By Jason Silverman
In Wyoming, bison and bears wander the backcountry landscape. Thick stands of ponderosa pines entice, and deep gorges slice waterways between high rock walls. The state is home to flat grasslands in the east, hidden canyons everywhere, plenty of pine-scented national forests, and a diverse array of wildlife that scales mountains, scrambles through brush, and soars through blue skies. The sapphire waters of Bighorn Lake and Yellowstone Lake offer tranquil respites, while Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks loom majestic in the northwest corner. This vast terrain offers a natural palette for outdoor-oriented painters, some of whom were raised here, some of whom sought it out.
|SWEET SEPTEMBER, OIL, 14 x 10 3/4|
The Barhaug clan went camping every weekend when young Ty was growing up in Cody, WY. “We had horses, and we were always doing pack trips,” he recalls. “I worked for an outfitter for a while and rode a dogsled team with huskies in the wintertime. That’s the way I grew up. We were raised to have a lot of respect for wild things, for the animals and the mountains, for all the things around us.” Barhaug, son of two artists and brother to a handful more, grew up to become one of Cody’s favorite artists.
Having studied with California artist Robert Pummill at the Cowboy Artists of America Museum in Kerrville, TX, and with watercolorist Jerry Fritzler in Jackson, WY, he is a popular figure in his hometown of Cody: a four-time winner of the Jurors’ Choice Award at the Buffalo Bill Art Show (where he also nabbed the People’s Choice Award in 1999), he’s also the recipient of the Ralph “Tuffy” Berg Award at the 1999 C.M. Russell Auction.
His paintings of landscapes have the vibrant, dynamic colors of a Wyoming sunset, offering a sense of the serenity Barhaug finds outdoors. “I don’t spend too much time worrying about what my palette looks like,” he says. “Each and every painting that I do is its own thing. These paintings are my photo album—they are places I’ve been and things I’ve seen. I don’t look at them as good paintings and bad paintings; I just enjoy remembering the place.”
Barhaug’s work can be found at Big Horn Galleries, Cody, WY, and Tubac, AZ, and Spirits in the Wind Gallery, Golden, CO.
|CODY COUNTRY, OIL, 40 x 40|
Loosen up. That’s the message the Wyoming backcountry gave to Jerry Antolik when the one-time illustrator began pursuing his current career niche as an impressionistic landscape artist. Raised in Pennsylvania and educated at the Cooper School of Art in Cleveland, OH, Antolik gave up a career as a commercial artist to move west in the mid-1970s. He worked at first as a ranch hand, sheepherder, and forester in some of Wyoming’s most remote regions, where the bears and coyotes outnumbered the humans. Running into a bear on a trail, he remembers he scooted up a rock formation and she up a tree to care for her cubs, after which they regarded each other warily but with great interest. “All of these experiences are what I paint. Being here really helps me understand my subject matter,” says Antolik. “For so many years, I was trapped into using photos, into trying to make things look real. By the end of 20 years, I was able to make my paintings look like a photo. Then I was exposed to working outside. That changed everything.”
Though he previously painted wildlife, these days Antolik has gravitated to increasingly impressionistic landscapes, which capture the colors and perspective of the Wyoming mountains. He’s often seen painting near his home in Hudson, WY—a secluded burg in the central part of the state on the outskirts of the Wind River Indian Reservation. Here, he creates oil paintings that have a timeless, classic feel and a rich, subtle palette. “Painting outside has caused me to work quicker, to work simpler, to become more impressionistic,” he says. “After painting tight for years, I’ve found that it’s more fun to paint loose and allow a stroke to remain a stroke.”
Antolik is represented by Mountain Trails Gallery, Jackson, WY, and Park City, UT; Sage Creek Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; and Hole in the Wall Gallery, Ennis, MT.
|BEAR HAVEN, OIL, 40 x 60|
Bill Sawczuk began painting the West before he ever saw it. A fan of western folklore by disposition but a Midwesterner by birth, he rendered cowboy scenes from his home in Detroit, MI. “I’ve always been a western fan, and loved horses and cowboy movies,” says the artist, who moved to Wyoming 10 years ago. “It was a kind of romantic vision, and when I got here, I found that much of the West is modern like everywhere else. Still, there are spectacular places, and that’s where painting outdoors comes in.”
Trained as an engineer and architect, Sawczuk created technical illustrations for Chevrolet and military contractors—the kind of work that demands mathematical precision. Though his education gave him some of the skills of a fine artist, he was otherwise self-taught. His biggest challenge was letting go of control of the subject matter. “When you are painting outside, there is a lot to see—boulders, mountains, down timber, unusual skies,” he says. “It boils down to capturing the mood of the scene rather than the detail. That’s more important than getting every tree and hill in the right place.”
Sawczuk, who is currently based in upscale Jackson, WY, is a fan of the early Wyoming artists Frank Tenney Johnson and W.H.D. Koerner, as well as contemporary painters Richard Schmid, Clyde Aspevig, and Scott Christensen. Among his best works are those depicting Wyoming’s old barns, cabins, and farmhouses—which he has a special knack for, thanks to his architectural background. For the second year, Sawczuk was an artist in residence at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson this past July. “For years western art was snubbed by the Eastern establishment, but since when has a subject dictated what fine art is?” he asks. “It’s not the subject—it’s how well it’s done.”
