08 March 2017

Past & Future

"History pertains to the living man in three respects: it pertains to him as a being who acts and strives, as a being who preserves and reveres, as a being who suffers and seeks deliverance."

Friedrich Neitzsche 
On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life 1874

Racing the Storm, 2016. Graphite & oil on art board, 11x14"

I had hoped to complete the 2016 year in review (beginning with "Shaped by Circumstance", 20 August 2016) before 2017 was so far along. However, it felt right to delay this final post until Beth Judy's new book, Bold Women in Montana History, was published. It has been an honor to work on cover art for this collection of biographies. I enjoyed what I learned, and trust you will too.

Let me introduce you to some of the eleven characters Beth has so beautifully rendered in the book. She was even willing to write up some short descriptions to share here.

Pretty Shield (1856-1944)

"Pretty Shield was born when the Crow people still lived the life they had led for generations, following their food sources (bison, plants) over a vast territory of present day Wyoming and Montana. By the time she was married, the Crow had been restricted to a reservation, which, over time, shrank further in size. Life changed radically, and the tribe knew hunger and poverty. Through it all, Pretty Shield fought to preserve the culture and people she loved. She "co-authored" a book with author and Indian advocate Frank Linderman by recounting the details of her life to him. She also raised one of her grandchildren, Alma Hogan Snell, in the old ways, carefully transmitting precious ancient knowledge to her."

Annie (Agnes) Morgan (1830s/1840s-1914)

"Born in Baltimore, African-American Agnes "Annie" Morgan headed west after the Civil War and became a cook with the US frontier army. Somewhere along the line she "cooked for Custer" though the exact details of that, along with other aspects of her life, remain mysterious. The homestead she claimed in the Rock Creek valley, near Philipsburg, is now a Forest Service cabin the public can rent. In its walls, the first and so far only "bag charm" in the Pacific Northwest, associated with the magic/spiritual practice know as Hoodoo, was found."

Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973)

"The Rankin Family, one of Missoula's first white families, was a talented and passionate bunch. After college, Jeannette, the eldest, wasn't sure what to do. After encountering urban poverty out east, she trained in social work, then dedicated herself to the women's suffrage movement, working in states around the country. After Montana women won the vote, but before women did nationwide, Jeannette campaigned throughout her home state to become the first female in Congress --and won, just in time to vote "No" against World War I, because she was a pacifist. Concern about peace inspired her to run again for Congress, only to win and once more vote "No" against World War II. She never stopped working for peace, inspiring and participating in an anti-Vietnam march in 1968 when she was close to 90 that was named after her --the 'Jeannette Rankin Brigade'."

Myrna Loy (1905-1993)

"Born and raised until her teens near and in Helena, Myrna Williams, later Loy, always had strong ambition. First she wanted to be a dancer, but when her mother moved the family to Los Angeles, Myrna discovered the world of film. Once she made it into movies, she worked non-stop for years until her big breakthrough, "The Thin Man" and its sequels, made her America's leading darling. Her exposure to politics while growing up in Montana, accounted for her second love: changing the world through political and civic action, especially the UN. Into old age, she continued working in movies, television, and the stage. When she died, she was still beloved, respected, and honored as a favorite actress and personality throughout America."

Elouise Cobell (1945-2011)

"Elouise, born Yellow Bird Woman, was born in the Browning hospital on the Blackfeet Reservation. In their part of the reservation, her father and mother were tribal leaders to whom people came for help. So Elouise grew up hearing about people's trouble accessing their own money --proceeds from the land their families had acquired when, in the 1880s, the reservation, like many across the nation, was divided into parcels owned by individual tribal members rather than the tribe as a whole. Elouise went on to become an accountant, and then tribal treasurer. Finally the puzzle of access became clearer: there was a long history of corruption, stealing, and no accounting at many levels of government. After trying to remedy the situation in multiple other ways, in 1996 Elouise became the lead plaintiff in a landmark case against the US government that took 16 years, and her life (she died before receiving any money herself), but resulted in the largest class-action win against the government ever. Though approximately 500,000 landowners across the nation each got only about $1,000 in the end, the win was still a huge victory for Indian people."

