This story was featured in the June 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Order the Southwest Art June 2013 print issue, or get the Southwest Art June 2013 digital download now…Or better yet, just subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss a story!
Dennis Ziemienski has always been attracted to the years between 1900 and 1960 as subject matter for his engaging and graphically nostalgic paintings. It’s an era in American history when the Old West was giving way to the new West: Cowboys sat in Model T Fords with their horses tied up to posts nearby. Western rodeos featured horses jumping over cars. Railroad tracks were slowly linking cities and small towns across the country. Ziemienski is fond of referring to the period he paints as “the Old West after the Old West.”
This month Altamira Fine Art features a dozen such works by the Northern California artist in a show that opens on June 17 and is followed a few days later with a reception on June 20 from 5 to 8 p.m. “Dennis provides compelling images of the American experience, reminiscent of the time when modernism and art deco were in the forefront of our culture,” says Dean Munn, the gallery’s sales director. “His paintings of subtle abstraction, chic illustrative technique, and stylized composition recount this period in time, affirming his contributions as genuine Americana.”
Ziemienski remembers being on family car trips as a kid in California and thinking about how someday he would like to capture the buildings, clothing, machinery, and way of life in the first part of the 20th century. Today he is making that happen in his studio, creating paintings that juxtapose the cowboy life with the increasing dominance of modern-day imagery. His paintings are sprinkled with depictions of neon signs, gas stations, roadside fruit stands, and drive-in restaurants that blossomed in the early 20th-century landscape, as automobiles replaced horses as the major means of transportation and people from other parts of the country began flocking to the West for vacations. The highways and byways soon were dotted with new motels, resorts, and dude ranches.
Ziemienski says he relishes turning back the pages of history, whether he’s examining the arts and crafts movement or the simple beauty of orange-crate labels from bygone years. His enthusiasm for his chosen subject matter is found in paintings on view in the show such as POTTER AT CASTENADA, which depicts a pueblo artisan showing and selling her art at a New Mexico train station in the 1920s. In another painting, big RATTLER, Ziemienski found “unusual beauty in the beast” after he painted a small study of a rattlesnake. He hopes others will view the painting and see the same beauty.
Ziemienski says his paintings offer viewers the chance to imagine the way things might have looked in the past. He is often surprised by the lack of interest in this particular era from other painters, but at the same time, he appreciates having this artistic niche mostly to himself to explore. —Bonnie Gangelhoff
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