In Luke Anderson’s painting, “Straddling the Rain Sheets,” a pronghorn is caught in the sunshine between two grey swaths of summer rainbands. It’s a great Wyoming scene. We’ve all seen those ghostly rainbands sweep across the prairie on a summer afternoon. Easy to imagine a pronghorn, deer or other varmint caught in the sunny spaces between cloudbursts.
Anderson, who grew up in Cheyenne and now lives in Laramie, knows his wildlife and landscapes. As with the pronghorn, Anderson straddles the space between representational art and something else – abstract, surrealism, impressionism. Maybe it’s all of them, or something else entirely.
Anderson’s exhibit, “Landscapes and Hauntings of the West,” can be viewed at the Clay Paper Scissors Gallery & Studio in Cheyenne through the end of October.
In his artist statement, Anderson writes about “hyperreality.” In this recent work, he attempts “to introduce the concept of hyperreality into the traditional western landscape.” He admires the “impressionists of the late 19th century and the 20th century landscape painters that followed them.” He also owes a debt to the “surrealists, abstract expressionists, pop artists and color field artists of the 20th century.”
Many sources influence this young Wyoming artist and UW graduate. It really comes down to what he sees in a summer storm or when he stops along Happy Jack Road to look at a rock formation. He perceives unusual shapes and signs among the ochres, browns and sage green. The shapes are intriguing. You can see his effort to show “the basic relationships among light, objects and space.”
In “Sheep Mountain,” the rocky mass of the mountain looks like a frog at rest. The rock formation must have looked like a sheep to the people who did the naming. But Anderson reveals it as something else. It’s alive, no matter what flora or fauna you think it most resembles. Anderson’s work animates the inanimate, or what the predominant culture considers inanimate.
“Oregon Coast Cove” offers an example. The rocks look like living, breathing things. The long shape in the foreground resembles a seal, but it could be anything.
In “Cumulonimbus” this impressive storm system – or one just like it – could be seen on any summer afternoon. The top part of the cloud formation looks like an unruly head of grey hair blowing in the wind. If you were searching for a persona in this painting, you could think of these clouds as the old men of the prairie, elders in the sky or ancient gods. All this is offset by a gilded frame.
I tried a little experiment. I walked toward it from across the room. It seemed to grow within the frame, just as a real cloud formation does when affected by the sun, low pressure and swirling winds. Every cumulonimbus cloud billows into the summer sky, as if pumped from its interior, which is really what happens. The cloud is a living, breathing entity.
One more little thing. And by little, I mean a grouping of five tiny drawings (2.5-by-3.5 inches each). “Antilocapricorn” caught my attention. A pronghorn in the foreground is backed by gigantic clouds. Anderson seems to be having fun with the image and with word play. The scientific name of the pronghorn is Antilocapra americana which means “American goat-antelope.” The zodiac sign Capricorn is usually represented by a goat with horns. Wyomingites consistently have to remind their less enlightened cousins from elsewhere that the pronghorn is not an antelope but, well, a pronghorn, genetically closer to a giraffe than the traditional antelope of Africa. A writer revels in this kind of wordplay at an art exhibit.
“Gilded #1” shows a white/grey animal skull outlined in blue. The painting background is gilded as is the frame. The only gold within the skull are two patches in what appears to be the eye socket, also surrounded by the same blue. The eye seeks out the small patches of gold within the skull. The large patches of gold come later. The gold and blue help us focus on the cow or bison skull, the kind you can see on almost any extended walk across the prairie.
Among his wildlife studies, the most interesting is “Always Chasing the Frontier.” In it, a brown and black horse moves away from the viewer into a background of a dark hill and an ominous white cloud formation. These clouds appear to be a gathering storm. They come to a point in a jagged shape that resembles a lightning bolt. The painting deserves a second look. The horse is an iconic image of the West. The frontier was real but attained mythic proportions with the passing of time. This could be a story for our time, hopeful residents of the New West, offspring of the Old West, heading into a foreboding future.
This might be a good time to discuss the differing visions of representational art and those forms practiced by the new artists of the New West. Alas, that’s a subject worthy of a book or two. But it’s clear that Anderson has a unique view of his home, one that blends the genres listed in his artist statement with a dash of nostalgia. The sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury once labelled his work “nostalgia for the future.” Anderson’s work could be called a nostalgia for the unseen lives of the natural world.
The Clay Paper Scissors Gallery & Studio is located at 1513 Carey Avenue in Cheyenne and on the web. You can explore more of Anderson’s work at Luke Anderson’s website or go to LukeAndersonPaintings on Facebook.