Visiting the Quest for the West art show at the Eiteljorg Museum is always a fantastic date for Kristie and me. (For those who make a date of it, make sure you go to the museum’s café – the food and prices are both excellent.)
We’re going to take a mini-tour of our favorite paintings from the show and the museum’s permanent collection.
I will also tell you about some weaknesses we noticed in at least one of the museum’s famous paintings. Normally I avoid talking about possible problems in other artists’ works. Today though, I decided it might give you and me some hope knowing that these amazing artists aren’t perfect – nobody is.
We can make mistakes and still create something beautiful.
Quest for the West Show Paintings
I’m a big fan of Case’s paintings. I first saw his work in the late 90’s at the Legacy Gallery in Scottsdale. His paintings have a wonderful simplicity while still feeling majestic. They are reminiscent of Edgar Payne’s work.
I love that Kristie comes with me because she has such a great eye for strengths and weaknesses in paintings. Often she sees things that I miss completely.
One of her pet peeve’s is seeing figures in a painting that seem out of harmony or proportion to the surroundings. She points out that many of the paintings with figures would be stronger without the figures.
Case’s painting above was an exception. She felt that the figures fit well – they increased the feeling of distance and gave a grand scale to the valley and cliffs.
That brings us to Joseph McGurl’s painting – The Dry Wash.
Joseph McGurl has been one of my favorite painters for years. He is one of the best in the world. He’s an incredibly skilled sight-size plein air and studio painter who does not use photography.
I love this painting of his – except for one tiny detail – the horse and rider. To me and Kristie the figures seemed to diminish the feeling of scale and become a distraction.
Here’s a photoshopped version without the horse and rider:
Then again, that’s simply my subjective preference. There’s really no right or wrong here. It’s still a fantastic painting.
It simply feels better to me without the horse and rider.
One of our favorite paintings in the show was Joe’s The Arrow of Time – Lake Mead.
The canoe and fisherman fit beautifully into this serene scene.
Terri Kelly Moyers
Zuni Patterns by Terri Kelly Moyers stood out to both of us. She used a powerful combination of flat graphic background shapes and understated realism.
We loved the off-center design and the feeling of movement in the shawl.
Grossmann’s work was an unexpected treat the first year I saw it at the Quest for the West show.
His minimal approach is an unusual contrast to the general realism in western shows. They remind me of Russel Chatham’s paintings and lithographs.
The photos don’t do the paintings justice. He has brush texture and layered paint in his work that you need to see in person.
Patrons seem to agree since all four paintings sold out.
Brent has an uncanny ability to fill his paintings with ethereal light effects. The way he backlights his subjects allows him to create rich color and contrast combinations that draw viewers in and keep them mesmerized.
Photorealism isn’t generally on my favorites list, but Milhomme is an exception. His work has a soft, calming quality that is rare in tight realism.
This painting is naturally high on our list because it looks like Colorado. I would love to be out on horseback with Kristie in this place.
Kristie and I started talking about this painting before we saw the title.
She commented that this horse’s withers were protruding and his body was very boney – like he was of advanced age. The Native American walking beside him has the look of a younger man. It made her reflect on the relationship that comes with a child being raised with a horse and the relationship that grows between the two. Both could be 20, but that means a lot more in horse years!
The remarkable thing though is how Melaine captured the love that both the Indian and the horse have for each other. Kristie pointed out how the horse’s lead is loose – the horse is walking intentionally beside the Indian.
We both remarked that they had to be strong friends – not simply horse and rider. Then we saw the title.
Not only is she a master at capturing the right feeling in her paintings, but her anatomy is also always spot on. Her paintings are both poetic and technically excellent.
That’s why Melaine’s work is among our favorites year after year!
Some Other Stand Out Paintings and Drawings
I couldn’t resist putting in Greg’s crazy cool hat-hook elk wall sculpture!
Art is about Poetry Rather than Perfection
This blog got to be longer than I expected. I planned to share some of the other work in the museum. Perhaps I’ll do that in another blog later.
But, since I told you I would point out a seeming mistake in a famous painting, I better do that now:
I am a huge fan of Fechin’s work. While I was at the Plein Air Convention in Santa Fe I took a long detour just to see the Fechin Museum in Taos, NM.
That love for his work might be why I never took real notice of the extra-long pinky finger on the left hand.
Kristie pointed it out.
I think it always bothered me, but I was so enthralled with the rest of the painting I ignored it.
Notice, it’s not necessarily too long. The other fingers are bent and angled in such a way that it lines up with them. So, in reality, it may be the correct proportion relative to the other fingers.
And, knowing that he painted from life and that he is known for his incredible drawing skills, it is less likely that he made a mistake.
Placing that aside though, doesn’t it seem awkward to have all three fingers line up like that? If you take your hands and try to get the pinky finger to line up length wise with the middle and ring fingers it’s not easy (I did my best to recreate the hand pose in my studio mirror).
So, while it is possible that the length is accurate, it feels wrong. Maybe it would have felt better to paint that finger back a half inch or so.
Yes, the painting is still masterful and one of my go-to pieces at the museum. The intent of this is not to knock the painting down from its deserved pedestal. It’s simply to show that even the best artists stumble. The key is to keep going. Every element in a painting doesn’t have to be perfect to bring joy to others and beauty to the world.
Now that doesn’t mean we can get lazy or careless about anatomy or perspective and the poetry will make up for it. A few pieces in the Quest for the West show had obvious anatomy problems that detracted from the strength of the paintings.
With realism it’s especially important to get the drawing right.
Then there’s the other styles that intentionally break the rules of reality. Howard Post’s The Stallion is a great example:
Howard Post is one of the most successful painters in the country. Overland Gallery in the 80’s and 90’s sold out his shows year after year.
Notice the horses on the shadow side of the hill. They have no shadows to link the feet to the ground. The same goes for the bushes and rocks.
Nobody cares. His patrons love his use of color and the powerful flattened shapes and compositions.
In the end, poetry trumps realistic accuracy. Poetic paintings touch the soul and engage our imagination.
Howard Post’s work makes me think of Rick Manthei’s paintings – one of our members.
Manthei’s paintings are alive with imagination and colorful creative energy. They are beautiful.
Conclusion – Go to the Show!
If you live anywhere near the Indianapolis you don’t want to miss this show. They have work from some of the top artists in the country.
When you go, park in the underground garage near the Eiteljorg entrance. Take your parking ticket and the museum will validate it – so your parking is free.
Kristie and I showed you some of our favorite paintings from the Quest for the West. Now it’s your turn to get to the Eiteljorg Museum and tell us which paintings would look awesome on your walls.
Also, tell us why certain paintings resonated with you more than others. What makes your heart sing when you look at art?