Tag Archives: Abstract Art

What Has Winter Wrought?

Kathy Wipfler  “Deep Winter – Jackson Hole”   7 x 11″   field study

“Greg McHuron was known to wrestle sheets of plywood through various Ice Ages just so he could stand on them without sinking into the frozen depths. But Greg was part Woolly Mammoth.” ~ Plein air painter Erin C. O’Connor 

This Jackson Hole winter!  Folks have mentioned a craving to chew their legs off. But if you’re an artist the show goes on, and being shut in or facing stupendously challenging weather conditions often leads to improvisation, new creative themes and awakenings of a different sort.

I contacted some legendary badass women artists and asked them how winter has affected their work. This post, we hear from  Kathy Wipfler, Kay Stratman and Erin C. O’Connor.


Plein air painter Kathy Wipfler is a true veteran of painting outdoors. Solid and sensible, her practices spring from a lifetime of ranching and hard outdoor work. A long-time member of the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters, she knows a thing or two.

“Having painted on location here in every season for 36 years, I have a few tricks of the trade to stay as warm as possible. Painting a small format is one of them,” writes Wipfler. “Standing on Blue Board keeps the cold from my feet just a little longer than standing directly on the snow, and having the right boots is important. Painting sunlit snow is a passion, but there have been limited sunlit days so far this winter.”

Wipfler says another challenge is simply finding an accessible turnout to set up her easel and park. “Parking on the road’s shoulder is not so smart. I’ve spent time and effort shoveling out spaces whenever it’s feasible.”

Wipfler’s “Deep Winter – Jackson Hole,” pictured above, is so painterly I can almost feel the artist’s rich brushstrokes simply by looking. They convey the weight of this winter, its frigid cold, and a sense of muffled winter beauty. Wipfler’s snowdrifts are a pillow upon which the mountain rests.

Read more about Kathy Wipfler in this Jackson Hole Art Blog post, “Kathy Wipfler & the Boys!” 


Kay Stratman’s new abstract works are charged with color.

Kay Stratman is experimenting with her “alter studio ego.”

Stratman’s “Natural Abstractions,” comprised of watercolor and wax works, focus on what the artist describes as “amazingly colorful natural occurances that scream for exploration/exploitation/ abstraction.”

Stratman’s work (which she says has always favored essence over traditional form) is focused on subjects ranging from Yellowstone’s brilliant hot springs to “the mysteries of stellar nebula or northern lights.”

“People are familiar with watercolor as a medium and perhaps even encaustic wax,” writes Stratman. “But I combine both media in my work to present an interesting dichotomy. Watercolor and wax shouldn’t even be able to mix, should they? However, each medium becomes obvious upon close inspection, and the view from farther away brings the suggested subject matter to light.  The pieces themselves are splash and poured watercolors on rice paper, infused with encaustic wax (molten beeswax) that makes the paper translucent, allowing me to fuse layers together to create depth of color.”

Erin C. O’Connor – “El Gato Negro.”

Erin C. O’Connor 

“I know an artist who used to work for the phone company; he swiped one of those tents that they put over utility boxes so they can work in inclement weather; now he uses it to paint outside. At 17 below zero, I’d need the tent, the Enormo-Heat-Blaster, and the heated brush handles,” reveals painter Erin C. O’Connor.

I imagine O’Connor’s “Uppity Chick” smile.

Erin C. O’Connor in her studio.

During winter months O’Connor focuses on studio work and brings unfinished “warmer months” paintings to completion. At this time last year O’Connor was in Nicaragua, and she’s “finding welcome refuge in re-exploring those scenes.”

“It all plays back to me like a tape recording ~ the warmth, the humidity, the lyrical conversations, the people I met, all the things I learned,” she says. “Color upon color upon color. This has been my antidote to grey. This has been my rebellion to the cold.”

O’Connor updates her website during winter months, and she’s just been named as the newest member of the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters Board of Directors. When Plein Air for the Park ” gorgeously unfolds in July, it’s because we’ve thoroughly scrutinized the acrobatics well before summer.”

Next post, we’ll hear from a few more of Jackson’s ultra-talented women artists! All strive to be the best that they can be. Transcending fads and trends, they are wicked strong rungs on Jackson’s art history ladder, and their art endures.

In national art news, it was announced earlier this month that the NEA is in dire straits. Our new administration is strongly considering budget cuts that could eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts. If executed, this spells disaster for art interests across the country. Such a step even stands to cancel important exhibitions like SFMOMA’s Matisse-Diebenkorn show.  Read a little about this impending legislation here


Two Wests: Naminghas & Waddell at Altamira Fine Art

"Passage #39" - Dan Namhinga. Acrylic on canvas, 84 x72"

“Passage #39″ – Dan Namhinga. Acrylic on canvas, 84 x 72”

Dan and Arlo Namingha; Theodore Waddell. What a pairing. Altamira Fine Art is the gallery to connect these dynamic, sublime artists in a double show, opening with an artists’ reception Thursday, June 6th, 5-7:00 pm. The Naminghas’ “Form & Symbolism” and Waddell’s “Abstract Angus” are ultimately about interpretation of place. All three artists’ native territories’ images and landscapes course through their veins, exploding on canvas and permeating sculptures.

