“Rendezvous: A Juried Exhibit of Wyoming Artists” is a collaboration between two tiny independent art galleries at opposite ends of the state: Clay Paper Scissors Gallery in Cheyenne, and Mystery Print Gallery in Pinedale. Gallery owners Camellia El-Antably —who curates Studio Wyoming Review column — Mark Vinich, and David K. Klarén proposed the juried show and selected enough work to fill both galleries for the entire summer. Submissions were limited to a maximum size of about eighteen inches square, said Klarén, to keep shipping and display manageable. Those considerations were important, because in mid-July, the galleries swapped exhibits, allowing all the work to reach two completely different audiences.
The title of the show references Wyoming’s fur trade past, when, as the organizers state, annual trapper rendezvous “allowed those who spent much of the year alone or in small groups … the opportunity to reconnect, exchange information, and tell tall tales.” Who knew that artists and fur trappers would have so much in common?
Our nineteenth-century fur trade gatherings were racially and culturally more diverse than some popular portrayals would suggest. It is impossible to know how smoothly the various Native and Euro-American peoples mixed, since their true mission was survival and commerce. But they represented a spectrum of human stories on the continent at the time.
Similarly, the sixty-five works by thirty-one Wyoming artists, winnowed from one hundred entries into a twenty-first-century artistic rendezvous, represent a spectrum of the expression found in Wyoming today. With luck and enough visitors, commerce may also play a role. The work is all recent and well-crafted. Most viewers will recognize artwork by favorite figures in Wyoming’s art scene, but they will surely encounter new favorites as well. Audience and artist development depend on exhibits such as this.
My review addresses the display that began in Pinedale and is now in Cheyenne through September 2. Studio Wyoming Review featured the work currently in Pinedale on July 25.
Alissa Davies’, of Jackson, lush abstract trio of 8 x 8 x 2” acrylics on panel, all from 2017, are concentrated cousins of her larger paintings, full of bold positive and negative shapes in blacks, whites, pinks and oranges. Buttery cell-like ellipses and rings, held within expressionistic storms of brushstrokes, are tethered or inscribed by thin, wet lines that might come from a liner brush or ink pen. A variety of textures and marks leads the eye through terrain that could be microscopic, aerial, or emotional.
Printmaker Mark Ritchie, from Laramie, continues mining the subject matter of horses in his 2017 “Magyar Archer” series. The three works displayed here are gum lithographs, a transfer method using paper photocopies as the disposable printing plate. Composed of loose, assured brushstrokes, the figures are occasionally accented by lines in red crayon. These prints are subtler but more colorful than Ritchie’s well-known high-contrast woodcuts. Blocks of dusty rose offset grainy blacks and transparent browns in gestural portraits of horse and rider. The beauty of ink and paper entices the viewer to focus on the human/equine bond.
Ginnie Madsen, also from Laramie, offers masterful block prints. With their eye-pleasing color gradations and crisp observation of nature, they hit the high mark as usual. I especially enjoyed “Secluded View” (2011): the foreground is a dark thicket of aspen and pine. From this point of view, we discern between trees a sun-drenched meadow and gleaming creek. It replicates the poignant, tantalizing experience of catching glimpses of a brighter reality while surrounded by shadow.
Photographer Delsa Allen, of Pinedale, exhibits three small color prints from her recent “Motion” series. Allen’s ambitious solo show at the Pinedale Library this winter included these and many other large-scale prints. Aiming her camera at the natural world, Allen produces vibrant abstract patterns and poetic textures through the random or planned motion of her camera at the moment of exposure. These prints strike me afresh as an innovative departure in nature photography and worthy of much wider attention.
It was a pleasure to see selections by Dona Fleming and Jodie Atherton, Laramie artists whose work has not been widely shown on the western side of the state. Fleming’s three silk collage paintings on canvas, all from 2017, resolve into concise, abstracted landscapes with seductive surfaces, in which the woven silk fibers and creamy acrylic paint move in and out of each other.
Jodie Atherton contributed one of the few freestanding sculptural works, “Make Time”. Produced in 2016, the piece is an assemblage of found objects, wire, and handbuilt ceramic. The size and shape of a tabletop granddaughter clock, Atherton’s construction includes clock faces and other metal and wooden components that are beaten, scorched, and weathered. At the top, a sculpted female figure made from fragments of clay, metal, and fabric appears to dance upon a rusty spring. It felt to me like a howl of frustration and grief over the passage of time. I might have had a different interpretation if I weren’t, myself, experiencing the ravages of time.
Others departing from traditional 2D and 3D treatments were Cheyenne artists Connie Johns and Win Ratz. Connie Johns’ acrylic and resin “Sunset on the Mountain” is a boldly painted abstraction in deep blue and orange that, despite its title, could be a seascape or a view of the earth from space. Its striking use of color and sensuous brushwork is submerged in a clear resin topcoat, a contemporary treatment that makes the painting less a “picture of something” and more an object with its own meaning. For this reason, I felt the title limited its interpretation, and the traditional dark wood frame cancelled the three-dimensional beauty of the piece. I hope Johns continues to explore confidently in this vein and does not concern herself as much with constricting titles and frames.