As I said, it was an honor to work on this project. It was also a novel experience since I have never worked so directly with historical figures. But I am a lover history for all the reasons cited by Nietzsche in the quote above. It is well worth our close study here and now. With all the change and turmoil in our country today, these true stories of valor, perseverance, creativity, intelligence and compassion have raised my spirits and my hopes. Written for Young Adults, I recommend the book to all.

I welcome everyone to a book launch party to be held at Montana Art & Framing (709 Ronan Street) on April First, 4-7:00 pm.  At Five o'clock Beth Judy will be reading from Bold Women of Montana. I will be sharing the original artwork and discussing the illustration process.

Bold Women of Montana (as well as others in the Bold Women series) is published by Mountain Press in Missoula. www.mountain-press.com

The book is available locally at Fact & Fiction and The Book Exchange.

My THANKS to Beth Judy, Gwen McKenna (Editor) and Jeannie Nucholls (Designer).

21 December 2016

Written on Water

Dark Reflection, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 11x14"

Though I have been working with riverine imagery for several years, last Summer I participated in my first show on the theme- "Montana Water" at Collage Gallery in Bigfork. Paintings in this show revealed my varied interests in these settings.

In a statement for the exhibition I wrote:

In its falling, flowing and flooding, water crosses borders. Essential to all life, it both resource and refuge. We seek it with physical need and sensual pleasure. Water flows in cultural imagination too, as metaphor and site of myth. So water also crosses time. Through these various qualities, as well as the wonders of reflection, water intrigues me as an artist.

Plank, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 16x20"
Freshet I, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 8x10"
Freshet II, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 8x10"
As examples of the mythic allusions I've made through the water, "Leda's Escape" is a revision of the Classical myth in which Zeus takes the form of a swan to accost Leda. "Attendants" (below) relates to the biblical tale to Moses with his sister Miriam and the pharaoh's daughter's handmaiden in attendance to his woven ark. 
Leda's Escape, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 16x20"
Attendants, 2015. Graphite & oil on wood panels, each 16x10"
A small study: Seeker, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 7x11"

At the riverside one is bound to find water birds. Among the most majestic here in the Rocky Mountain West is the Great Blue Heron. For me these birds embody a sort of fierce patience. I marvel at how still they hold, how closely they watch, even on this most frigid days.

Vigilant, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 20x16"
Poise, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 30x20"
I take great pleasure in subordinating the human drama to the presence of other creatures, like a heron or swan in the foreground. However, there is something evocative about a character engaged with water alone that calls me back to the wading scenarios again and again. What must we wade into? What do we find ourselves wallowing in, intentionally or not? The slough as a backwater, or at least a slow moving water way suggests a calm state, but perhaps some stagnancy too.

Slough I, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 20x10"

Slough II, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 20x10"

08 December 2016

Storied Places

Gleaner, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 30x20".
Fellow artists, take heart! For many years I applied to the annual Art About Agriculture show hosted by Oregon State University. It seemed a perfect fit given my region and the perennial subjects of my work. But for one reason or another, I never got in. So, you can imagine my delight when I was actually invited to participate in the 34th annual show this year: Agriculture of the American Landscape.

Prodigal, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 30x40".
The realities of agriculture are of vital interest to me -like everyone concerned with putting wholesome food on the table. As an artist I am intrigued by the ancient and essential collaboration with nature too. In rural places wilderness and civilization meet and intermingle. Human beings strive and thrive with other animals, both wild and domestic. They all live intimately with the Elements, the blessings and vagaries of each season. What's more, agrarian landscapes are storied places. Myths and parable, proverbs and legends continue to unfold in farmland.

