Entering the Governor’s Capitol Art Exhibition this year, I was struck by a sense of change.
This year’s exhibition at the Wyoming State Museum is much sparser, leaving a space in the room that deftly echoes the wide spaces of our state. There were many new names on the walls, as well as some familiar ones. The exhibit also felt more contemporary than past iterations of the show.
Perhaps that strong feeling is a result of the stunning 6’ x 9’ triptych by Neltje (Banner), a riot of color and movement that sweeps across a large portion of the eastern wall of the exhibit. The exuberant picture is far larger than any painting that has ever been in this exhibition previously. A breath of fresh air! For years, artists have wanted to submit larger pieces; it’s good to see the museum responding. It probably also contributes to the sparser-than-usual feeling, as my guess is curators were careful to plan for the space they had.
The sense of the contemporary extended throughout the exhibition from a small neon piece by Daniel Maw (Cheyenne) “Incidental Theatre: Protagonist” right near the entry to the people’s choice awardee “Virgil and His Treasures” by Favian Hernandez (Laramie). Maw’s piece depicts a caricature of a little man in motion, with a big nose and red hat and jacket. One gets the sense he is hurrying to look at the other artwork. Hernandez’s “Virgil” observes from a back corner, enthroned in lonely splendor on a shelf from which his very long tail hangs down. Exquisitely detailed with painted fur, blue face, ears, hands and feet and dressed in a crown and pearl necklace, he gazes out at the exhibition calmly, almost superciliously, unsurprised that he is the choice of the reception attendees.
“Virgil” is also one of only six three-dimensional artworks in the exhibition. Why is this? Wyoming has many master sculptors and potters. Are they choosing not to enter this show, thinking their work will not be purchased? Or did jurors not select them? Either way, the lack is a grave shortcoming for the show — arguably one of the most prestigious in the state.
The other five pieces continue “Virgil’s” excellence. Three are ceramic vessels. Joy Jones (Riverton) contributed “Serve it Up,” a fragile, delicately carved wide stoneware bowl on a pedestal in a green reminiscent of sagebrush. Michael Plourde’s (Buffalo) handsome vessels flash and glow with metallic accents in the light. One heavily textured vessel flares out from a tiny base, then tapers into a flat lid with a decorative round handle filled with sticks to give the impression of a bow. Long necked birds drawn in blues and browns commune on “Crane Raku Vessel” by Terry Kreuzer (Cheyenne). The vessel is lifted off the pedestal by a metal base with feet, offering it further lightness.
“Crane Raku Vessel,” and Richard Burke’s (Pinedale) softly carved owl, are two of only four pieces with wildlife. These two are perhaps more contemporary takes than Laurie LaMere’s (Jackson) bird painting “Snow Dance.” The unapologetically anthropomorphized “Virgil” rounds out the wildlife in the exhibit. The diversity of depictions makes me think of the many ways animals appear in our lives; as themselves, as fantastically imagined, as creatures who take on meanings beyond their individual personalities.
The six three-dimensional pieces provide a necessary counterpoint to the paintings, photographs and prints. One hopes that more artists working in such media will apply and be accepted in the future.
I thought there were fewer landscapes than usual until I counted; slightly over half of the pieces fall into the landscape category. Lynn Newman’s (Cheyenne) exquisite purple barn is set against a landscape of dark blue skies swirling with storms that move you around the image. He captures perfectly the strange light of thunderstorms. This wall also includes two other richly colored images by Kelsey McDonnell (Buffalo) and a quartet of photographs by Scott Mooney (Gillette) of Yellowstone hot pools that seem painted. Across from this explosion of color are more starkly painted landscapes in stern neutrals, two dominated by land formations and the third all puffy clouds. Along another wall march a stunning collection of landscape photographs, including two by Paul Prosinski (Buffalo) and an imposing Snowy Range scene by Ed Sherline (Laramie). Prosinski captured a night scene, high in the mountains, with moonlight spilling over the land and the Milky Way in full detail behind it. There’s a suggestion of trees around, although the moon-washed landscape is brown and empty with suggestive folds as the hills descend.
