Show Preview | Masters of the American West

Los Angeles, CA
Autry Museum of the American West, February 11-March 26

Curt Walters, Accesso, oil, 20 x 30.

Curt Walters, Accesso, oil, 20 x 30.

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

Once a year, a select group of leading western artists chips in on the Autry Museum’s mission to share the diverse stories and experiences of the American West. The prestigious Masters of the American West Art Exhibition and Sale, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, opens at the Autry on Saturday, February 11. On view are 275 paintings and sculptures by nationally esteemed artists Len Chmiel, Bill Anton, George Carlson, Kyle Polzin, Billy Schenck, Mick Doellinger, and 70 other top-billed names.

Event sponsors and ticket holders can get a sneak peek at artworks in an early preview at 8:30 a.m. on opening day. The ticketed opening-day events continue with presentations by award-winning artists John Fawcett and Tammy Garcia and a luncheon and awards presentation. That evening, patrons can mingle with the artists at a lively cocktail reception and fine-art sale where the works are sold in a fixed-price draw.

In an exhibit that the Autry’s chief curator, Amy Scott, describes as “dynamic and diverse,” visitors can expect to see varied contemporary and historic western imagery, from Native American narratives and the modern cowboy experience to rural landscapes and still lifes depicting the material culture of the West. Participating artist JoAnn Peralta “really went above and beyond,” notes Scott, “going deeper into historical research of the old Southwest.” Other works set the story for frontier expansion, she says, pointing to historical narratives by Robert Griffing and John Buxton that portray America’s colonization experience in the East.

In years past, Masters has included a sampling of new talents in the show. This year, however, Scott says the museum is bringing back a “handful of key artists” who have historically been a part of the show and have helped define the western art genre, including Curt Walters, John and Terri Kelly Moyers, Thomas Quinn, Luke Frazier, Herb Mignery, and William Shepherd. A section featuring miniature artworks appears again this year and includes works by guest artists like John Budicin, Adam Smith, Cliff Scott, Lori Forest, and Conchita O’Kane.

As always, artists were challenged to create their very best works for Masters, honoring the vision of the event’s key founding member John J. Geraghty, who passed away in 2015. Geraghty’s famously high standards helped the event ascend to the top ranks among western art shows. “John’s vision and muscle brought Masters to fruition,” says Scott. “We’re keeping up the emphasis on quality he promoted. It’s part of his legacy.”

It’s a legacy Billy Schenck embraces as he gears up for his third year in Masters. “It’s a little like going to the Oscars,” laughs the Santa Fe artist, whose works range from western landscapes to cowboy pop art. Schenck says he took a more traditional and classic approach in the four works he created for the show. In his ambitious 55-by-70-inch painting UNDER THE GREAT WESTERN SKY, he referenced 14 different film slides he shot in Navajo country over the years, “stitching together” a detailed narrative with two Navajo figures on a sun-drenched mesa. “It’s a scale I haven’t done in years,” says Schenck. “It’s important to put—regardless of scale—the strongest work you’ve got in Masters, just because of the show’s audience and legacy.”

Longtime Masters participant Len Chmiel also brings four works to the show, including EVIDENCE OF LIFE, a winter scene portraying a pristine spot along the Frying Pan River in west-central Colorado. “It demonstrates how conceptual yet realistic he can be,” says Scott of the piece. “Len can do that like nobody else.” In the 45-by-60-inch work, part of a series of abstracted water pieces he’s been working on, Chmiel says he wants people to feel like they’re there in the landscape, looking at the water. “I really try to involve the viewer,” he says. Chmiel, a three-time Artists’ Choice award winner at Masters, still thinks about Geraghty’s standards when he chooses what to paint for the show. “John’s legacy is obvious,” he says. “The people who are moving Masters forward are doing a good job carrying on the intent of the show, and there’s an enthusiasm that’s infectious. It just seems like it’s going to get better and better. I’m really happy to be a part of it.” —Kim Agricola

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

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