Show Preview | Prix de West Invitational

Oklahoma City, OK
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, June 8-August 5

Joel R. Johnson, A River Runs Through It, watercolor, 22 x 37.

Joel R. Johnson, A River Runs Through It, watercolor, 22 x 37.

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

For nearly five decades, the prestigious Prix de West Invitational has graced the fine-art world with a dazzling showcase of paintings, drawings, and sculptures by some of the country’s finest contemporary western artists. The highly anticipated 46th annual show opens this month at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, OK, with an action-packed weekend of events. Reservations are required for many of the activities, which kick off on Friday, June 8, and include seminars, artists’ demonstrations, awards ceremonies, an art sale and live auction, and a trunk show at The Museum Store.

The heart and soul of the entire event, of course, is the spectacular ensemble of museum-quality artworks on view, all carefully curated to reflect a diversified picture of the old and new American West. “The artwork is truly what tells the story around Prix de West,” says Susan Patterson, the museum’s curator of special exhibits. “Ed Muno, our emeritus curator, has worked on the show from the beginning, and he has a great vision for laying out the show and overseeing the installations. With Ed on board, it’s always guaranteed to be a beautiful show.”

On Friday at 10 a.m., the exhibition galleries are unveiled, featuring more than 300 artworks spanning a range of styles and themes, from depictions of the American frontier and Native American history to more contemporary and impressionistic works, including landscapes, wildlife art, still lifes, and figurative scenes. Joining the group for the first time is widely acclaimed oil painter Robert Griffing. Perhaps best known for his portrayals of 18th-century Eastern Woodland Indians, the Pennsylvania artist showcases his painting CHEROKEE CARAVAN alongside the works of veteran participants like Greg Beecham, C. Michael Dudash, Josh Elliott, Steve Kestrel, T. Allen Lawson, John Moyers, Terri Kelly Moyers, and Kent Ullberg. The museum also welcomes two guest artists, Joel R. Johnson and Benjamin Wu.

Johnson, a Wyoming native who today lives in Vero Beach, FL, views Prix de West as an opportunity to reconnect with the West he knows intimately and still visits often. The watercolorist brings two landscape paintings to the show, including a dramatic, sweeping vista of Dead Horse Point in Moab, UT, titled A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT. By contrast, the artist’s painting WINTER SILENCE depicts a more intimate space along a luminous stream he encountered while traveling outside Steamboat Springs, CO. “The sun had already gone down, and this last bit of light reflected back into the snow,” says Johnson of the scene. “Both of my pieces are oversized paintings, because I want viewers to see that watercolors can be executed on a grand scale in the same way oils are done,” he adds. “In all of my works, I try to create a sense of place and oneness with the subject. Joseph Campbell called it aesthetic arrest, where the viewer is frozen in one moment in time with you.”

Strongly influenced by Europe’s old masters, Wu brings two oil paintings that reveal his passions for classical realism, American pioneer narratives, and meticulously detailed compositions. In ON THE OREGON TRAIL, the California artist depicts a group of migrating settlers and their wagon train doggedly making their way, on foot, to eastern Oregon. “It’s a testament to the American dream,” says Wu, who has spent considerable time researching the era since visiting the Oregon Trail
Interpretive Center in 2010. “I was inspired by the pioneers’ grit and perseverance to pursue a better life and opportunities for themselves and their family,” he adds. “In my paintings, I like my figures to be doing things. It’s more interesting, more theatrical, when you see something is happening.”

Other creative feats in the show include NORTHERN MEETING by Montana wildlife artist Kyle Sims, who is entering his 10th year of Prix de West. The artist’s large-scale painting of two roaming moose evokes the misty chill and earthy aromas of a northwestern Montana forest in autumn. “The moose are in what’s called their rut, or mating, season, and they will travel miles upon miles in search of a mate,” says Sims of the scene. He does his best, he adds, to keep up with the long-limbed nomads as he scouts out potential paintings like this one. “With all of my work, I’m always trying to impart a feeling of reality, including a time of year and place, and I continue to get a lot of enjoyment from learning how to create and apply certain textures to enhance the enjoyment of my work.” 

With an all-star exhibition such as this one, honors are in order. As in years past, a handful of Prix de West awards are bestowed during an exclusive awards dinner on Friday evening. One of the top prizes, the Purchase Award, is announced on Saturday at noon, and then at 1 p.m., demonstrations by Joseph Bohler, G. Russell Case, Bruce Greene, and Sandy Scott get underway in the museum halls. Opening-weekend festivities conclude that evening with a fixed-price draw and live auction of artworks beginning at 6:30 p.m., but museum visitors have the opportunity to view all works in the museum galleries through August 5. Summing up the spirit of Prix de West with wholehearted enthusiasm, Sims promises: “You will find a variety of subject matter, and all the artists are at the top of their game. If you’re an art enthusiast and have never been to this show, your efforts to get there will not be a disappointment.” —Kim Agricola

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

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