Nathan Florence on Exhibition at the Southern Utah Museum of Art

After studying to be a designer and surgeon, Nathan Florence decided to take the sage advice of a professor and pursued his passion to be an artist instead, even though Florence felt it was too much like playing to be legitimate work. After leaving the state for his studies, Florence was eventually drawn back to Salt Lake City by the siren song of the mountains, where he currently lives with his wife and two children.

When asked about his current work, Florence said, "My definition of what it means to be an artist has expanded from traditional drawing and painting to include community activism and education and is still expanding. My current projects include painting commissions, directing a documentary and being an artist in residence at a charter school that has an art and project learning emphasis."

Florence's work has an incredible amount of depth. He incorporates fabrics often as the starting point to layer his paint on. His unique approach provides the viewer with an engaging experience, one that you will not want to miss. Nathan Florence's work is on exhibition at the Southern Utah Museum of Art from October 6 through November 12, 2016 - or visit us at MWFA afterwards to experience his work in person.

Tracy and Sushe Felix Artist Interview

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Husband and wife duo, Tracy and Sushe Felix, have been producing works of art for over 27 years and are on display from October 21 through November 12, 2016. We asked them a few questions on what inspired this body of work and how they created it. 

Tracy, you are known for your whimsical Western Landscapes and candy-like clouds, what encouraged you to define your own style and step away from the more traditional landscapes?

The early modernist artists that worked in Colorado and New Mexico are my biggest influences.  Artists like Charles Bunnell, William Sanderson, Andrew Dasburg and Kenneth Adams to name a few.  They approached the landscape in a more cubist way and also used bright vivid colors.  Another group of artists that I admire are the Hudson River artists mostly Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran.  Both of these artists travel west with survey crews mapping and exploring the new western wilderness.  Their paintings tended to more exaggerated depictions of what they saw.  The mountains were higher and the colors brighter because they wanted the Easterners to be impressed with the new frontier.  I want my paintings to have this same spirit and yet look different.

Sushe, your works are very detailed and often look like they have been airbrushed. What is the process you use to get that type of response from the acrylic paints?

I paint in acrylics, however I always start with a small drawing so I will know exactly how the composition will lay out and where all the darks and lights will be. I then square up the drawing onto my panel and then put a complete reproduction of the drawing down using black and white paint. I then go on top of that with a thin underpainting using all the colors I intend to complete the painting in. On top of this thin loose underpainting I begin to scumble over it with a thicker acrylic using a bristly brush. This creates the soft blended look of airbrushing, yet also looks hand brushed.

You both compose dynamic and captivating landscapes. Do you use references or are they landscapes of your own creation?

Tracy works with both reference materials at times, but for other pieces will also make the landscape up. I more often than not make up my landscapes from my memories of a place or the combination of many places put together. Most important I wish to create pieces with life, energy and a positive joyful spirit! -Sushe

Dick Jemison Artist Interview

We are honored to present Dick Jemison's solo exhibition, Limelight, which features his latest works and will be on display from September 16, through October 15, 2016. Dick has been producing works for over 30 years and remains highly collectable and sought after.  His rhythmic patterns and bold color palette captures the viewer and encourages them to step closer to interact with the pieces. Upon closer inspection the works are composed of a vast array of mixed materials that range from different types of cloth, seeds, paint, horsehair, micro-glass beads, and wood.

Dick recalls going to the Museum of Modern Art in New York in his youth. It was there he first encountered a piece by Sam Francis. The vibrant free flowing paint and dramatic splattering caught his attention. That was when he decided that he would become and artist. From there he was encouraged by his family to pursue his interest and he did so. With help from a few key teachers in various points of his life he found the drive and desire to explore this style of "action painting."  

The use of bold colors is a common occurrence in your Limelight series. What draws you to this bold color pallet?

"My two favorite colors are orange and raspberry, I think it come from popsicles...No, I really think they come form the West and I identify with the West, thats my palette, thats my soul...I also love to work in black. It may come from being back in Alabama with the coal and the steal." 

There are "primitive" patterns throughout many of your works. Where do these influences come from? 

"My influences have been gathered from all around the world, from my late 20's and on..[It's said] Collecting is habit-forming. They say it is a sickness." Dick started collecting African Tribal art when he was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. From there he amassed one of the largest African Pottery Collection in the country. "Everything I collect, everything I do is related to how I exist and who I am." This shines through his works in many of the pieces. 

