Ketchum, ID, June 20-July 27
This story was featured in the July 2012 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Order the Southwest Art magazine July 2012 print edition here, or purchase the Southwest Art magazine July 2012 digital download here. Or simply click here to subscribe to Southwest Art magazine and never miss a story!
The myths, metaphors, and iconic images of the West play powerful roles in American history and culture, as well as in the human psyche. Our fascination with the stories and imagery of the western frontier persists not because of their literal meanings but because of what they represent: virtue, a higher purpose, power, indomitable spirit, and unrestrained freedom. Artists Thom Ross and Jean Richardson explore these and other themes in a show titled Under the Western Sky, on display June 20 through July 27 at Kneeland Gallery. An opening reception is on Friday, July 6, from 5 to 8 p.m.
“I try to pair artists whose work complements and does not compete with each other in the gallery environment,” says gallery director Carey Molter. “Richardson’s dynamic, large-scale canvases pair perfectly with the vibrancy and bold subjects in Ross’ work, and it is easy to envision them side by side in a collector’s home.” Certainly, many parallels exist between the two artists’ works—some less obvious than others. When describing their works and artistic purposes, both Richardson and Ross invoke similar concepts of icon, myth, and metaphor.
An Oklahoma native, Richardson has had a lifelong interest in western myth and feels deep connections to the frontier West. The iconic image she focuses on is the horse, which she paints in the abstract using splashes of acrylics in both jeweled tones and earthen hues. Both of Richardson’s parents grew up in ranching families, and she has been around horses all her life. Artistically, however, she is not interested in them as animals, but rather as “a metaphor for human spirit—unbridled, striving, sometimes heroic, often restless, full of energy, floating above us, calling us to other realms.”
The influence of western legend and history is evident in Ross’ modern renditions of popular historical—and often mythical—figures of the West. As a young boy in the 1950s, Ross was heavily influenced by the popular western movies and TV shows of the time, such as Bonanza, Wagon Train, Rawhide, and The Alamo. “I was drawing pictures of the Alamo at age 7,” he says.
Today, Ross uses iconic figures such as Billy the Kid, Doc Holiday, Jesse James, and Wyatt Earp to point out the “unreal” aspects of these characters and their stories that many regard as truth. “There’s a real story behind each of these historical figures,” Ross says. The artist avoids painting clichéd images of these figures in an effort to show his subjects as “real humans” with “real stories.” His works celebrate the myth and have fun with it, while at the same time warning viewers of the danger in perceiving the myth as truth.
Ross believes that western myths hold so much weight in our culture because they provide strong metaphors for the human psyche—for all the virtues we hope to have, the desires we all share. In the end, however, Ross proclaims that “history is much more interesting and powerful than myth.”
Whether you prefer to revel in history, myth, or a little of both, there’s no denying the compelling imagery displayed by both Richardson and Ross in this month’s show at Kneeland Gallery. —Lindsay Mitchell
Featured in the July 2012 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
Southwest Art magazine July 2012 digital download
Southwest Art magazine July 2012 print edition
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