Western landscapes are about the hierarchy of immensity, and how it can shift from artist to artist, subject to subject. Consider Glenn Dean’s evocative and fascinating desert pieces: what is dwarfed in one scene is monumental in another.
In Dean’s Midday Sun, a cowboy and his horse are framed against an empty tan sky, the distant mountains appear puny and forgotten in the background. In his Canyon Riders, a scene of four figures on horseback gently riding through a red rock canyon, Dean reverses the theme and paints the rocks as the monument and the figures as small shapes lost in a huge expanse of rock and sand. In yet another piece, Mesa and Clouds, even the grand mountains are one-upped, this time by a dazzlingly blue sky filled with interlocking clouds.
“I try to have a sense of scale in each piece, from the figures to the mesas to the clouds,” Dean says. “I try to take a commanding presence in terms of the shapes and the variety of subjects.” Dean points out the cowboy in Midday Sun: “I painted him on a relatively featureless background to make him more prominent.”
The California artist admits that starting a piece is the best part of being a painter—the canvas is filled with hope and opportunity.
“I always start with the bigger idea, which will be pretty clear, and then the smaller things will develop and I’ll refine them or modify them. But the big idea stays the same,” Dean explains. “Mostly, I try not to overwork the painting, and to keep it fresh.”
Besides the bold daylight desert scenes, Dean has also experimented with nocturnes, including in Vaya Con Dios, featuring a California mission bathed in rich moonlight.
“With Vaya Con Dios, I wanted to take it down to a low color key, but I wanted to have some color in it still, so I pushed in that greenish moonlight,” he comments. “I enjoyed painting it because it was so different than daylight.”
Dean’s landscapes—both daylight and moonlight pieces—will hang in the solo exhibit Landscapes of the American West April 12 through May 17 at Maxwell Alexander Gallery.