Kevin Red Star: The House Guest, Episode One

We are thrilled that our represented artist, Kevin Red Star, had the opportunity to travel to New Jersey to participate in Sotheby's online series, The House Guest. In this video Kevin speaks to his creative process while enjoying the views from one of Sotheby's listed homes. 

Kevin Red Star has been producing paintings for over 50 years and his works remain relevant and highly collectable.  His paintings speak to his childhood and his Native American ancestral history.   Kevin continues to encourage the youth of his tribe and artistic individuals to create and expand their talents, to bring light and culture to our world.

Kevin Red Star Modern West Fine Art New Works

We were thrilled to host Kevin Red Star for his solo exhibition back in February, 2016.  He created over ten new paintings for his show reflecting back to his Native Crow Heritage depicting images of Warriors, Teepees, and other traditional subject matter.  To read more into Kevin's process and details on his history check out our interview with the artist here.   

 

John Berry Artist Interview

Modern West Fine Art is thrilled to feature Duality by John Berry for our July exhibition. Berry's work combines an incredible tension and incorporates a new direction. His bold colors and shapes reference the landscapes he has painted in the past with a dynamic new body of abstract work. We took a moment to ask Berry what inspired him and how his process is evolving...

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Compared to your previous works, Duality, has taken a more abstract approach to your Western Landscape. What was the inspiration for the change?

The initial change had no inspiration. It was one of necessity. I felt I had reached a point in my career/work where I could go no further with what I had been doing. I had felt this coming for some time, but didn't know where it would lead or how to even start that dialogue. The Western Landscape was not even on my mind at this point.

I began by revamping the method in which I worked and the tools I used. I even changed the type of music I listened to in the studio. It was a period of great experimentation. It was exciting. I think this fueled me, this unknown path was the impetus for my continued searching. It was akin to standing on the edge of a drop off, not being able to see what is below or ahead, and then just stepping off.

Throughout your work there is a sense of tension, that is enhanced by complimentary textures and colors, could you speak to your process that helped achieve these results? 

Once I found myself on this new path, I revisited past ideas I had wanted to incorporate in my work. One that resonated with me was duality or opposition. To put it simply, I believe all things are a dual being. This intrigues me. Through the medium of paint I wanted to explore this idea. Let the paintings, by the marks and they way they were painted, tell that story:  Line versus Shape. Thick versus Thin. Rough versus Smooth etc. In the actual creation of the work I found this idea spilled over as well. Periods of expressive painting abandon contrasting against periods of slow contemplation. It was very exciting to be a part of this, to see it unfold.     

While painting did you see a correlation between the abstract forms and your previous works? (speaking back to the point, that you saw the western landscape while painting these new pieces)  

 

At first, I did not see a correlation. I thought this was a completely new undertaking, which in it's own right it was. It was not until I had completed the whole body of work that an artist friend from NY pointed out to me, that he could see and feel the Western landscape incorporated into this new body of work. At first this took me aback. Then as I pondered on this, I realized this was all part of the duality I was trying to capture. It amazed me.

There is this part of me, even though I did not think about or consciously address, that found it's way into my work. Even though this is a body of non-objective work, it still captured the ideas and matter, that is a part of me. That duality has a tendency to blow my mind if I think about it too much. 

Join us at Modern West Fine Art Friday, July 15 from 7-9 PM for the opening of Duality, a show of new works by John Berry. This exhibition will be on display through August 12.

 

Billy Schenck, "the Grandaddy of Contemporary Western Art"

Billy Schenck's deep and abiding connection to the West is revealed here in his own words. He describes his influences and the approach he takes on in his work. As the "Grandaddy of Contemporary Western Art" Billy Schenck is a pop western icon, see for yourself....

How do you see your work challenging the western myth?

I didn’t think I was challenging it, I was perpetuating it, expanding it on a daily basis much the same way as the universe is expanding daily.  Once I began seriously studying western history it quickly became obvious that the mythology breeders were burying the facts as quickly as they were happening in real time.  Dime novels were being written about Billy the Kid, exaggerating all aspects of his life while he was still alive. He literally became a mythological character before he died.  Then there was Buffalo Bill Cody who began mythologizing  the “west” on a far grander scale, even on an international scale. The first movie ever made was in 1903, “The Great Train Robbery”, a western.  From then on everyone, everywhere that had access to a local movie theater could see the rapidly expanding mythology of the west. 

