By Bonnie Gangelhoff
Artist Rocky Hawkins’ search to connect more closely with Native American culture led him to settle first in New Mexico and, more recently, in Montana. Born in Washington, he grew up in small towns near the Cascade Mountains, but Hawkins developed an attachment to Indian culture early in life. His family frequently traveled to locales that spotlighted Native American history. It was on these trips that he developed a lifelong fascination with the beauty, mystery, and spirituality inherent in the lives of our country’s first peoples.
Today, Hawkins lives with his family on Ghost Wolf Ranch, located in a one-horse town with a one-pump gas station about 50 miles west of Bozeman. “I love the solitude and privacy,” he says. Inside his studio, Hawkins creates expressionistic renderings of Native Americans, their horses, headdresses, and attire. He remains as intrigued with the culture now as when he was a youngster. “They are such artistic people,” Hawkins says. “Their whole life is about art. And their whole world is about the circle of nature they are, and were, living in.”
Hawkins often begins with a small study that becomes a catalyst for his larger pieces. He is quick to point out that he isn’t a storyteller—his concerns are not about where a horse is going or how fast it is running, he explains. But he is interested in the texture of the painting’s surface, the relationships of colors, and expressing a feeling about what he sees.
Hawkins looks to the Abstract Expressionists as kindred artistic souls—Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and others. “I love the painters who express themselves without being concerned with the tightness or photographic likeness,” he says. Hawkins is represented by Visions West Gallery, Bozeman and Livingston, MT; Mountain Trails Gallery, Jackson, WY; and Bjorge’s Gallery, Bigfork, MT.
Colorado painter Peggy McGivern is fond of saying that she spent the first half of her artistic career developing a recognizable style, and she may spend the second half trying to move beyond it. In the past, she was known for lively dreamscapes—figures flying through the air, cows jumping over roofs, and refrigerators floating over the landscape. However, with her new painting style McGivern feels more “grounded,” she says. Her figures often have their feet planted on the earth, nowadays. The artist finds inspiration in studying work by Bay Area figurative painters such as David Park, Elmer Bischoff, and Richard Diebenkorn. “I am intrigued by their loose, dripping lines and buttery, sun-drenched brush strokes,” McGivern explains. But it wasn’t until she saw pieces by Nathan Oliveira, a second-generation figurative artist, that she really allowed herself to strive for more painterly, finished work while still utilizing her signature expressionistic black contour line to define blocks of shapes and splashes of color.
Some aspects of McGivern’s work remain unchanged. The black line, for example, has been an element in her paintings since she was 20, or as she puts it, “from day one” in her art career. Today, at 52, McGivern uses the defining, sometimes curving, line to carve out forms in her paintings, evoking a playful sensibility. Humor, in fact, plays a regular role in her work. “I want to convey that art doesn’t have to be serious or foreboding,” McGivern says. “I want to create a sense of mystery, but in an intriguing way rather than a scary one.”
Her paintings, often rendered in bold color palettes, tell stories but not in any obvious fashion. She prefers to leave unanswered questions in her narratives. “I want viewers to look and wonder what’s around that corner,” she explains. “It’s all about letting a person see whatever they want to see.” McGivern is represented by Sandra Phillips Gallery, Denver, CO; Smith-Klein Gallery, Boulder, CO; Joe Wade Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM; Lucas Gallery, Telluride, CO; and The Collection, Telluride, CO.
Flutes and pianos. Sunflowers and roses. Blackbirds, sheds, and waterways. These are just a few of the elements that appear in still-life works by David deVillier. The artist says that music, in many ways, is the strongest influence on his artistic vision. Part of its appeal is related to personal experience—his daughter plays the piano and clarinet, and his son plays the trumpet. And deVillier himself has long been attracted to the field of music. “If I could give up visual art for anything I would want to be a musician,” he says. “But I don’t have an ear [for it].” Nonetheless, he hopes the presence of instruments in his work allows the viewer to hear the sounds portrayed. Likewise, deVillier also strives to convey a sense of smell when he depicts flowers. For him, painting is about more than simply a visual experience.
The artist adds that objects such as instruments and flowers in his paintings can also stand for much more. Frequently they represent people. Four instruments of different sizes could be a family, and the same holds true for the flowers—anthropomorphic forms that can lead to various interpretations and narratives. Does the sunflower symbolize a child? Is the guitar a stand-in for a mother figure? It’s up to the viewer, of course, to infer his or her own meanings from deVillier’s paintings. His latest works focus on the female form, often depicted with flowers or instruments against a Northwestern landscape, but the stars of his canvases change and evolve regularly.
While an avid student of art history—he holds a graduate degree in fine art from Yale University—deVillier is leery of identifying his favorite painters. “Every contemporary artist working out there today has some influences from the past,” he says. But critics often see traces of Pablo Picasso and Giorgio de Chirico in deVillier’s work. He is represented by Gail Severn Gallery, Ketchum, ID; Linda Hodges Gallery, Seattle, WA; Susan Street Fine Art Gallery, Solano Beach, CA; and Haze George Gallery, Charlotte, NC.