Aftermath, 2016. Diptych, graphite & oil on wood panels, each 30x10".
 I take up these allegorical possibilities along with inspiration from the beauty and drama of the vital world. In agricultural settings I find fertile ground to explore both the natural and unnatural forces affecting our lives. Thought fictional, my work is an expression of true wonder in seasonal change, the diversity of living things and the dynamic relationships among us all.

Sow, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 30x40".

10 September 2016

Dream Work

To continue my 2016 review....

Dreaming a Kindred Spirit, 2015. Graphite & oil on wood panels, each 8x10".
For a contemporary surrealism show, The Last Best Dream, mounted by Radius Gallery in Missoula last February, I had a chance to explore some ideas that have interested me for quite awhile. My concern was with aspiration, our common hopes, rather than my own nighttime dreams, as one might expect in the context of surrealism, past or present.
One creative challenge for me was in employing a diptych format with two distinct perspectives on imagery that remained unified in other formal terms. I portrayed both the dreamer and the dream, one panel symbolically reflecting the sleeper's desire. The longing for close companionship -a sort of mirror image in a friend- was suggested in "Dreaming a Kindred Spirit" above.
The (nearly) universal yearning for a secure and comfortable home  in "Dreaming a Nest".
Dreaming a Nest, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panels, each 14x11".
With the plight of refugees and migrants weighing on my mind and heart, "Dreaming Safe Passage", evoked a long ocean journey. But this imagery might also relate to all the ways we travel and seek to reach other sorts of destinations.
Dreaming Safe Passage, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panels, 7x11 & 17x11".

Dreaming a Full Pantry, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panels, each 8x10".
The longing for sustenance -if not abundance- was suggested by homegrown, well-preserved food inspired "Dreaming a Full Pantry". 
Dreaming a Green Horizon, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panels, 5x7 & 11x7".

In "Dreaming a Green Horizon" I considered the fertile prospects we hope to provide our youth, the open field that holds promise for all.
I had the pleasure of bringing this imagery into an intaglio printmaking class with Bev Beck Glueckert at Missoula Art Museum. I printed versions of the sleeper and embellished them with visions of "Safe Passage", as well as "Ample Time". Who does not wish for more time day to day or over the course of life to accomplish all that calls?
Dream: Safe Passage, 2015. Monotype with graphite, 11x14".
Dream: Ample Time, 2016. Monotype with graphite, 11x14"
A galloping draft horse reflects the desire for all the strength and energy, the exuberance even, to meet our challenges.
Dreaming Power, 2016. Monotype with graphite, 11x14".
The quest for transcendence took shape as a pair of wings in "Dreaming Flight". 
Dreaming Flight, 2016. Monotype with graphite, 11x14".
I took wing myself, with the invitation to exhibit with surrealists, though I don't count myself among them. This body of work took me to new places in pictorial space, palettes and processes. I am grateful for the opportunity, and the fruits it has born in my ongoing endeavors.

20 August 2016

Shaped by Circumstance

The year so far has been full of distinct professional opportunities. I've participated in shows and collaboratively developed images for a historical book. These various projects and exhibitions have pushed and pulled my sensibilities.

Cover art, Bold Women of Montana by Beth Judy. (Forthcoming from Mountain Press)

For a contemporary Surrealism show I was drawn to working with dreams. 

Dreaming a Kindred Spirit, 2015. Diptych: Graphite & oil on wood panels, each 8x10".

For the annual Art About Agriculture exhibition the imagery of American agricultural fields was in order.

Sow, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 30x40".

And more recently, the Montana Water show presented me with a chance to focus on water and  riparian environments. 

Freshet II, 2016. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 8x10".

While all the work I have done for publications and exhibitions has been authentic, it has also been diverse, perhaps even divergent. More immediate inspirations have sometimes been neglected or delayed in pursuit of work that relates to externally proposed themes. I feel the need to ponder what  self-determined imagery speaks to my current concerns and interests.

