Squaring the West

Submitted by Gary on Mon, 03/09/2015 - 19:20

Flowing Down to Beauty Lake

Evening Over the Snake

When the right challenge knocks on our door, we have no other recourse than to answer. It's what we're born to do!

Last year, with the opportunity to submit four paintings to The Brinton Museum for their annual 6 x 6 show, I was at a loss for what to paint. The square format is considered challenging by most artists. It's a solid shape that lends itself well to formal portraits but lately I'd been noticing that some of my favorite historical painters including Edgar Payne (American, 1883-1947) and certain contemporary artists had used it to great advantage for bold landscapes.

Payne made his reputation among artists by writing a book, Composition of Outdoor Painting. He was someone who a had clue: a really big clue in my opinion. I've been a fan for years, especially after seeing his large original works of the Sierra Mountains and fishing boats in Italy. Both were given similar squarish treatment, creating a feeling of magnificence in the subject. It struck me that square might be a format well suited to representing the bold Western landscape in a way that implied strength and solidity that might not be felt in other formats. I've certainly felt that overwhelming force when I'm out under the open expanse of western skies or high in the alpine country of Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Utah or Idaho.

With that insight I spent several weeks working through photo references, sketchbook in my lap, searching for the right formulas of how to portray that strength and reinforce the feeling that certain subjects, like a round hay bale or a tall grain elevator, are symbols worthy of iconification as part of our western heritage and values. In the end I had far more ideas than I needed for the Brinton show but it led to a series of works I'm titling, Squaring the West.

At the Out West Art Show in Great Falls, Montana from March 18 to 21 I'll be showcasing my Squaring the West series. There will be over 30 new pieces in all sizes up to 24 x 24. I hope you can join me there for a great discussion about the merits of the square format painting. I know you'll be as excited as I am about it!

Looking Back

Canyon Gold, Teton Range