Los Angeles, CA
Maxwell Alexander Gallery, March 10-31
We probably take them for granted more often than we should. This month, however, clouds receive a well-deserved tribute at Maxwell Alexander Gallery, where 12 leading western artists portray these billowing beauties of the sky in more than a dozen new paintings of the American West. Fittingly titled Cumulus, the exhibition opens on Saturday, March 10.
Devotees of historic western art might presume the show is a commemorative nod to early western landscape painters like Maynard Dixon (1875-1946), who frequently depicted massive, showstopping cloudscapes over low-lying horizons. But gallery owner Beau Alexander is quick to note that, while this group of contemporary painters may be influenced by such artists, it’s not the focus of the exhibition. “We’re really trying to look forward,” he says. “These artists are cutting their own path and doing something a little different.”
Among those portraying clouds in a new light are Eric Bowman, Scott Burdick, Phil Epp, Danny Galieote, and Michael Klein. The artists were invited to interpret the theme in any way—and any size—they saw fit, notes Alexander. The result is a diverse collection of cloud-infused scenes that range in tenor from whimsical to contemplative.
Bowman, a western native, has given the theme plenty of thought himself. “Clouds are such enigmatic elements in our landscape’s skies, constantly moving and shape-shifting, especially here in the West where they’ve helped define wide-open spaces like Montana’s Big Sky Country,” he says.
Clouds typically play a “backup role” in his landscape paintings, says the Oregon artist, but in his major work for the show, titled "Levels and Degrees" they take center stage. “I wanted to create some cloud iconography using various levels of depth, large-mass shapes, and temperature shifts to convey a larger-than-life impact,” he explains. Bowman strategically set his cloudscape over southern Utah’s ancient bluffs and canyons, both to support the composition’s vertical design and to create a “large-scale, heroic feel,” he says. “As a design feature, clouds can theoretically be shaped into any configuration imaginable, and in this case, hopefully they inspire our imagination about how large and legendary the West really is.”
Landscape artist Phil Epp has been painting clouds for years, and like Bowman, he thrills in their potentially endless configurations. In his cloud-dominant painting "Hilltop Trio", Epp portrays a triad of horses in the Kansas hills near his home. They are dwarfed, however, by a cobalt-blue sky with plump, unfurling clouds that fill nearly 80 percent of the picture plane. “In my imagery, it’s basically earth and sky, and clouds become the characters of the scene,” says Epp. “I don’t intend for them to be realistic. I make an effort to show vastness, space, and emptiness. Out West, you’ve got the ground ahead of you and the sky above you, and that’s about as basic and primal as it gets.”
If anyone can inspire us to glance skyward with a deeper appreciation for clouds, surely this group of artists can. “We all know what clouds look like,” notes Alexander, “but it’s not until master artists share their vision that our own vision opens up.” —Kim Agricola
To view the Cumulus exhibition, click here.