Tag Archives: Contemporary Western Art

The Red Road: Valkyries and Medicine Men at Altamira Fine Art

R. Tom Gilleon, Valkyrie. Oil, 32 x 24 inches

R. Tom Gilleon, Valkyrie. Oil, 32 x 24″. At Altamira Fine Art.

Valkyries. Often portrayed as beneficent creatures, their role as the God Odin’s daughters (or female assistants) in Norse mythology is deciding which warriors die and which survive great battles. Those who perish are flown to Odin’s Valhalla by the valkyries, so that he may watch over them.

“Whether in their loving or bloodthirsty modalities, the valkyries are best understood as part of the extensive and dynamic complex of shamanism that permeates pre-Christian Germanic religion,” notes the web page Norse Mythology for Smart People.

R. Tom Gilleon’s “Valkyrie” elicits a tumbling mass of confliciting emotion. Is this a wise and beneficent angel of Odin or a bloodthirsty footman? Is she grounded or hovering? Is she watching over a particualar soldier or pensive? And how does this mythological Norse shaman legend translate to Native American symbols and culture?

How many battles were waged as white men overtook Indian lands, livelihood and very soul? Too many to count. Gilleon uses an ancient character to make a statement about today’s world crises, too many to count. But I choose to believe Gilleon’s valkyrie is a compassionate, helping spirit, ready to protect. Ready to carry our souls to safety.

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Visions of the New Old West at Altamira

Dennis Ziemienski-Wyoming Cowgirl. Oil on Canvas  60x40"

Dennis Ziemienski-Wyoming Cowgirl. Oil on Canvas 60×40″

Join painter Dennis Ziemienski at Altamira Fine Art for an opening reception and artist’s talk on on Ziemienski’s new show, “Visions of the New Old West,” on July 30th, 5:30-7:30 pm. The show remains on exhibit July 27-August 8.

As time passes, disputes over what is considered true Western art have volubly (in the sense of expanding lung capacity) lessened. We are, as this show’s title suggests, evolving yet again. Recently I attended a Yale University Art Gallery talk on Whistler’s etchings and their influence over artists of his age; conversely, Whistler was influenced by his peers. Put all these artists’ works together, and the effects are clear as day.

“Nothing is really ever new,” remarked the university’s etchings curator. “Everything springs from another era some way, somehow.”

Dennis Ziemienski, Wig Wam Nocturne Oil on Canvas 36 x 36 inches

Dennis Ziemienski,
Wig Wam Nocturne Oil on Canvas 36 x 36 inches

The West—our region, at any rate—was first discovered in part because of posters commissioned by railroad lines. These travel posters promoted new regions opening up to tourism and Ziemenski, a native San Franciscan, puts together idealistic images of cowboy life with a feel for sharp, witty modernism. His work melds love of traditional Western aesthetic and everything new the West has absorbed for decades.

How unlikely to think of Whistler’s work while considering Ziemenski’s; the former show included a nocturne, and Altamira’s includes Ziemienski’s “Wig Wam Nocturne,” shown above. It’s one of my favorites. See how the artist lines up his composition, playing the tipi’s inverted “V” against a parked car’s tailwing rear lights? Perfectly placed zig-zags (symbolizing mountains?) echo a line of violet sunset clouds. A lighted door beckons.  www.altamiraart.com.

Altamira Presents Travis Walker; $8.39 Million at JHAA

Travis Walker - Ski Fence

Travis Walker – Ski Fence

I’ve been rooting for Travis Walker and Altamira Fine Art to find each other on “ArtMatch.com” and now they have!

Walker is the latest Jackson artist to have a show at Altamira. His exhibition of new works, “In Such an Hour: New Views of Jackson Hole,” runs September 23 – October 6, 2013, and an Opening Reception takes place at Altamira on Friday, September 27th, 5-7:00 pm.

Walker not only makes art; he’s an arts force. If Walker had not landed in Jackson a decade ago, it’s my belief many grass roots arts initiatives would not exist. Artists don’t often take on community leadership roles, but Walker has, and now he’s reaping extraordinary rewards.

“A common subject in my work is the road, which represents our journey through life. We start off staring down the lines of a road, and our entire lives we continue to follow the road to new places. My fascination with roads led me to another symbol in my work: the trailer home,” says Walker. “I have found so many trailers scattered throughout the West that I have come to view them as representations of the American Dream, full of hope, uncertainty, and memory.”

