Show Preview | Masters of the American West

Los Angeles, CA
Autry Museum of the American West, February 10-March 25

Bill Anton, Morning Glory, oil, 32 x 48.

Bill Anton, Morning Glory, oil, 32 x 48.

This story was featured in the February 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art February 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

An elite group of leading western artists has been duly challenged, once again, to create their very best work for the 21st annual Masters of the American West Art Exhibition and Sale, which kicks off this month at the Autry Museum of the American West. The highly anticipated exhibition features an impressive collection of nearly 300 fine artworks by 70 exceptional painters and sculptors, including Bill Anton, George Carlson, Tammy Garcia, Logan Maxwell Hagege, Dean Mitchell, Mian Situ, Curt Walters, and Morgan Weistling.

Tickets are required to attend opening-day events on Saturday, February 10, but entrance to the general exhibition is included with museum admission. Activities on opening day include a luncheon, an awards ceremony, and presentations by artists Jeremy Lipking and Daniel W. Pinkham. Later that evening, patrons and artists meet and mingle during a cocktail reception and sale, where fixed-price works are sold through a drawing.

As in years past, the exhibition spans an exciting array of both contemporary and traditional western art, says the Autry’s chief curator, Amy Scott. “One of the most interesting things about the event this year is that we’ve diversified the show in terms of artists and styles,” she notes. “The show is based on traditional western values, as conveyed in classic western art like landscapes and historical narratives, and we continue to celebrate that aspect of Masters. But we’ve also incorporated artists who have a more abstract and modern, yet still representational, aesthetic.”

Several esteemed artists join the show for the first time, including Tony Abeyta, Thomas Blackshear, Glenn Dean, Sue Lyon, Mark Maggiori, Kevin Red Star, and Mateo Romero—all of whom “strengthen and broaden” the core values Masters has always projected, says Scott. “Masters walks the line between traditional and innovative, and we’re just broadening the definition of what ‘contemporary’ means in terms of western art.” Contemporary Native American artists like Abeyta and Romero, for example, are “reinventing” traditional art forms and styles while honoring their roots, she notes. Take Abeyta’s painting VILLAGE LANDMARK, which depicts a northern New Mexican village with varied lightning patterns, zigzags, and oblique shapes. Scott explains that the composition’s “angular abstraction” reflects designs often found in traditional Native American art, particularly painted ceramics. Similarly, in works like DEER DANCER [see page 27],
Cochiti Pueblo artist Mateo Romero applies loose, gestural brushwork and
abstract mark-making to otherwise representational portrayals of Native American figures.

Even traditional artists such as Len Chmiel and George Carlson deftly straddle the line between abstraction and realism, notes Scott, and their latest works exemplify their ability to blend the two. In WYOMING BADLANDS [see page 27], for example, Carlson portrays a large, variegated rock formation that nearly fills the picture plane. “Even by George’s standards, it’s very abstract, yet perfectly readable,” says Scott. “He takes a photorealistic approach when it comes to portraying the land itself, but he breaks it down into volume, shapes, and depth. He manages to fuse those two disparate approaches—abstraction and realism—in a way few artists can.”

As always, the exhibition also presents a mix of impressionism and classical realism, with varied depictions of the western landscape, wildlife, cowboy culture, and Native American history. Chinese-born oil painter Z.S. Liang, who is entering his 11th year in Masters, has received national acclaim for his accurate portrayals of historical American Indian life. In Liang’s major painting for the show, an Assiniboine chief casts a sweeping glance over Montana’s lush Milk River Valley as the morning sun begins its ascent over the distant mountains. “The return of spring finds everything in Mother Nature in good spirits,” notes Liang about the optimistic scene. “The chief is looking for a good location for his people to camp, with the hope that the buffalo will soon return.”

First-time Masters participant Glenn Dean paints throughout the Southwest and then completes larger paintings in his studio based on his field studies. “Glenn has a great reputation for classic cowboy imagery, but his style is a bit more fluid and contemporary,” notes Scott. The California painter created four works for Masters, including THE SOUL’S REFUGE, a painting inspired by his own outdoor excursions. “I was hoping to achieve the effect of a rider arriving at his place of retreat—a place that maybe takes a little effort to get to, but that is worth the reward once you get there,” says Dean. “These special places are retreats for the soul.”

Like Dean, landscape painter Carole Cooke is frequently inspired by the wide-open spaces of the West. In COTTONWOODS BENEATH THE CRESCENT MOON, one of three paintings she brings, the Arizona artist portrays a scene she happened upon while driving to Jackson, WY, one early evening when a pale sliver of the moon appeared in the sky. Her painting reveals “just a little peek” at the moon, she says. “To me, twilight is the most magical time of day. The sun’s energy is still present in the sky, and water will reflect its glow while everything else is sneaking into darkness. The contrast is so strong, yet so sensitive.”

For longtime participants like Cooke, who has taken part in Masters since 2005, it’s difficult to discuss the show without mentioning one of its central founders, John J. Geraghty (1930-2015). “John was the driving force behind the show for so many years, and I think it will always carry on his legacy,” she says. In addition to Geraghty’s legendary standards of excellence, Masters has preserved another enduring legacy, notes Cooke: the warm and caring attitude of everyone involved. “Everything about the show is quite exceptional,” she says. —Kim Agricola

contact information

This story was featured in the February 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art February 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

Subscribe to Southwest Art magazine
Learn how to paint & how to draw with downloads, books, videos & more from North Light Shop
Sign up for your Southwest Art email newsletter & download a FREE ebook