Rose Fredrick bears the weight of the entire Western Art world on her shoulders when she curates the annual exhibit of painting and sculpture that accompanies the National Western Stock Show, a job she’s done for 21 years.
The Coors Western Art Exhibit & Sale, as it is known far and wide, is possibly the largest event on the calendar for artists who depict the region’s lifestyle and geography. Fredrick wants to make sure it captures the genre at its best, and in the present.
As many as 40,000 visitors pass through the galleries. “So many people who come to this show, they never see art any other time of the year,” she said. “I want to give them something they can think about.”
For Fredrick, that means cutting back on work that dwells in the cowboy nostalgia of the old days and making room for artists who delve into the issues of the day.
So while the assembled works capture the sprawling landscapes of the West and the sinewy animals that inhabit its ranches and open spaces, there are also works that take on the urgency of current concerns — artists whose views of family farms and vast plains remind viewers that these places are disappearing. The images of birds soaring and wild horses running carry messages that we have to preserve those species that are being displaced by development and energy exploration.
“We have water issues. We have issues with land. There are just so many things we have going on here, and a lot of our artists are tackling those things,” Fredrick said.
You can see it in the work of artists like Don Stinson, whose stunning landscapes tend to get disrupted by encroaching roads or the forsaken detritus left behind by settlement and industrialization.
Or in the work of Terry Gardner, whose painting “All Things Will Pass” depicts at its center a fallen utility pole in the foreground of a snow-capped mountain range.
Or in the work of Ron Hicks, whose “Quiet Melancholy” captures a youthful female with an old-world presence, whose forlorn facial expression suggests Western life, past and present, comes with its circumspect moments.
Painter Dan Young, this year’s featured artist, has his own way of making the West real. He’s spent the last year or so pulling his images from a tract of land, across the road from his house in Silt, that was recently saved from development by a group of purchasers who agreed to preserve it as open space. His artful efforts celebrate the terrain without getting too sentimental about it.
The National Western always acquires a piece from the featured artist, and this year it is adding Young’s “The Super Moon on the Colorado” to its collection.
The piece, described well by its title, demonstrates Young’s signature painting style, which starts with the landscapes that Western painters are known for, but moves into a deeply personal and interpretive place. While traditional Western oil paintings tend to be hyper-realistic, Young is equally influenced by Impressionism. His brushstrokes, soft, wavy and in-motion, are not meant to convey precision as much as emotion. “I want to see how far I can push that,” he said.
Young spends about half of his painting hours outdoors in Western Colorado — “my backyard,” he calls it — where he captures actual landscapes and, at the same time, his own memories of vistas that he fuses into paintings later in his studio, creating scenes that are often composites of what he observes. “I’m out there to create a painting, not to copy what I see,” he said.
His paintings can have a certain randomness about them. Things are not always framed formally with the main subject matter front and center. With “The Super Moon on the Colorado,” for example, the moon itself, which can loom large on a dark night, is reduced to a small, glowing dot that is almost out of the picture.
Instead, he brings attention to the way it lights up the surrounding flora and on the brilliant line of reflection it creates on the water. It’s an interesting way of seeing things that sets him apart from a lot of his landscape-painting peers.
“I try to paint those scenes the average viewer may not even notice,” he said.
That’s the sort of individuality curator Fredrick looks for when putting together the exhibit, which features more than 50 artists from across the U.S. and serves as the stock show’s biggest fundraiser, pulling in money for scholarships awarded to students studying agriculture, medicine, veterinary sciences and, starting this year, art.
The exhibit, which is open through Jan. 21, celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2018. It sets up on the third level of the Expo Hall from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and from 9 a.m. to 8 p..m. Sundays through Thursdays. There’s no extra fee beyond the regular stock show admission.
More info at coorswesternart.com.