Travis Walker - Saddle Butte (Pink)

Travis Walker – Saddle Butte (Pink)

From the moment he arrived in Jackson Walker began painting it. Most on-location artists (I think we can go ahead and list Walker as a plein air painter—he’s in the “Artists in the Environment” hall of fame and was the first truly non-traditional artist to take part in that program) can be found out in Grand Teton National Park, or anywhere out in nature –and Walker can be found there too. But he also spends much of his time painting the Town of Jackson, essentially creating new iconic images of Jackson. All these subjects entice the artist: an old salon (the former Gai Mode), a decaying house with a fence made of skis (so many have lived there!) and a vintage trailer park.

Walker’s work, notes the gallery, is influenced by American regionalists Edward Hopper and Grant Wood (“American Gothic”), and by Japanese printmaking and German Expressionism.

It often takes years of hard, consistent work to make it in the art world; it’s a challenging, competitive and sometimes heartbreaking life pursuit. But, as we’ve said, arts enthusiasts constantly keep their eyes open, and Altamira director Mark Tarrant has been tracking Walker.

Travis Walker

Travis Walker

“Travis creates very interesting interpretations of local scenes, from his views of Snow King to sweeping views of Flat Creek and the Elk Refuge,” Tarrant observes. “He is a sophisticated painter with a fresh, contemporary palette. We are pleased to present an exhibition of Walker’s work here at the gallery.”

Years ago I wrote a forward for a book about his art that Walker published. Revisiting it, it still feels relevant:

“Walker is a satellite, zooming in and out of our landscapes, freezing vast spaces and solitary formations. We’re light years away from a moment just captured. Flaxen parachutes float forever. Still purple evening shadows never give way to night. These landscapes are our ideal; they’re uninhabited, but histories are embedded. Deserted cabins hold the energy and sadness of generations. Blank windows and headlights, eyes of the universe. Beneath Walker’s surfaces is an extraterrestrial glow he never quite paints down, a light peeking out from behind closed doors.”

Born in Tokyo, Japan and a child of the military, Walker is well acquainted with transience. Place is crucial. Now, at age 37, he’s settled in Jackson with a family of his own. He received his BFA in Painting and Printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University, and he’s had numerous shows and exhibits over the years. Walker is founder of  Teton Artlab, a non-profit providing studio space for artists. As we’ve reported, Walker was a 2013 panelist for the National Endowment for the Art’ Artists Communities Grant and a 2013 Artist in Residence at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. In 2012, he won the “Rising Star Award” from the Cultural Council of Jackson Hole.

And risen he has. www.altamiraart.com 

Martin Grelle - Scouts on the Buffalo Fork, 2013

Martin Grelle – Scouts on the Buffalo Fork, 2013

$8.39 million…

…is the official total sales amount of this year’s Jackson Hole Art Auction (produced by Trailside Galleries and Santa Fe’s Gerald Peters Gallery), held September 14th, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. 85% of 284 lots were sold, with 200 phone bidders vigorously participating. The estate of James Grisebaum contributed many important works, and all but one of the 32 works from his estate were sold.

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Cowboy Branding; Less is More; Barn Raising; Elephants!

Dennis Ziemienski - "Cowgirl Brand"

Dennis Ziemienski – “Cowgirl Brand”

Never just one Altamira artist opening a show at that gallery; two weeks ago a trio of artists kicked off the season. June 17-29th, two new shows with works by contemporary Western artists Dennis Ziemienski and Howard Post will be on exhibition.

Ziemienski’s “New Images of the Old West” and Post’s “Western Perspectives” share an opening reception at Altamira Fine Art on Thursday, June 20th, 5-8:00 pm. Works by these artists are bold; Ziemienski’s crisp, poster-bright paintings recall the best magazine advertising of bygone eras (were “Mad Men” set in the West, and the Sterling-Cooper execs living on ranches, their campaigns might look a lot like Ziemienski’s art), and Post’s Western landscapes are, as has been noted, characterized by a richly colored, contemporary impressionist style.

The West—our region, at any rate—was first discovered in part because of posters commissioned by railroad lines. These travel posters promoted new regions opening up to tourism and Ziemenski, a native San Franciscan, puts together idealistic images of cowboy life with a feel for sharp, witty modernism.

Last century’s big rush west attracts Ziemenski.

