Cowboys and Indians Magazine
By Charlotte Berney
Winter 2000

Art with a word attached to it comes with a built-in obstacle, and when you start talking about "Western art," you often end up tripping on the "Western" and ending up face down in the dust. For, the word "Western" when it's attached to art, means many things, most of them not helpful. Does it refer to the traditional art of Remington and Russell? To art created by an artist living west of the Mississippi? To any work with a cowboy or Indian in it? Or a horse?

If any of the above comes to mind, it's time for clarification: truly, there is no Western art, only art, and if it speaks to you, it is good art. Indeed, one can cite marvelous paintings and sculptures from the 1800s to the present that capture the romance, drama, and magnificence of the land we call the West. These can range far and wide, like the West itself, from the prairies and the canyon lands to the oceans and the cities. There are no limits. Art in, of, and about the West is Art with a capital A.

To help us grasp this essential point, a band of 10 forward-looking individuals, all renowned on their own as the very best of artists, have converged to bring us The Other Side of the West. This bold endeavor brings together painters who are working in, of, and about the West in a variety of styles and with widely disparate subject matter. In their own words, they are out to "massage, twist, tweak, and sometimes shatter" traditional concepts of the art of the West. They are doing this not by parody or takeoff but with a "sincere embrace of Western and Southwestern iconography."

The artists in this refreshing movement, strong in their own right, have achieved individual fame with Western imagery, yet refuse to be defined or categorized by it. They have no quarrel with other schools of art, rather their message is: the West holds many peoples, much beauty, many paths. This dynamic land with its unique people deserves the best that artists have to give from their own unique visions, beyond tradition and beyond stereotypes. So strongly do the artists hold this vision of a vibrant, living art for the West that they have come together to bring it to a larger audience, altogether, in one powerful statement.

Co-founder Maria Sharylen says, "I felt so tired of the old cliches attached to Western artists. I believed it was time to take Western art out of the corral and into the mainstream and show the contemporary lifestyles of the people who live in the West."

Asked why she felt it necessary to do this as a group, she replies, "These artists want to tell the world what it's like to live in the West, and it's more effective in a group exhibition than doing it individually." How were the 10 artists selected? "We have a more contemporary style," Sharylen says. "There are no impressionists in the group. We're all completely different but we all create strong images." She adds, "Of course, we all live in the West and paint under the same light. That gives the art a feeling of unity."

Jim Knauf, the other co-founder, remarks, "The 10 artists represented here are already well-known to collectors-they have the magic that entices people to take their paintings home and they are bringing that magic to town. An exhibition like this just reinforces the tremendous vitality of Western and Southwestern art."

As an artist painting Western imagery, Knauf has a personal perspective and says, "People expect Western art to have a certain look and are sometimes pleasantly surprised when it doesn't. I've had collectors say, 'We don't normally like Western art, but we like yours.' I've always felt that aside from anything else, my first obligation is to produce a good painting and I think that same motivation is apparent in the work of the group."

The Other Side of the West begins its inaugural exhibition of works by 10 fine artists at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenberg, Arizona, this April 28th. Sponsored by the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the group then takes its show on the road with a two-year traveling exhibition. Once this show rolls into town, it's certain our views of art in the Western world will never be the same. A more dynamic West will emerge, one that honors the old but embraces the new in a tour de force of art with a capital A.