Eleven Women Artists who Take Inspiration from the American West
The American West imbues distinct feelings. The emptiness, space and possibility for solitude are — if not unique characteristics — distinguishing factors that are impossible to ignore. The West — an expanse of land and sky, saturated with silence and stillness — provides an environment that demands attention and instills the desire to be present. Here are conditions that stir the senses and give space for creation to ignite.
"I was first introduced to the western landscape around 2003, when my future husband brought me out to meet his family. They are all around the Salt Lake/Park City area, but his brother-in-law Kurt also built a place in Castle Valley, near Moab. As someone who grew up on the east coast, traveling only as far as the Jersey shore for family vacations, this new landscape was utterly breathtaking. We have since come back every year to Utah, often hiking the same trails as the year before, and I never ever tire of looking out at the sweeping views, and breathing in the majesty all around"
"The west for me represents expanse - externally for sure, but also internally, giving me 'permission' to let go, move freely, create space and think in new ways. It is a reminder of Mother Nature's artistic brilliance, power and beauty, and offers me an endless source of insight and inspiration for my own artistic endeavors"
- Kiki Gaffney
"I come from England, where the landscape is organized into fields and the horizon feels close. When I first came to Utah, I felt a deep affinity for the desert, its huge skies, distant skylines and particularly the sense of stillness and waiting that it imparts. I’m drawn to the quiet of wilderness, its gentle movement, wind moving plants and birds flight. It allows me to slow and calm my mind to match the pace of the surroundings.
I only ever work from memory as this enables me to create work that’s both a visual and emotional reaction to a place. A collage might be inspired by a fleeting glimpse that imprints itself in my mind, or from layered feelings and images built up over many visits. I make art to document experience, in the same way a person keeps a written journal. My intention is to draw attention to things unnoticed, overlooked or discarded and to encourage the appreciation and preservation of places that can’t speak for themselves" - Liberty Blake
"Definitions of the West for me, are strongly tied to notions of landscape and ecology. Holding both a dramatic and fragile visual impact, the landscape of the West directly influences the artwork that I create.
The landscape of the West is hard to ignore. With vast spaces and layers of geological history, this landscape consistently inspires me to create and question. The confusion of space in the landscapes of the West, where the vast could also be microscopic, directly influences my visual language. It is this concept of visual space that becomes a starting point for my work" - Al Denyer
"Mystery, expanse, the sky when I was a child. An uncommon spaciousness informs my work. The West is an extreme landscape, a hunting ground. I hunt bits of nature and history to combine. The memory of the land resides within these assemblages. Hands touch and work the earth, eyes search the horizon. The land is vast and varied. A slant of light, a cloud, a bird sound, river water, dusk, dust devils, lightning storms. If the West is about anything, it’s about possibility obscured. The land where you are born keeps you, always. You are made of it." - Jody Plant
"As myths go The West is a great one. It does not carry the weight of a raft of moral imperatives — it is more of an action painting type heroic story. What startles me is that it is somehow still living. There still are cowboys, ‘Indians’, and wild horses. My west is a long love-affair that is as fresh today as it was when I was a child — I love the shards of the west, my jeans, tooled leather belt and pearl stud shirt — I love the crassest motel with a wagon wheel and a giant arrow sticking in the ground. When making art though, I want to avoid – kitsch – nostalgia – lying – cultural appropriation – postcolonial white mindsets. I can’t do ‘pretty’, say the horse, because it is too beautiful. Can’t do a drawing of a Native American, much as I want to, now that I have heard about Caucasians with ‘feathers in their hair’ and cultural appropriation. But what I want to capture is West NOW and for me, that is not looking at old movies, or arches, or modern versions of sexy things like cowboy hats — I am a sucker for them — but I want to catch something of modern cowgirls, and for me these are the roller derby jammers, or the mountain bike as a horse, the ‘hipster’ as a cowboy, or acknowledging that the 'pioneers' were homeless people. The west was settled by immigrants, that ‘occupied’ the land like squatters or ‘Occupy’ protesters. They carved out a living, largely ignorant about how best to do that. Their story was mythologized almost before they lived it, first in dime store novels, then circuses and then by Hollywood. To catch the illusive fast moving contemporary 'West' I hope to fuse the old legend with new actors and new roles" - Jann Haworth
"The West symbolizes freedom, expression, openness and possibility. The balance, past/present, positive/negative and everything in between. The ability to explore and forge new ground, to make a mark, to exist. It personifies endless opportunity and reinforces the potential to be or do anything you want" Shalee Cooper
"What does the West mean to me? It means a wide open landscape, a sky that has it’s own personality, colors that can be both serene and piercing, lyrical landforms. The western landscape has been a revelation and an inspiration to me. When I visit these landscapes, places like Bryce, Zion, Arches, Grand Staircase Escalante, my mind opens up. I am also inspired by the pottery of the traditional cultures of the West. What I try to do in my work is bring those things together, the traditional pottery forms of the West with the colors I see around me"
PETECIA LE FAWNHAWK
"The west is the last remnants of our wilderness. A place we can truly experience freedom and the force of the unknown." - Petecia Le Fawnhawk