Dennis Ziemienski - "Yosemite Drive Thru"

Dennis Ziemienski – “Yosemite Drive Thru”

“I like that period of time because it hasn’t been well recorded,” Ziemienski said. “You don’t see a lot of paintings of cowboys sitting in Model T Fords. But they did – and right alongside their horses. I was born in 1947. Growing up in California and taking car trips with my family allowed me to see a lot of this imagery. But by the 60’s and 70’s, I noticed that much of it was starting to fade away,” he said. “All of the things I witnessed then started to make me think that some day I would like to record those things. So now I am.”

I recently visited Laramie, a city established by the railroads. Laramie is chock full of great vintage signage–some in good shape, some not as much. But they’re there. Such signs and billboards make a native Californian’s heart leap into her throat.

Howard Post - "Western Meadows"

Howard Post – “Western Meadows”

Post is one of my favorite Western contemporary landscape painters. “Contemporary” in the sense that he’s not exactly a realist, and he’s not exactly an “unexpected” painter. His light and compositions are poetic, translucent and depict the West’s golden light just as we imagine it when we can’t be there. Just as we imagine it when we ARE there, and want to describe it to someone who has never gazed upon it.

Post is, says the gallery, known for his unique aerial perspective that, to my mind, emphasizes Western space. Born in Tucson, that region’s special southwestern light permeates his work, no matter the subject matter.

Wherever you’re from, you bring the light with you.

Howard Post - "Riverbed"

Howard Post – “Riverbed”

Post was a cowboy, and when he began painting a few decades back he chose the subject he knew best: Arizona’s ranch traditions and the Arizona landscape. His hayfields are sun-drenched loaves of hot grass, basking in the late afternoon sun, thick purple and green trees in partial shadow. A suggestion of an outline surrounds many of Post’s objects, giving them volume. Post’s are landscapes you want to wake up to, go to sleep thinking about; they are ideal.

“My paintings,” says Post, “Are my visual response to the West and how I want it to be.”

Got that.  www.altamiraart.com


“Fewer answers nowadays, but more questions.”  | “Parents wrong, discover my own life.”  | “Created art, I feel better now.”  | “Istanbul highways to National Park trails.”

You thought writing haiku was challenging?

Teton County Library and Culture Front, in collaboration with the Jackson Hole Writers’ Conference, are pleased to present The Six-Word Memoir Project exhibit, debuting June 27th at the Center for the Arts. Sixty Jackson area creative types submitted six-word “snapshots” of their lives; each write up is exactly six words.

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New, Mythic Art at Altamira

A. Warhol - Plains Indian Shield. Serigraph, 36x36"

A. Warhol – Plains Indian Shield. Serigraph, 36×36″

“The American West has given rise to myths and legends. Warhol, with [his series] ‘Cowboys and Indians’ has deftly tapped in to that vast resevoir of powerful images that somehow relate to reality, but also mystify it.”  ~ MoMa

Altamira Fine Art has unveiled an impressive and exciting assembly of recent aquisitions. The lion’s share of new works come from Altamira’s exceptional roster of Contemporary Western artists; a few are exquisite works by deceased masters. Artists with new work in the gallery are Rocky Hawkins, Joseph Henry Sharp (1859-1953), R. Tom Gilleon, Andy Warhol (1928-1987), Duke Beardsley, Bill Schenck, Jared Sanders, Dan Namingha (sublime), Harvey Thomas Dunn (1884-1952) and Ed Mell.

I’ll be writing about all these artists as the season progresses, but today I’ll tell you a bit about Warhol, Schenck and Namhinga.

A Pittsburgh native, Warhol built his fame in New York, and remains one of the world’s most influential artists. He’s considered by many to be the king of Pop Art; toward the end of his life he turned his attention to Western themes. I’ve often thought that his late-in-life interest in landscape, Western symbols and icons sprang from some unconscious knowledge that time was short. He’d also purchased land at the end of Long Island that was, in that era, remote. The natural setting affected the artist. Warhol’s “Plains Indian Shield” is pictured above, and is available at Altamira. Warhol’s Western themed work is relatively scarce, and for Western art collectors, very special.

3345_580A Pop artist of high reputation himself, Schenck is, in part, returning to one of his earlier styles. His flattened, pointillistic black and white images of a black-haired, almost unbuttoned, sunglassed cowgirl harkens back to Roy Lichtenstein’s cartoon-like “commentaries” on Pop. Interestingly, Lichtenstein was also interested in Western themes early on in his career.  Schenck’s “True Romance State III” ( 60 x 50″, shown at left) is at once sexy, beckoning, and contains a touch of humor.

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