Editor’s Letter | Singular Focus

Artists who immerse themselves in their subjects

By Kristin Hoerth

Still Dawn by Dennis Doheny.

Still Dawn by Dennis Doheny.

This story was featured in the May 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  May 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

Putting together an issue of Southwest Art always involves hard work, tough decisions, and a little bit of good fortune. But some issues also involve the element of surprise, in the form of coincidences, unexpected parallels, and other serendipitous elements that reveal themselves during the course of the month. This particular issue happens to be an excellent example of that.

We knew early on that our article about painter Todd Williams would focus largely on his recently completed Painting the Legacy of Nebraska project (see page 90). It’s been a massive undertaking: four years of work, including multiple visits to each of the 93 counties in his home state; 122 paintings depicting Nebraska’s landscape, history, and people; and an exhibition that travels to eight venues across the state throughout the rest of this year, during which Nebraska celebrates 150 years of statehood. Writer Norman Kolpas aptly describes it as both a “labor of love” and “a monumental passion project.”

What we didn’t know at the outset, however, was that many of the other artists featured in this issue would share Todd’s single-minded focus on a particular subject. For example, take California painter Glenn Dean, who’s well known for his landscapes. This month Dean has a solo show at Maxwell Alexander Gallery called Into the Night, which focuses entirely on nocturnal scenes (page 32). “I spent most of last summer going out during the last half hour of daylight and doing little color sketches very quickly, working until I couldn’t see anymore,” Dean says. He also spent a lot of time walking around in the moonlight and just observing. The results are moody, subtle, and entrancing to behold.

Or take another California painter, Dennis Doheny (page 66). He’s been completely devoted to communicating the intrinsic beauty of the land for many years. An avid outdoorsman, he routinely travels the state on excursions to the beach or the Sierra Nevada—places where he feels especially at home and that speak to his creative spirit. “Most of my paintings are of areas I’ve been traveling to for a long time and I know fairly well,” he explains. “I’ve been visiting these places for 40 years.” Today his body of work includes a wide range of scenes captured at different times of day and in all seasons.

Of course, there are other artists in this issue whose works are more varied and equally accomplished; neither approach is right or wrong. But it’s fun to see these unintended themes crop up from time to time, and when artists immerse themselves deeply in a particular subject, it’s wonderful to see where it leads them.

This story was featured in the May 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  May 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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