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Looking at Art in the American Southwest
On a recent tour of the Four Corners area of the American Southwest--New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado--I was delighted to find a multitude of galleries and much art for sale. The Southwestern aesthetic differs from that of the work I had been viewing in Manhattan and it took me several days--and much generous coaching from art dealers--to adjust my eyes.
Re-calibrating Your Senses for Southwestern Art
1) High Color is the Baseline
With red rocks, strikingly blue sky and nearly zero humidity, the visual reality of the desert Southwest is one of intense, constantly shifting color. Nearly all the Southwestern painters use a wide spectrum of saturated colors. So, even a "serene abstract" Southwest-style may be painted in orange, yellow and black--in fact, a relatively restrained palette versus the multi-color extravaganzas favored by the livelier abstract and landscape painters.
2) Light Dissolves or Outlines Forms
In the high-altitude, low humidity environment, light doesn't mold shapes and cast gentle shadows, instead its glaring presence dissolves forms from the front. So a realist like the noted cowboy painter Ray Swanson paints only part of a shape--the rest is lost in the glare.
Detail of a painting of a Navajo girl by Ray Swanson
This harsh light produces crisp silhouettes instead of modulated shadows.
The vista across the vast landscape is also a significant feature of the high plateau. The combination of clear light and great distance gives bright foreground colors and slightly blurred, blued background images.
3) Textured Surface is the Norm
While the prevailing taste in the East is for thinly-painted works, Southwestern paintings usually have texture. This can be achieved through heavy impasto, additions to paint--such as sand--or even assemblage elements attached to the canvas.
Yei mixed-media painting by Tony Abetya
4) No Line between Art & Craft
Southwestern artists--and their galleries--are less concerned about differentiating between art and craft than their east coast counterparts. This is may be the influence of Native American artists whose jewelry, pottery and weavings are of such high quality that they inevitably influence other forms of expression.
5) Regional Imagery & Iconography:
Alive and powerful, the imagery of the Navajo and the Pueblo peoples appears in many artworks. Gregory Lomayesva borrows from both kachina images and Mexican carvings in his colorful, small-scale sculpture and in his paintings.
With its own iconography, the romance of the cowboy myth commands the attention of many artists. Specificity in detail--the proper bridle, the worn chaps--are highly valued among collectors of this genre. So there is a intensely descriptive, almost sacred, quality that pervades much cowboy art. It is as though the artist were focusing on each individual item in a painting one at a time rather than viewing the scene as a whole
Southwestern art with its vivid color, tactile surfaces and striking imagery tends toward high drama. Works can be wonderful--or not. It's a tightrope walk and even the best artists cannot always perform the feat. Whatever your aesthetic preferences, you have to admire their audacity.
In most Southwestern galleries the viewer can expect to see many genres of art. Real estate prices haven't eliminated the opportunity for showing a range of work, and dealers seem to enjoy giving new artists an opportunity to develop a following. Also, Southwestern dealers put a lot of art on the walls; they have a casual attitude about the work and don't act the part of a mini-museum. So, galleries typically show a variety of work in various price ranges cheek-to-jowl. Prices for original works-on-paper start around $300 and prices for a medium-size paintings on canvas start in the low thousands.
Favorite Art Tourism & Collecting Venues in the Southwest
Harwood Museum In addition to its collection of works by 20th century Taos art colony painters, the museum is home to many works by abstract painter Agnes Martin. At 90 and living in a nearby retirement community, Agnes Martin is still producing major works of astonishing power and subtlety.
Millicent Rogers Museum This museum is home to a Native American art collection gathered by a stylish Standard Oil heiress during the late 1940's and early 1950's. Note: The rhythms and textures of fine old Navajo rugs such as those in this museum collection appear to have contributed much to Agnes Martin's vision of painting.
Agnes Martin Painting
Blue Rain Gallery--This gallery, in a beautiful space, deals in paintings, remarkable pottery and jewelry by Native American and regional artists.
Bryans Gallery--A gallery for trendy artists and old pawn Southwestern silver and turquoise jewelry.
Sedona:Silver and Turquoise Jewelry for sale at Biddington's.
Lanning Gallery--Contemporary painting and sculpture.
Turquoise Tortoise Gallery--Same ownership as Lanning but featuring Native American and Southwestern painting, sculpture, pottery, kachinas and jewelry.
On or Near the Big Reservation:
Museum of Northern Arizona--A thriving hotspot promoting, explaining and archiving the evolving culture of the Colorado Plateau.
Cameron Trading Post Gallery--Native American jewelry, pottery & rugs and Southwestern paintings.
Van's Trading Post (south of Tuba City)--Native American jewelry and rugs.
More Art & Cultural Touring Destinations with Jake Biddington:
Restaurant Guide to Buenos Aires--2007
Northwest Argentina: Tucumán, Salta & Cafayate
Santiago & Valparaiso, Chile
Tigre, Argentina--Day Trip from Buenos Aires
San Antonio de Areco, Argentina--Weekend Trip from Buenos Aires
Colonia, Uruguay--Overnight Trip near Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires--Basic Guide
Travel Guide to Montevideo, Uruguay
Visiting New York City 2007
Visiting New York City 2006
Art Tourism New York City 2005: Christo's Gates
New Haven, Connecticut
Art and Touring along Italy's Amalfi Coast
Art Museums & Restaurants in Amsterdam
Cultural Touring along Spain's Costa del Sol
Art Touring in Lisbon
Art Touring in Milan
Art Touring in Antwerp
Art Touring in Barcelona
I-80 Park City to New York City Art & Antiques
Art Tourism New York City 2003 (Archive)
Art Tourism New York City 2002 (Archive)
American Southwest Art Tourism
Baltimore, Maryland Art Tourism
Art & Antiques in Hudson, New York (Columbia County)
Art & Restaurants in Rome 2002 Update
Hartford & Wilton, Connecticut
San Francisco Jackson Square
New Hampshire Route 1A
Morris County, New Jersey
Jake Biddington's 2005 Art Collecting Series:
Art Appraisals and Valautions
Investment Grade Contempory Art
Jake Biddington Art Investing (Archives):
PPP Test: Judging Quality in Contemporary Art
Art, Time and Technology
American vs. European Paintings
Jake Biddington's Art as Entertainment
Jake Biddington's Vetted Antiques & Art Shows
Jake Biddington's Patent Numbers as a Dating Tool
Jake Biddington's Hard Assets as Portfolio
Jake Biddington's Buying Fine Jewelry at Auction
Jake Biddington's Long Term Investing
Jake Biddington's Short-Term Investing
Jake Biddington's The Craft of Art
ABOUT THIS FEATURE
Here at BIDDINGTON'S, our work is also our play. When we're not exhibiting and discussing art & antiques online, we're learning about wonderful objects in shops, at great shows and in museums all over the world.
In this article, Jake Biddington offers suggestions and descriptions of interesting art tourism destinations. Some of these venues are always in open; others revolve around special or seasonal events. These are art travel excursions we at BIDDINGTON'S--upmarket, online art & antiques auctions and Contemporary Art Gallery--have enjoyed making. We hope you'll like them, too.
Contact Jake Biddington about His Travels
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PEDIGREE & PROVENANCE--art words & terms defined. CREATIVE PROCESS--artists' studio visits.
JAKE BIDDINGTON'S INVESTING--financial advice on art & antiques collecting. MY ART--art for kids.