The tree at the back of the Ptasynski Gallery at the Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper looks able to walk away at a moment’s notice, although why would it want to? There is a lovely deep pool at its ancient and knobby feet. The tree stands alone in the clearing, leafless and massive. Every twist and turn of growth is lovingly detailed. And yet, there is something otherworldly about the tree. Perhaps it is the leg of a giant, transformed into wood to stand forever. Ricki Klages’ magical realism shows us why trees have been considered sacred by many ancient religions.
The sense of the sacred is reinforced by the shrines lining one side of the gallery. Each shrine includes two paintings, a rectangle and a smaller triangular painting. They are framed together in a simple house-shaped frame, painted gold.
The trees in one set of shrines come from two different environments. Some are small, straight aspens, groups of them: western trees, as suggested by titles referencing the Snowy Range. These seem more realistic. The others come from Epping Forest in England. The Epping trees tend to be majestically alone in their clearings, with other trees only seen in the background. They are old and massive, especially compared to the western trees. One shrine shows two trees standing close together. They share a branch, as though holding hands. A child, or maybe even an adult could slip between the two trees, a doorway to another world. In the triangles above we see a branch and a leaf highlighted against the sky, or acorns and oak leaves. A third has a scattering of rocks with holes in them.
Another set of shrines show ruins, views of ornate doorways and windows. The triangles above feature fruits and vegetables. The food is almost too perfect in some, the colors luscious, split open to display the soft juiciness. I immediately had the sense of a picnic at some lovely old castle. Then there was the lone Laramie shrine, showing an abandoned building adorned with graffiti. Through the doorway the viewer glimpses a lush, green world. Above it, a pencil floating in an impossibly gorgeous sunset. The artist is a professor at the University of Wyoming. Is she suggesting that education is the path away from the wasteland? Probably too obvious a conclusion.
In the neighboring Bordewick Gallery, Ginnie Madsen, another Laramie artist, is showing her compelling landscape prints. These intimate views range from the back garden to night views of Laramie to the mountains nearby. The artist’s mastery of her medium is on full display. Madsen knows exactly when fine detail is required, and when a less detailed approach changes the impression of the viewer. “Flurries” is a good example. Only the snow, starkly white against a field of blue sky, suggests the mountains. No outline is necessary.
“First Light,” by contrast, uses finer marks to suggest texture in the house and the sky. The scene is very close to the viewer — right next door, perhaps. “Parking” (original linoleum block print, 12” x 6”) also struck me in the unusual choice of composition: a parking lot, with 4 cars parked and tracks in the snow and dirt scribing graceful arcs before them. One wonders if those cars made the tracks, but then thinks not, since they seem to have snow on them, and some of the tracks are fresh. The simple use of dark and light to suggest shape is a hallmark of Madsen’s pieces.
The main gallery hosts two shows. The larger of the two is entitled Vibrant: The Nic in Color. While it showcases some of the Nic’s better-known artists such as Kevin Red Star and Theodore Waddell, the theme of color seems weak when there are so many more interesting themes to be drawn from collections. The pieces range from photo-realism to complete abstraction and everything between. I certainly appreciate that the Nic wants to show off its impressive collection and it is always a pleasure to see these masterworks. I do think a curatorial statement would have helped this exhibit. Why this theme now, and why these pieces instead of other pieces? Why was it only two dimensional art? Were there no sculptures with color in them? Finally, why this show as the venue for Justin Hayward’s rodeo paintings?
Hayward’s images look like giant photographs. Not until you get up close do you realize these action-packed images are painted on canvas. The nearly lifesize canvases feel like you as the viewer can step into the ring at any moment and interact with the animals and contestants. These images truly capture the drama of the rodeo.
Lining the walls of the Schneider Gallery are small sketches of faces — men, women, children, caucasian, African American, old, young, rich and poor — by Carl Link.
Some are very careful likenesses, others lean toward caricature. The artist used scraps of whatever paper was at hand to do quick sketches anywhere he happened to be. Each is quickly drawn, some are lightly shaded. Faces are the focus, although some sketches include upper bodies, hands or other parts. Each is of only the one, or two, subjects. With each sketch you see the artist struggling, and often succeeding, in capturing an essence of the person. The images are distinctively of the 1930s and 40s, as evidenced by the details of clothes, hair and hats and yet one feels a kinship with the universal range of emotions present on their faces. Link was also an art educator who practiced what he probably preached: draw every day. The mastery on display speaks to the need for constant practice at putting down exactly what you see. Link’s faces are a reminder that drawing is a craft requiring constant practice and attention. These marvelous little drawings are part of the Nicolaysen’s collection, so I hope we will see them again.
Ricki Klages’ and Ginnie Madsen’s shows are on display through September 16 at the Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper. Vibrant: The Nic in Color is on display through August 12. Justin Hayward’s Rodeo and Carl Link’s Inside the Studio ended in June.