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It looked real, it was on film.  The hats, the clothing, the horse hardware etc. all became exaggerations of what real cowboys looked like.  The new exotic looking cowboys were being painted for illustrations for magazines and books.  Reality sort of lived in the shadows.  One of my favorite lines in film occurred in 1962 when John Ford released, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”  Near the end of the film a newspaper man is on a train heading back east.  He is interviewing the Jimmy Stewart character who is also leaving the west and has been falsely living a lie.  His legacy has been that he (Jimmy Stewart) was the man who shot Liberty Valance.  It is a myth, he knows it but the rest of the world doesn’t want to know that at all.  The newspaper man tells Jimmy, “This is the west, sir.  When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.  That statement has stuck with me ever since.  It wasn’t unlike when Moses stood on the hill and God told Moses the ten commandments.  John Ford spoke, I listened.

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And thus began my first completely mythological character, Cliff.  Cliff began appearing in my captioned paintings around 1997. Then came Geoff, and much later Phaedra.  The beauty of Phaedra, other than being beautiful, was that she was already a Greek mythological character, a greatly flawed character.  I identify very deeply with flawed characters.  On rare occasion I have been accused of that myself. 

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I took Phaedra from Greece and had her row a canoe to America.  She traveled to the southwest and began riding her horse naked across the southwestern deserts.  She has been on a mission known only to herself and now also has a entourage of wolves that follow her everywhere.  This is a small part of how I literally am expanding the known limits of western mythology.

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How does Pop art, printmaking and film inform your work stylistically?

Pop art influenced my art stylistically.  The image making of Warhol and Lichtenstein, particularly Lichtenstein’s ability to make paintings that had no trace of a human being having painted them.  Flat hard edged areas of paint replicating a comic book image.  I created a style of projecting photographs (from western movie stills) and drawing outlines to demarcate every area of light and shadows and then painting in (filling in) all the areas in flat hard edged areas of color.  It was a perfect marriage of photorealism and a paint by number system of painting.  By definition this process could be considered a classic approach to making pop art.  My whole process came from popular culture. The printmaking became serigraphs.  Doing serigraphs was a perfect medium to translate my paintings into, nothing was lost in translation.  Same as Warhol.  His paintings are silk screen prints on canvas.

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Your work seems to strike a balance between a romanticized notion of the west and revealing its darker, satirical truth to the myth of the west.  Why do you feel that’s important?  Can you speak more to that?

When I am not busy expanding western mythology I revert back to very romantic renditions of the west, particularly of the Navajo.  It’s a subject matter along with location that I’ve never been able to get of my system.  

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When I am not busy expanding western mythology I revert back to very romantic renditions of the west, particularly of the Navajo.  It’s a subject matter along with location that I’ve never been able to get of my system.  

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I definitely have a gallows sense of humor that is evident in the caption paintings.  Using the western genre being crossed to my pop culture roots allows me to explore social and political issues.  If you look carefully enough at the male/female paintings, the message is always cryptic, there is always a sexual tension. 

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Other paintings are pre-apocalyptic.  In my world, painting these themes or alluding to eminent disaster keeps me from acting out in real life.  The only way anyone would know anything was wrong with me would be to checkout how many speeding tickets I get in a year.

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What’s your personal commitment to the narrative of the west?  Where did it start?

My commitment to the western narrative began in 1967 when I saw the first spaghetti western films of Sergio Leone.  I was in art school a the Kansas City Art Institute studying everything and everyone “contemporary”, the radical new etc.  I wasn’t remotely interested in anything western with the exception of the high desert landscapes of Wyoming which is where I spent most of my summers growing up.  Sergio Leone got my attention.  He did it again in 1968 when he released “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”. 

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I moved to New York one week after I finished art school and Sergio’s “Once Upon A Time in the West” was released.  I capitulated, I was lucky enough that New York had two memorabilia shops that had more than a million old movie stills.  That became my original source of western subject matter.  New York was where I launched my western art career. 

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My commitment was easy.  I never looked back.  I wanted to do in painting what Sergio had done to film.  He had permanently altered how a western film could look, he also impacted movie making world wide.  That has been and is my goal with western painting, to expand their known universe.