Portfolio | The Abstracted Landscape

Veloy Vigil, Timeless Story, watercolor, 211⁄4 x 17 paintings, southwest art.
Veloy Vigil, Timeless Story, watercolor, 211⁄4 x 17

By Margaret L. Brown

The first American artist to paint a completely abstract painting was Arthur Dove in 1910, writes Time magazine critic Robert Hughes in American Visions [1997 Knopf]. Hughes quotes Dove’s description of distilling the landscape to its essence through abstraction:

The first step was to choose from nature a motif in color, and with that motif to paint from nature, the form still being objective. The second step was to apply the same principle to form, the actual dependence on the object disappearing, and the means of expression becoming purely subjective. After working for some time in this way, I no longer observed in the old way and not only began to think subjectively but also to remember certain sensations purely through their form and color, that is, by certain shapes, planes of light, or character lines determined by the meeting of such planes.

Dove was among the early wave of American modernists, many of whom were fostered by photographer/patron Alfred Stieglitz and exhibited at his seminal 291 Gallery in New York City from 1910-17. After World War I, the modernists sought fresh, non-urban vistas, and many ventured west to New Mexico, including Marsden Hartley in 1919, Georgia O’Keeffe, Stieglitz’s wife, in 1929, and John Marin also in 1929.

Susan Barnes, Double Cross Montana, mixed media, 20 x 15 painting, southwest art.
Susan Barnes, Double Cross Montana, mixed media, 20 x 15

New Mexico’s vast, dramatic landscape was a liberating, if challenging, subject matter. How to bring to the canvas its supercharged hues, sculpted mountains, slashes of river, and endless, sparkling sky with palettes and styles previously lent to the tight structure of the city and the more subdued eastern landscape? “The East looks screened in” by contrast, wrote Marin. The modernists responded to the spaciousness by paring it down to simplified forms, using unconventional vantage points—high above the subject or up close and taking liberty with color to evoke feeling rather than literal representation.

Their influence continues. Santa Fe painter William Lumpkins arrived in New Mexico just after Marin and was drawn to his abstracted landscapes. Later, at a time when the primarily representational Taos school of artists prevailed in New Mexico, Lumpkins and a small band of artists interested in abstraction formed the Transcendental Painting Group [1938-41]. The Transcendentalists’ aim was to “express the spirit of form rather than the form itself,” and while they didn’t stir up much enthusiasm at the time, the group earned a reputation that endures.

Our portfolio of abstracted landscapes includes works by Lumpkins as well as six other contemporary artists. Like the avant-garde modernists before them, these painters present the western landscape in new ways, continuously experimenting with form and color. Enjoy the views.

Lynn Rowan Myers, Velarde Fields, oil, 24 x 30 painting southwest art.
Lynn Rowan Myers, Velarde Fields, oil, 24 x 30

“There are two sides to my work: In my on-location paintings I try to capture what is
there, using all my skills to render a particular moment. In my poetic paintings, which are done in the studio, I interpret the same subjects, eliminating many of the narrative or visual clues that relate to physical existence and dealing primarily with those images and colors that relate to the emotional or spiritual aspect that lies beneath. I search for the intangible chord that strikes deep within my spiritual and emotional self, which is, in my opinion, the defining factor in all great works of art.”

· Veloy Vigil ·

Vigil grew up on a Colorado ranch and later studied at the Colorado Institute of Art
and the Denver Art Academy. Now a long-time resident of New Mexico, Vigil says he started painting abstract imagery to get away from some of the clichés in western art. “I take advantage of the abstract nature of the western landscape the mountains, plains, and canyons,” he says. Vigil’s approach differs from that of most western artists: He is mainly concerned with line, design, shape, and proportions. “Movement and color are also very important because they give a painting its inner life and appeal,” he explains. Vigil is represented by Gallery Elena, Santa Fe and Taos, NM; and Suzanne Brown Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ.

Nan Johnson, Suburban Night, egg tempera, 41 x 43 painting southwest art.
Nan Johnson, Suburban Night, egg tempera, 41 x 43

· Susan Barnes ·

Barnes, who hails from New York but currently lives in Montana, combines photography and painting in her mixed-media works. Fragments of buildings, streets, and other elements of the landscape play against passages of paint, which are broken by Barnes’ vigorous brushwork. “I’ve always felt connected to my environment,” she says. “I love to combine my photographs, which are more accessible, with the sensuous qualities of paint.”  Barnes is represented by Sutton West Gallery,
Missoula, MT, and Lucia Douglas Gallery, Bellingham, WA. —KB

· Lynn Rowan Myers ·

Myers is a native of Northern California but since 1970 has lived in Colorado.  While she paints landscapes all over the southwestern United States, Myers is particularly drawn to New Mexico—“nothing else has the same kick,” she says. “The New Mexico landscape is constantly changing and has intense colors and hypnotic shapes.”  Myers paints quick plein-air sketches and then adds the finishing touches in her studio. While she describes herself as a colorist, she says that composition is key. “I work hard on composition because that’s what makes for a lasting image.” Myers is represented by Dearing Galleries, Taos, NM; Basalt Gallery, Basalt, CO; Highland Gallery,

Dick Evans, Horizons, acrylic, 28 x 48 painting, southwest art.
Dick Evans, Horizons, acrylic, 28 x 48

Breckenridge, CO; Bristol Gallery, Denver, CO; and Arts at Silver Plume, Silver Plume, CO.

· Nan Johnson ·

Johnson divides her time between Washington state and a rural area outside Bend, OR, and has traveled widely, including trips in the past few years to Australia, the Southwest, and St. Croix. All of these environs have provided raw material for her vividly colored and complex landscapes, which are painted with egg tempera that she mixes herself. Johnson produces works that are neither real nor imaginary but abstractions of her visual and emotional reactions to the landscape, music, and weather. Suburban Night is based on Seattle, WA. Johnson is represented by Sunbird Gallery, Bend, OR.—DT

William Lumpkins, Small Stream, watercolor, 18 x 24 painting southwest art.
William Lumpkins, Small Stream, watercolor, 18 x 24

· Dick Evans ·

Evans retired from teaching ceramics at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, in 1987. In 1990, he moved to New Mexico and also moved from ceramics to painting. Evans found his realistic paintings too contrived, so he began abstracting his images more and more. His bold colors and odd shapes come not from his imagination but from a different way of looking at the landscape. “The abstracted views are out there all the time,” he says. “We just don’t pay attention to them.” Evans is represented by Robins Hyder Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; Phillips Gallery, Salt Lake City, UT; and Tory Folliard Gallery, Milwaukee, WI.

Featured in September 1997

Theodore Waddell, Angus Drawing #351, oil, 30 x 40. painting, southwest art.
Theodore Waddell, Angus Drawing #351, oil, 30 x 40