Completely new to me was the artwork of Central Wyoming College professor Nita Kehoe and Joy Jones, both of Riverton, and Jocelyn Slack of Wilson. Kehoe presented a trio of found object assemblages that are finely crafted, coherent, interesting, and related to each other. Each piece is a rectangular wood panel bearing carefully unified compositions of everyday items and oddities, such as a fan-shaped spread of clothes pins radiating from an embroidery hoop held down by a pinwheel of vintage fabric; a photograph of an old door printed on aluminum that is attached to old barnwood and wreathed in leather, metal, and bone; and vintage sewing instructions embellished with a variety of writing, drawing, sewing, gaming, and carpentry tools. Certain objects appear in more than one of the pieces, implicating them in a shared narrative about rural people, their lives, and hand-work.
Joy Jones’ three carved ceramic vessels represent the only craft pieces in this show. Jones has morphed Asian and Meso-American influences into her own exuberant forms. There is an improbable canteen-shaped crock, a squat lidded jar with a spiked collar, and a teapot that looks as though it may stalk off the pedestal and slither away. I loved these shapes, but the glazes were harder to appreciate. I just don’t like dark green and black together. Seeing this work led me to visit her website, which boasts functional ware with just as much personality, and in many other colors and textures.
Jocelyn Slack’s square watercolor, “White Houses II”, produced in 2017, departs from the whimsical illustration style she has been known for at Crane Creek Graphics. In this austere painting, a pristine but chilly subdivision of identical silo-shaped homes occupies the face of a steep, snow-covered hill. Sparely-applied pigment reveals tiny wisps of white smoke rising from each chimney, but no paths lead to any of the doors. Apparently, no one is going to enter or depart. I believe I’ve seen suburbs like this outside of Cheyenne. Slack’s personal, moody approach is refreshingly cosmopolitan. The style reminds me of illustrator Milton Glaser or Chicago painter Jim Nutt.
No rendezvous of artists would be complete without a selection of traditional landscape and wildlife art. Lander’s Bill Yankee, Shane Steiss from Green River, and Richard Burke of Pinedale provide accomplished examples of these time-tested genres. I especially enjoyed Steiss’ pastel study of the Big Sandy River, partly because the pure colors and skillful strokes of chalk capture a place I know.
Yankee’s gem-like miniature oil, “Winter at Red Bluff” (2017), rewards close scrutiny. In what we take to be a somewhat ordinary landscape − a snowy basin bounded by red bluffs − we notice a large shadow sweeping diagonally across the foreground. Is the shadow, cast by the rim of a hill behind us, retreating or advancing? On a short winter day, the answer will determine whether we may linger, or need to pack up.
The exhibit’s only example of wildlife art is Richard Burke’s “Boreal Owl,” an appealing life-sized sculpture in smoothly polished green and brown soapstone. The owl is carved in stylized, rounded shapes, and is posed peering over its back, so that the form is interesting from any angle. Boreal owls are known to occasionally inhabit the Rocky Mountains, but are hard to spot, so one of these would be a special find.
Culturally, the most impactful change in our western lands since the historic fur trade rendezvous has been the complete dominance of Euro-Americans and their commercial system. This exhibit does not aspire to roll back that clock: it is focused on artistic dialogue and promotion. Moreover, one of contemporary art’s important functions is to point toward the future.
With that in mind, I hope that future iterations of the Rendezvous exhibit will be able to include the voices of other cultures, especially our Native residents. While it is wrong to assume we know anyone’s race by their artwork or name, Wyoming artists are becoming much more aware of each other, and co-organizer El-Antably was fairly certain that all the artists who submitted work were white. She had hoped for more diverse participation. Certainly Wyoming’s demography is overwhelmingly white, but not exclusively so. The several artists I know who hail from the Wind River Indian Reservation must represent the tip of an iceberg. This is a delicate subject, and I do not know the correct way to address it except to say that when anyone wants to share their artwork, they should feel welcome. It makes Wyoming a better place for all of us.
“Rendezvous” demonstrates solid contemporary work from across Wyoming, a state with deep reserves of an important natural resource: practicing visual artists. The gallery owners’ innovative plan to include a traveling component to the exhibit, swapping work with each other from one side of the state to the other, is a great idea that needs to be replicated.
This part of the exhibit is now on view at Clay Paper Scissors Gallery & Studio in Cheyenne.
Clay Paper Scissors Gallery & Studio
1513 Carey Ave
Cheyenne WY 82001
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Sue Sommers is an artist in Pinedale, Wyoming. She has edited and designed all eleven volumes of the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Journal for the Museum of the Mountain Man.