I don't regret this "push and pull". It has opened the scope of my visualization. I want that scope to be vast, and such invitations to work with varied themes is part of that expansion. What's more, it seems natural that artistic endeavor is shaped by circumstance, as our daily lives are.

Over the next several weeks, by way of review, I hope to relate what was at the heart of these diverse  series and where they have taken me with the field of vision opening before me now.

29 December 2015


As 2015 comes to a close I am reflecting on many of the enriching experiences I have had this year. So many of these take the forms of art, including literature -a daily pleasure. It turns out I have read a number of memoirs by writers and artist in this recent cycle of the seasons. What a delightful way to learn not only about others' lives, but life itself.

Among the books I have read is Virginia Woolf's A Writer's Diary (edited by Leonard Woolf), a journal she kept about her creative process -and the many things that encumbered it- over 24 years. Also an author's memoir, Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? That was such an illuminating look into the life of a contemporary writer I admire and feel a special affinity with. Cheryl Strayed's Wild was an adventure of another sort. I also received the gift of photographer Sally Mann's memoir, Hold Still. This book kept me up late with remarkable drama and suspense, as well as the amusing and stirring photos that illustrate it.

In some ways my favorite was Eudora Welty's One Writer's Beginnings. The book was initially conceived as a series of three lectures Welty was invited to deliver at Harvard University in 1983. While I enjoyed all that Welty shared of her early life experience, and how that shaped her as an artist, I also appreciated the very structure of the book: "Listening", "Learning to See", "Finding a Voice". In it's three chapters -full of anecdotes and affectionate remembrance- she describes "coming to her senses" in personal and creative development.

I'm prompted to consider how I have learned to listen, learned to see, learned to speak in the various languages available to me. And further inspired to seek influences that will help me to listen, see and speak more clearly, reverently, eloquently.

11 November 2015

By Any Other Name

Secret Visit of the Broken-hearted Man, 1995. Oil on canvas, 60x48".

I recently had the honor of jurying the 21st Annual Student Art Exhibit at the University of Montana. I was confronted there by 97 works of art from which to select not only the exhibition, but eleven awards. This was both a fascinating and consuming task. The drawings and paintings, sculptures, prints and photographs consistently raised questions for me. In an effort to understand the artists' intentions, I turned to the submission forms, seeking titles. Titles, I believed, might answer some of my questions, guide my consideration. What I discovered, over and over again, was "Untitled".

One for Sorrow, 1999. Oil on canvas, 27x27".

I do not fault artists for leaving work untitled. There are philosophical and pragmatic reasons why one may not give a name to a work of art. (This might be particularly true for art generated under instruction.) It can be hard to come up with a strong verbal image to accompany every visual image into the world. But that's what titles are, verbal images that provide another opportunity to express the artist's motivations and meanings.

Scavengers Trio, 2014. Graphite & oil on wood panels, 66x12".

Titles have become practically important to me. With an archive of nearly 2000 images, a name is easier to call up or track down than "Untitled I, V, L, CXVI, CMVII....". But more significantly, titles can help steer interpretation. The name of an art work can offer clues to the artist's central interests and interpretation. Even in process, having something to call a piece fosters a sense of relationship to the work particularly -and in the broader scope of my endeavor.

Red Flag, 2015. Graphite & oil on wood panel, 18x24".

I've come to believe there is an art to titling. Artists can be descriptive, simply giving the image an identity. Artists can also use titles to signal a way of looking at and ultimately understanding a work of art. Titles can also help us contextualize images culturally, linking them to collective myths and symbolism. And rather than give the interpretation away, titles can be used to add to the mystery and elusiveness of visual imagery. I've embraced titles as a way of deepening intimacy with my own work, and with hope that they also help to draw viewers closer too.


Cherisher or Light & Collector of Possibilities, 2000. Oil on canvas, 30x20".

Lover of Time & Student of Loneliness, 2000. Oil on canvas, 30x20".


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A artist living and working in Missoula, Montana.