a frieze of figures rather than one central *punch* figure.
I wanted, basically, to destroy pop art.
Knowing that this new body of work was inspired by your 2008 single page comic strip Mannequin Defectors and your experience at the 2017 DC Women's March, can you speak a little more to these concepts of "dissent" and "defecting" that appear in March?
I guess it is a continuing theme that, for me, began in the Girl Scout Brownies. The expectations of the Troop Mothers made me entirely rebellious. I started a mini-Brownie rebellion, which makes me laugh a lot now.
I also think artists have a compulsion to turn left when everyone else is turning right. If the general opinion is set on something, your reaction is, "Why that? Why not x, y, or z?” I think most, all my work is probably a dissent of some sort. There is a needle in the work somewhere.
The DC March was deeply moving, it can’t really be explained. The work is an homage to the event and an offering to all marches and protests. I kept the pieces generalized, and there are no pink hats for that reason.
Could you elaborate a bit on the titles of the individual works in March and of your broader title Mannequin Defectors in general?
Saffron (pictured above) gets its title from the saffron-yellow sky. And it is such a beautiful word.
The pair of 1 Robert, 1 Dennis, & Gabriel are referencing four men whose paths I crossed and had meaningful professional encounters with who helped me in my career. They reference Robert Fraser, my gallerist in the '60s, Dennis Hopper, actor and photographer I showed with at Robert’s and knew later in Sundance, my good friend Peter Gabriel, and Robert Redford.
The other titles pick up on the fact that March is a month (my birth month) as well as a physical march. The month is generic like the march depicted, not a particular march that took place in February, etc.
The idea of the mannequin defecting is, directly, the mannequin defecting from the male studio as an objectified thing. They are refusing to 'pose' anymore.
Please stop by the gallery to see March, by Jann Haworth before October 14th.
Modern West Fine Art's Native Voices exhibition showcases work from our artists of American Indian descent including Shonto Begay, Nocona Burgess, Sheldon Harvey, Patrick Hubbell, Frank Buffalo Hyde, Petecia Le Fawnhawk, Courtney Leonard, Stanley Natchez, Ben Pease, and Kevin Red Star. While the artists showcased all have Native American ancestry, they come from vastly different tribes and explore distinct themes in their work.
Patrick Dean Hubbell is Diné (Navajo), originally from Navajo, New Mexico.
My work is an investigation of identity. I am drawn to the subtle questioning of this examination. I find inspiration in everything and I use various themes rooted in the correlation and the conflict of both my Native American and Contemporary mindset. I am equally interested in the abstract qualities of expression as well as representational imagery. Using nature, stories, philosophies, and abstract representations, I am able to depict this existence of identity. My work includes the use of bold and vibrant colors, combined with the integration of various elements of design, and a multitude of line quality and expressive mark making that often mimics what nature provides. These elements allow me to create my own aesthetic value in which reflect a personal experience of memory, physical, mental, and spiritual instances from life. The expressive personality of my work allows the viewer a momentary visual experience.
Nocona Burgess is from Lawton, Oklahoma, and is the great-great-grandson of Chief Quanah Parker.
Growing up, Nocona traveled and lived throughout the western United States including: Pennsylvania, Montana, Arizona and New Mexico. Taking after his father's love for the arts, he graduated with an Associate in Fine Arts from Institute of American Indian Arts. Nocona then furthered his education and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, and received a Master's in Education from the University of New Mexico. Nocona is now internationally represented and continues to produce highly collectible works.
Kevin Red Star was born on the Crow Indian Reservation in Lodge Grass, Montana.
Indian culture has in the past been ignored to a great extent. It is for me, as well as for many other Indian artists, a rich source of creative expression. An intertwining of my Indian culture with contemporary art expression has given me a greater insight concerning my art. I hope to accomplish something for the American Indian and at the same time achieve personal satisfaction in a creative statement through my art.
Stanley Natchez is a Shoshone/Paiute artist born in Los Angeles and currently living in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Natchez is known for beautifully crafting familiar objects with bold powerful colors that reflect onto traditional Native American culture. In his pantings he includes figures that inspire the feel of the Old West, such as Cowboys, Native Americans and western wildlife. To amplify the depth and visual appeal of his pieces he includes beadwork, gold-leaf and additional textures to his works of art.