He is represented at Trailside Galleries, Jackson, WY, and Montana Trails Gallery, Bozeman, MT.
|A DISTANT THUNDER, OIL, 30 x 40|
For wildlife painter Dave Wade, the best paintings are like poems—conveying a deeper truth with a minimum of information. He’s no fan of hyper-realistic paintings that render subjects with photographic-like detail. Instead, he admires painters like Clyde Aspevig and Scott Christensen who tell their stories with the fewest possible number of brushstrokes. “My own feeling on art is that the subject shouldn’t control you,” Wade says. “You should interpret the subject. Artists who try to render every little detail, to capture everything in front of them, become a prisoner. I’m learning to make art that simplifies and modifies and alters the scene.”
Wade’s reputation is quickly spreading: Based two hours away from Jackson Hole in the town of Cokeville, he was selected as a teacher at this year’s prestigious Prix de West show at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma, where he also won the Major General and Mrs. Don D. Pittman Wildlife Award. He’s garnered first place in the Wyoming Conservation Stamp/Print Design contest five times and shown up in the top 100 at the Wyoming-based Arts for the Parks competition four times.
Wade doesn’t do much actual painting outdoors, but he spends lots of time in the wilderness making mental notes and sketches, as well as taking both photographs and digital video. “To learn about color and light you have to be outside, observing and painting. You can’t imagine how valuable it is to just look at something for an hour, to study the colors, to see how the light changes. And of course, there is no substitute for going out and looking at the animals,” he comments.
Wade’s paintings can be found at Wilcox Gallery, Jackson, WY; Settlers West Galleries, Tucson, AZ; Ponderosa Art Gallery, Hamilton, MT; and Collectors Covey, Dallas, TX.
|CRAZY WOMAN MOUNTAIN, OIL, 40 x 56.|
Jenny Glenn Wuerker
Big landscapes deserve big paintings, and that’s why Jenny Glenn Wuerker drags her 4-foot-by-5-foot canvases out into the Wyoming sunshine every day. She calls herself the Crazy Woman Canyon painter. That’s a reference to the place she works most often—a scenic spot in rural north-central Wyoming where the Great Plains, with all their color and contours, meet the massive Bighorn Mountains. Wuerker sometimes spends months on a single painting, creating it from start to finish in the open air. She works outside throughout the year, never using photographs or touching up the paintings in her studio.
She began painting Wyoming about 10 years ago and moved to out-of-the-way Buffalo, WY (population 3,300), with her husband and fellow painter, Aaron Wuerker, in 1995. Her works give a remarkable sense of the wide scope of Wyoming’s open country. Even as large as her canvases are, there isn’t room to include all that’s around her: “A lot of the views I choose are very expansive, but I’ll condense it, compress it onto the rectangle of the canvas,” she says. “What I hope happens is that when you look back into the painting, that space re-explodes from that rectangle. That’s something you can only do on location.”
Wuerker grew up in rural New England, studied art at Yale University and American University, then taught at the Smithsonian Institution. She has found her place in Wyoming, exhibiting in solo shows at the Ucross Foundation in Ucross, WY, and in a group show at the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, MT. Her influences include Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (for his light and atmosphere), Claude Monet (for his naturalistic color), and Maynard Dixon (for his astutely patterned western vision).
Wuerker’s work currently appears at the Bradford Brinton Memorial & Museum in Big Horn, WY.
|FRONT ROW SEAT, OIL, 33 x 26|
Geoff Parker wanted to be a painter, but what kind? Trained at the California Academy of Art in San Francisco during the heyday of psychedelia in the early 1970s, his first interests were surrealism and what he calls “the mind-trip arts.” But studio artmaking was not the fate for such a dedicated outdoorsman. Parker, who was born and spent years cowboying in Wyoming, decided to come back home to Cody. “I didn’t want an indoor job, and plein-air painting answers that for me,” he says. “I’m outside in all kinds of weather, and that suits me. Working and painting outside gives you correct color and helps your compositional skills, whereas if I was copying a photograph, I’d be bored to tears. I might as well be working in a bank.”
Parker’s plein-air landscapes aren’t intended as literal transcriptions of outdoor scenes. Instead, flavored by nature’s ever-changing light, his oil paintings offer strikingly detailed and luminous glimpses of the backcountry—you can feel dusk approaching, or the late afternoon sun, or the heat of the morning in his canvases. “People think of clouds as black and white, but a cloud can be any color in the rainbow, depending on what kind of light is on it and the time of day,” he says, by way of example. “By painting outside, by looking outside all the time, you see so much color, so many different values and compositional designs. It’s an endless source of inspiration.”
Parker is currently retracing the trail that Lewis and Clark followed 200 years ago, painting scenes along the way. That series, created with painter Tim Lawson, will be exhibited at the St. Louis Courthouse in Missouri in 2004.
Parker is represented at Simpson Gallagher Gallery, Cody, WY; Bozeman Trail Gallery, Sheridan, WY; Two Rivers Gallery, Steamboat Springs, CO; and Bishop Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ.
Featured in September 2003