How exhilirating for Thomas Hoving to compile his can’t-put-it-down biography “The Art of Dan Namingha.” The Namingha family’s history begins with Dan’s great-great-grandmother, famed Tewa/Hopi potter Nampeyo (photographed by Edward S. Curtis, c. 1905). The family tree is an arts dynasty. That’s a regal word to describe a creative clan so rooted in landscape and indigenous culture, but it’s an undeniable accreditation.

How to begin to describe Dan’s remarkable journey as an artist? Namingha’s initial influence was Hekytwi Mesa near the Hopi reservation where Namingha was born. Namingha’s work is phenomenally diverse, the breath of his artistic style is almost impossible to comprehend; he moves from complex arrangements of Hopi mesas, kachinas, spirals, sun and depictions of dual cultures he inhabits to minimalist, graphic, geometric landscapes. As a child, Hekytwi Mesa was the dominant landmark beyond Namingha’s grandparents’ door. Its presence left an endurable mark on the artist’s soul, and some version of Hekytwi Mesa appears in almost every Dan Namingha work.

"West of Oraibi" - D. Namhinga

“West of Oraibi” – D. Namhinga

“The presence of two cultures, he believes, also makes him sensitive to the dual nature of all things—night and day, past and future, then and now,” writes Hoving. Ultimately, Namingha’s exposure to his native culture, wise and encouraging mentors, and 20th century abstract modernism are melded in this remarkable body of work.

"Cultural Images #10" - Arlo Namingha

“Cultural Images #10” – Arlo Namingha

Sculptor Arlo Namingha, Dan’s eldest son, became involved with carving at an early age. Surrounded by his family’s legacy and practices, his first carvings of Katsina dolls manifested early in life. Positive and negative space, geometric design, cosmology and Hopi/Tewa identity are interwoven in Arlo’s wood, clay, stone, fabricated and cast bronze sculptures.

“Using the idea of design, form and movement, I minimize these literal images not to recreate them but to draw from them and my personal experiences,” writes Arlo Namingha. “My work not only reflects the figurative aspect of my native people and cultural deities but also the idea of scenery and landscape as well as symbolism.”

"Horizon Horses #4" - Theodore Waddell

“Horizon Horses #4” – Theodore Waddell

Theodore Waddell’s comment to “American Art Collector” about his work and this show is delectable. “Well, the modern guys didn’t like me because I used subject matter,” said Waddell. “And then Western guys didn’t like me because I was too modern.”

Somebody liked him. Waddell’s work is highly influenced by the Abstract Expressionist school. Though the artist didn’t initially realize how important those artists were to his vision, he continues to relate fully to the sense that paint has its own identity.

"Angus DR#24" - Theodore Waddell

“Angus DR#24” – Theodore Waddell

In this show, we recognize the Montana artist and rancher’s signature painterly landscapes dotted with horses—often so abstracted as to resemble animal tracks rather than mature species. Waddell’s horses, cattle and bison—often black as coal—leave their mark below the thin blue line of Waddell’s mountain skylines. In Montana’s sky, clouds softly wave, like the sea. Waddell has expanded depth and range of color, suggestive of seasonal shifts in atmosphere, foliage and the earth’s tendancy to morph from fertile browns into hardened, impenetrable surfaces.

Alongside these works are fully abstract and interpretational works on paper from Waddell’s “Abstract Angus” series, recently exhibited at the Denver Art Museum. DeKooning is the expressionist I see most reflected in these illusive, amorphic works. They do, as the gallery has said, suggest the drift of grazing animals.

Western art encompasses so much more than the realism many of us associate with the term. But in the West, notes Waddell, we are a part of it all. This exhibition remains on display through June 15th.  To view all of Altamira’s artists, click on their website, www.altamiraart.com .

Camus Prairie Angus | 40/40" - Theodore Waddell

Camus Prairie Angus | 40/40″ – Theodore Waddell











Portal Tracs; Cougar Power


Portal Tracs.187U - Rocky Hawkins

Portal Tracs.187U – Rocky Hawkins

An artist’s work is particularly powerful when it embraces the other side of what many consider real time and space. Communication and reverence for supernatural beings is at the heart of life. Sometimes, the human form itself is transformed, becoming divine and omnipotent.