Though his Native roots he developed his passion for the arts. Stan was trained in his cultures traditional dance which took him around the world. His extensive travels honed his artistic abilities ever farther as he strives to bring together modern techniques and philosophies into a balanced and complex harmony.
Frank Buffalo Hyde traces his heritage to the Nez Perce and Onondaga people.
When working on a piece, I tap into the universal mind. The collective unconsciousness of the 21st century. Drawing images from advertisement, movies, television, music and politics. Expressing observation, as well as knowledge through experience. Overlapping imagery to mimic the way the mind holds information: non linear and without separation. I don't need permission to make what I make. Never have...no artist should.
Courtney Leonard is from the Shinnecock Nation of Long Island New York.
Leonard is an artist and filmmaker who has contributed to the Offshore Art movement. Her current work embodies the multiple definitions of "breach," an exploration and documentation of historical ties to water, whale and material sustainability. Her artwork explores the evolution of language, image, and culture through mixed media.
"The word “breach” can be used in many different ways. Legally, “breach of contract” is the failure to observe an agreement. It can also mean a gap in a wall or barrier. Breach can also be used as a verb — especially when it comes to the act of a whale breaking the surface of water."
Shonto Begay was born in a hogan and raised on Diné land, known as the Navajo Nation.
From a very young age, I found excitement in recreating facets of my universe in varying images. I was inspired and surrounded by Hozho (beauty), including the sounds of songs and healing chants accompanied with stories from elders. I survived boarding school partly because of my spiritual strength and retreat into my drawings. I was always drawing. "Arts Save Lives" is my mantra. "Shonto" in Dine' translates to sunlight on water--a reflection of light on the canyon wall from the flowing water. My journey as an artist is to document my life and the world as I see through the lens I was born with through my Navajo experience while negotiating the modern. I have worn many hats in my life: shepherd, BIA Boarding School inmate, cowboy, National Park Service Ranger, Wildfire crew, professional boxing team support, film actor, author and artist.
Sheldon Harvey is a member of the Red Running Into Water Clan of the Diné Navajo Nation.
Sheldon Harvey's work depicts spirits from the Navajo creation myth and other ancient traditions in an effort to preserve his culture and the story of his people. His sculptures are made of wood, hand-stained and painted, with feather, yucca, and other natural material additions. Each signed piece embodies a piece of Navajo folklore and carries a piece of Sheldon’s creative essence.
Ben Pease was born and raised on the Crow Reservation.
Throughout my life, I've tried to soak up as much cultural, societal, and traditional aspects of what it means to be an aboriginal from North America in the whirlwind of today. I find my definition of being Native to this land as an interpersonal physical and spiritual relationship which is connected to all surrounding entities, beings, organisms, and geological features.
I have been practicing as a professional Native Artist for almost 4 years around the country. My work and process are currently evolving, for the more I learn, the less I know. I've recently crossed paths with self-appointed task of narrating the Aboriginal struggles and aesthetics through my personal interpretation. Whether my art focuses upon statements drawn from the aspect of an activist or based on cultural recording, I feel the need to educate and speak volumes. I will continue my transition from a so-called "Rez-Kid" to a culturally rich Contemporary Storyteller.
It is ridiculous to say Natives must abandon the assimilated lives we've grown used to living. What is plausible is that we must act with solidarity to recreate our migration away from traditional techniques and customs. Charging forward wielding solidarity to combat and recompense our losses in the assimilation of our ancestors appears to be a great goal. My journey as a storyteller stands as a continuation of my contribution to our contemporary cultures, as I will pass along the knowledge I earn. I am eager.
Petecia Le Fawnhawk is of Of Irish, German and Cherokee descent.
I have an overwhelming urge to pick up a certain stick, stone or bone because of some undefined beauty or unique character and take it home with me. I want to understand what it is that I find beautiful about these natural objects. Why do they hold such a place of honor? If I studied them closely enough, analyzing their structure and anatomy of existence out of context, and draw them big enough, I might understand my spiritual connection and relationship to something beyond them.
Stop by the gallery before September 12, 2017 to see Native Voices and our Contemporary Trading Post.