When Tim Solliday is looking for inspiration, he turns not to other contemporary Western artists, but to the past, when artists were not only part of the public discussion but actually funded by the public through the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ambitious plan to send Americans, including artists, back to work.
“My absolute favorite WPA mural is at the Los Angeles Public Library by Dean Cornwell, who was an American Illustrator. Those illustrators were like rock stars in the ’20s through the ’40,” Solliday says. “Cornwell, and the other illustrators, were taking fine art principles and using them in new ways. He wasn’t called an illustrator; he was called a muralist, which I just think is great. One of the things that appealed to me about those guys, especially Cornwell, was they were true to nature, but also more whimsical and fun. They put more life into their works.”
Elements of the great murals can be seen in Solliday’s new piece Migration, a 12-by-28-inch panoramic of a Native American migration. The painting, featuring 10 figures and numerous horses, was originally only intended to be a study for a larger piece that will be at the Prix de West in June. The owners of Maxwell Alexander gallery, where Solliday will be showing new works beginning April 4, convinced him to exhibit it at his show. Migration will be the centerpiece of new work by the California painter.
Other works include two nocturnes featuring looser brushstrokes–Home Fires, with a figure calmly standing in the moonlight, and Sacred Trees, with a horse and rider approaching a vertical wall of trunks and shadows– and the Pottery Painter, with a figure decorating vessels in a stand of trees. The pieces are done in Solliday’s distinctive illustrative-like style, with strong lines and thick edges around his subjects.
“The outlines are there to bring the figure closer to you, and it’s important for what I’m trying to bring out in the picture,” Solliday says, adding that sometimes he’ll pose figures just to create shapes within their poses, such as triangles that are created with the placement of arms against bodies. “I want to always emphasize the line, because design is very big for me. Logan Maxwell Hagege, for instance, is another guy who is really focusing on design. He knows how to lay out a painting.”
Solliday, who recently moved his studio into a room in an old church–“If the stained glass weren’t so faded it would create problems with the lighting”–says he wants to take what he knows about illustration, design and the idea of “the line” and apply it to scenes from the Old West.
“My big ambition is simple: I want to paint big figures and dramatic scenes,” he says, “and that’s pretty much it.”