To me, Rocky Hawkins’ paintings explore the intersection between heaven and earth. His figures are spirits, simultaneously sending and absorbing messages. Composed with brushes and palette knives, Hawkins’ paintings constantly explore new spaces and concepts. His latest body of work, on exhibition at Altamira Fine Art through June 30th, includes large and small-scale works. In each painting Hawkins delves ever deeper into abstraction using bold strokes, a full array of color and superb composition.

"Sky Dance Rider" - Rocky Hawkins.

“Sky Dance Rider” – Rocky Hawkins.

The primary focus of these new works is a group of paintings—the “Portal Tracs” series. In each work Hawkins depicts rectangular shapes representing gateways into another dimension. Time is fluid. Geometric fields overlap and intersect, distinct but amorphous. It is Hawkins’ broad spaces—a vast universe—painted in above his figures that draw the viewer in. We are pulled towards clusters of riders, grouped and solitary figures. As you move through the exhibit, notice Hawkins’ use of numbers and letters in his titles. Each letter —T, R, A, C and S—refers to a form visible within the painting. The letters, together, spell “tracs.” I will tell you about the “U” shape, turned towards the heavens and connected to figures’ heads: it represents the unknown, and it reaches out “like an antenna, ready to receive new experience.”

"Portal Tracs.385U" - Rocky Hawkins

“Portal Tracs.385U” – Rocky Hawkins

Hawkins’ palette runs the gamut from electric to earthy. Every choice is correct. In this grouping of works there is something for everyone. The smallest canvases I saw measured 6 x 8″. These make wonderful collection starters and are as intensely wrought as Hawkins’ large canvases. “Portal Tracs.923U” measures 60 x 48″.

Hawkins also revisits his “Archer” and “Horse and Rider” series themes. They are as bold, sacred and intriguing as ever, and Hawkins is a master at depicting points of tension amidst rich, painterly strokes of color. As has been said, Hawkins is an artist choosing not to stay in one place for too long. www.altamiraart.com

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“Arts for All” Appeal; Artistic Celebration of Boredom; Voces Latinas


“I asked the earth. I asked the sea and the deeps, among the living animals, the things that creep. I asked the winds that blow. I asked the heavens, the sun, the moon, the stars, and to all things that stand at the doors of my flesh…My question was the gaze I turned to them. Their answer was their beauty.” ~ St. Augustine


Public Art is thriving here in Jackson Hole. Installations spring up all over town. But what about non-public arts initiatives?  To an extent all art is public; people can go see it or hear it.  True public art is free for us to enjoy—by definition a public service. But other art projects and exhibitions, theatrical plays, music experiences, children’s art projects and even arts curriculum rely in part — sometimes fully—on turnstile dollars and funding. Art access is not always free, and arts groups need money to make projects happen: to create costumes, rent space, purchase materials, advertise, provide refreshments, update websites, create curriculum, pay talent, staff and travel costs….the list goes on.

The Jackson Hole Cultural Council’s “Arts for All” program has received limited funding dollars from the Town and County. How the amount is arrived at is unclear. I assume the amount would be part of a budget request from the Town and County, available in pubic records. Given the number of non-profit arts groups and individuals requesting grants, it stands to reason that amounts the Cultural Council receives from a limited fund would leave arts organizations a bit hog-tied.

WSAnyone requesting grant money from any source must be aware grants are evaluated in multiple ways. Usually there are clear rules about submission processes. Hence, all requests should be submitted only when they are as polished and thorough as possible. We do have an astounding number of arts organizations for a town our size. The message of how much the Town of Jackson’s arts scene means to its profile is clearer each year.

The Cultural Council of Jackson Hole plans to go before Town and County officials on Tuesday, May 14, at 9:40 am, to defend this year’s “Arts for All” funding application.  Whatever amount the Council is requesting (I don’t have that number) your voice (here is mine!) matters. Attend the meeting that day and help the Council get their message across. The meeting takes place at County Commissioner Chambers on Simpson Street. For information contact Alissa Davies at culturalcounciljh@gmail.com.    

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Glittering Art World; Wolf Kahn

Pinedale is a Wyoming town working hard to infuse art into its veins; the movement is growing. A blooming flower, its seeds are sewn by local artists, Sue Sommers among them.

Her mural, seen here, is one of two completed in the past two years as part of Pinedale’s public art program. Sommers’ large-scale, whirling, arcing and bright painting, “Our Glittering World,”  will remain at its current site for two years.

Pinedale’s public art initiative, IN|SITE EX|SITE, hosts an artists reception on Friday, February 8th, 6:30-8:30 pm at the Sublette County Library. Artists contributing work to Pinedale’s community, also to be honored, include Bronwyn Minton, JB Bond, Kirsten and Palmer Klarén, and Sommers.

I asked Sommers about the world she was considering as she created her mural.

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