I wanted to be as near wild as I could. The goal is not to represent a photograph. I’m trying to get a little emotion in there. ~ Kathy Wipfler
Before phoning Kathy Wipfler to talk about “Pure Landscape-A Western Journey,” her new solo show at Trailside Galleries, I wrung my hands. What could I possibly ask her about the journey to create these 15 masterful paintings? Already the buzz was strong. Images were out there in magazines, newspapers and other media. Wipfler is always up front about her art’s root resources and the values she maintains. At the forefront of Jackson’s “second wave” of esteemed plein air painters, she is remarkable in her ability to not only hold her own, but sometimes surpass, her fellow artists. That early group included Wipfler’s fellow artists, cream-of-the-crop plein air painters Bob Barlow, T. Allen Lawson, Ralph Oberg, Matt Smith, Skip Whitcomb and Dan Young.
What else was there?
So I told her how I felt about the paintings. Perhaps we’ve all experienced the phenomena of imagining, when looking at something of great beauty, that we want to become a PART of that entity. We want to be the water, the grass, the white sand, the tiny rock spider, the bird, the octopus in the sea.
Wipfler relies on that sensation.
“It’s a Zen thing, it happens to me when I’m painting. I go to another place,” says the artist. “It’s a completely reactive response that melds my life experience and ability to transmit into paint what I’m thinking or feeling. I enter a contemplative state that’s very focused, and that brings about the best paintings. I was lucky to experience that phenomena during the year-long process that has been the creation of this show.”
But if that was luck, it was luck Wipfler made. She thought long and hard about where she wanted to paint. A year ago she was given the assignment to create a series of works that covered only landscapes, but landscapes in six different Western states. It required her to plan for and spend time in a great many hard-to-reach locations.
Maybe she felt as Remington did in his final years. The West he knew was changing, and he ached to capture it before it disappeared.
“I didn’t want to go to big cities, I knew generally what I wanted to paint. The goal was pure landscape. About the only way to see that is to go to small, off-the-beaten-path locations. I wanted to be as near wild as I could.”
Six states, “off-the-beaten-path,” in less than a year, where the weather half the year renders many destinations beyond reach. That’s a tough assignment, and Wipfler is one of the few artists able to pull it off.
Characteristically, she chose to paint Monument Valley from the north side as opposed to the more popular “Mittens” perspective. Wipfler found a quiet turnout without a lot of traffic and got her study and essentials for the Monument Valley pieces.
Big Timber, Montana, on the edge of the Absaroka wilderness, was on the list. To paint “On the Edge of Wild,” an astounding 30 x 40″ canvas, Wipfler needed to capture the vista looking towards those mountains. Up the canyon a ways, she chose a more intimate river scene.
Bluff, a small Utah town, lies near the Colorado border. In Bluff, “hubbub” was at a minimum, making it another perfect painting spot.
Wipfler’s travels included a visit to Mount Whitney, located in a “fairly well traveled area” near Lone Pine, California; it’s the tallest mountain in the lower 48. A native Californian, Wipfler remains drawn to the state’s scenery. Painting “Coastal Headlands” required a a little more patience in a less intimate painting spot.
“When you’re on Highway 1, you’re probably going to have company. I prefer to be alone with my thoughts when I’m painting. I don’t mind people watching, but I get in the zone. When you start verbalizing your thoughts to others, your brain goes ‘click.’ It helps me to focus on pure reaction, not verbalization. The goal is not to reproduce a photograph. I’m trying to get a little emotion in there. Sometimes my studies are a little rough, but they are the paintings I like the best.”
Wipfler loved the project.
“I put in a lot of time and thought. I traveled places I haven’t been before, me and the dog. I had to work really hard to find a block of decent weather! A window popped up in late March in Utah, and I got some studies in before the storms returned. I came home from a three-state painting adventure and got right to working up those big pieces before the freshness left. It was right up my alley. Not a lot of overworking. It was a broad assignment, so I had the freedom I needed.”
“Jared Sanders-Earth, Man and Sky,” is on exhibition at Altamira Fine Art in Jackson. An Artist’s Reception will be held Tuesday, July 9th, 5:30-7:30 pm at the gallery. Sanders, now a bonafide “superstar” of Western Contemporary Art, remains grounded. His latest collection of new works at Altamira continue exploring seemingly lonely landscapes and rural structures he finds in his home state of Utah and around the less-populated regions of the West.
“Titles gesture at locations, but never point,” says Altamira. Each object — whether a forest, a barn, a silo, a farmhouse or abandoned automobile–is both the destination and the journey. Sanders’ buildings have eyes. Searching the surfaces and what lies beneath the artist’s immaculate but burgeoning “portraits” of country structures I’m reminded of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby “Eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg.” As a symbol, it’s often said they represent the presence of a higher power gazing down at us, keeping vigil. But Fitzgerald said that those eyes are what we want them to be; they hold whatever meaning we assign.
Sanders’ horizons are low, peaceful, and in “quiet tension with the subsumed ground,” writes Altamira. “Through his meditative practice, the paved promise of Western roadways reads as calm conduits for communion with place.”
Sanders chooses objects often overlooked and imbues them with life and a voice. It’s up to us to listen. www.altamiraart.com