There are many different paths that lead to a career in fine art, and New Mexico painter E.H. (Ed) Klink took one of the more unusual routes. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, did two tours of duty in Vietnam, earned an MBA degree from Harvard Business School, and then spent several decades becoming a successful entrepreneur. “I reached a point where was I working so hard and just killing myself,” he recalls. “I had grown up poor, and I had this goal to reach a financial point in life where I would feel secure. I had reached it.”
About the same time Klink signed up for a drawing class in Indianapolis, IN, where he lived with his family while building his business. With the art class, a new passion was born. “I am not a retiring kind of person, and I needed something new to be passionate about,” he says. Several years ago, Klink and his wife moved to New Mexico, where he has focused on his fine-art career full time.
Klink is a self-described “contemporary realist” and landscape painter, one who dances on the edge of abstraction in the same vein as Utah painters Michael Workman and Tal Walton. “I am trying to create a place where people can go vegetate a little bit,” he explains. “The lives people lead are way too hectic; I want my paintings to offer a place to rest.”
His new life in Santa Fe is suiting him just fine, Klink says. He can paint outdoors most of the year, unlike in Indiana where he faced bad weather, bugs, and few vistas. “The world has opened up here,” he says. “If you are a plein-air painter I can’t think of a better place than New Mexico. I can go out in my back yard and find a wonderful painting.” Klink is represented by Reflection Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; Lanning Gallery, Sedona, AZ; Arte Gallery, Palm Desert, CA; Center Street Gallery, Jackson Hole, WY; Mary Martin Art, Charleston, SC; and Huntsman Gallery of Fine Art, Aspen, CO.
If Joel Nakamura’s work seems familiar, it’s probably because it has been featured on everything from record covers for jazz artist Chick Corea to billboards advertising Corona beer. Nakamura’s unique mix of folk art and pop- culture references has also graced the pages of Time, U.S. News & World Report, and the Los Angeles Times. His whimsical characters even appeared on event programs during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, UT.
Nakamura considers himself a modern folk artist inspired by the idea of the global village. “I take images and ideas from different cultures,” he explains. “And my brain is the soup cauldron for them.” Indeed, the brew he serves up through his artwork is a tasty fusion of past and present, primitive and high-tech.
The New Mexico-based artist works on a small scale, usually 18 by 14 inches, with polymer on tooled tin, evoking a Mexican retablo but with a surrealistic flavor. His childlike, cartoonish scenes with bright, primary colors conjure up images by artists such as Joan Miró and Keith Haring.
>Nakamura says the blend of images that inhabit his work began to develop when he was growing up in Whittier, CA—the only Asian in his school, “sandwiched between Anglo California surfer and Hispanic cultures.” Thus, in his contemporary retablos today, viewers can expect to find iconography that includes mermaids, surfboards, Godzilla, Japanese robots, and pineapples. In a recent show, Ephemeral Soup, the title piece depicts a giraffe with two beehives for eyes, and a dragonfly with a green monkey’s head and two egg beaters for feet. What does it all mean? “That pretty much sums up who I am,” Nakamura says playfully.
But the imagery is more than whimsy, the artist explains. “I am interested in universal themes. Certain archetypal images are branded into us—images of love, death, and struggle. I think my work strikes a chord on a number of different planes because it mixes the modern with the primitive.” Nakamura is represented by Hahn Ross, Santa Fe, NM, and The Folk Tree Collection, Pasadena, CA.
In 1982, Barbara Rogers took a trip to Hawaii that turned out to be an artistic epiphany. While she was there, a hurricane swept through the island, and the artist was trapped in a small village, not sure if she would make it out alive. Eventually, Rogers was rescued, but it was a turning point in her work. Prior to the experience she painted figures, often wearing exotic clothes, in tropical jungles as if they were at a garden party. “I was always looking for very unusual-looking people with great wardrobes,” she jokes. But after witnessing the aftermath of the hurricane, she became intrigued with the debris that blanketed the island. “That was the beginning of where I am today,” she says.
Vegetation still plays an important role in Rogers’ work, but the figures have vanished. She prefers to focus on moody lighting or interesting subject matter such as delicate orchids. Her landscapes are tropical but also depict desert plants such as the prickly pear cactus, which reflects her life in Arizona where Rogers has lived for more than a decade. Her lush, layered, tropical and desert landscapes are both sensuous and beautiful—two qualities that she strives to convey to her viewers.
It comes as no surprise that her inspiration comes from nature, including her garden filled with cacti and other vegetation. In fact, gardens, in a sense, are her visual metaphors for life. “The life-and-death cycle of the plant world is so much like our life cycle,” she explains. “You see something as a little bud and watch it grow into maturity. It’s helping me age. There is such incredible beauty in plant forms in the final weeks of life.”
Critics have compared the artist’s work with that of 16th-century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, an assessment that Rogers understands. “Bosch had elements of the grotesque, which set off the beauty,” she says. “I, too, believe you can’t have one without the other.” Rogers is represented by Chiaroscuro, Scottsdale, AZ, and Santa Fe, NM; Trinity Gallery, Atlanta, GA; and Fresh Paint Art Advisors Inc., Culver City, CA.
>Featured in “Portfolio: Contemporary Perspectives” January 2005