Wendy Lemen Bredehoft (Laramie) is showing her botanical pieces for the first time in the GCAE. The abstract designs, in stark white paper cuts on silvery painted wood, are drawn from close examination of plants through a microscope. They seem to glow in the right light and provide a nice transition from overtly landscape to the more fanciful. The brightly painted indoor scenes by David McDougall (Dayton) suggest a world of warmth and light. In one, we see the dog of the painting’s title, “Zuzu’s World,” peering through the glass door into a room full of comfortable furniture. Every detail, down to the rug, is captured in a pleasingly exaggerated way that does not call attention to itself, as if the artist is painting much-loved memories. This artist considers framing an integral part of the work and has embellished the homemade wood frames with colors in the painting and, in this case, dog bones and sticks, using colors from the painting. Another new name is Erica Ramsey (Laramie) who contributed what seems to be a painting for a Tarot deck, titled “King of Pentacles.” A naked haloed man floats over a farm with tools for cultivating it in his hands. In the background one sees the mountains and the wild landscape. June Glasson (Laramie) makes an image of just guns, leaving the hands and the landscape behind. Her exquisitely rendered “Firearms 1” in ink on paper shows many views of the deadly tool and suggests also a beauty in its elegant shapes and the patterns of the guns turning on the page. The piece caught the Governor’s attention with the Governor’s Choice award.
It’s good to see change come to the GCAE with new artists contributing, larger pieces and a more contemporary feel across the board. My one regret is that most of the pieces are not provocative in any way—they don’t suggest questions, or stories.
The museum’s tiny contemporary gallery is currently featuring Rebecca Weed (Cody). Only 12 pieces in all, this exhibition packs in meaning, skill and whimsy. Each piece provokes questions and invites the viewer to create a story. “Looming” shows a landscape reminiscent of the Buffalo Bill reservoir outside of Cody. Two mountains loom above the flat turquoise water surface, one black, white and hard-edged, the other in mouthwatering saturated red, yellow and green. High above the water flies a black bird which is lightly connected by a long, barely visible line that swoops across the sky, dips into the water and seems to attach to the kayaker crossing the lake. Fishing line? Kite? Is the kayaker on a lead held by the bird, or is the bird held by the kayaker, who seems busy paddling? The questions are reinforced by the text, which on the bird side of the painting says “high” and on the kayaker side says “tow.” These words are the only readable ones among blocks of text below the painting which are almost like example sheets for blocks of new letterpress.
A diptych in graphite is a whirl of black with small creatures above and below, tumbled by wind, waves, the elements. Are they birds? Cats? Fish? Hard to tell. Or perhaps they are emotions, sometimes tumbled on the floor of the ocean and other times released to the air.
Then there’s the girl in a swimsuit riding a bike over a transparent surface, a chicken is escaping from the basket on the back. A swirl of charcoal and erasure marks gives a sense of wind and speed. Just ahead looms a break in the surface where an X fell through. A thin brown line bolting down suggests lightening. But there is green above and below, maybe the solemn green of water, so we are left to wonder … is it ice she rides on? Clouds? Tiny old-fashioned Western font numbers suggest a progression: the girl is 1, the brown bolt 2 and the jack or X in the water 3. The title suggests a different interpretation of the numbers: “Choose your Own Adventure.” Can she choose to ride up the thin line and avoid the break in the surface? Or does the break lead to new depths of understanding?
Nearby, a hunter walks away into a winter forest, the trees barely suggested by thin lines and erasures. In the foreground, an elk with a big rack, maybe dead but not clearly so. Under it, a deep shadow — blood? Or is it just his shadow cast from sitting? At the upper corner of the painting, the word Love appears. As with all her pieces we are left to wonder. Is it the love of hunting? Or love for the animal that left it untouched? Or something else altogether?
A portrait of a woman, sitting, elbows on her knees, is all shadows and dark edges against a very blue background. Above paler blue, below greener in the blue. She looks out to her right, her eyes and hair inky black, towards a very tiny number 8, only half on the edge of the painting. Looking closely nets an Ft by her shoulder. The title is “8Ft Deep.” Is she drowning, in depression? In over her head in some manner? Or is she merely waiting for someone to bring a snack to the table that is suggested by a gray plane against her arms? The woman appears to be done in charcoal against a smoothly painted background.
I was so involved in what the pieces were saying to me I overlooked the quality of the work and the text at first. It wasn’t until I looked closer that I saw the textual elements, the sureness of the charcoal, the clean painting. Every aspect of these pieces is carefully thought from the colors to the smudges on the charcoal pages to the placement of the text. Weed draws you into the worlds created in the images where oddities seem commonplace.
Both exhibits are on display at the Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne through June 5.