My first few years there was a bison bull that would curl up next to my yurt on cold nights. I could lay down to go to sleep and put my head right up against the flap that was against the bison and feel his head next to mine. That doesn’t exist anymore. – Wendell Field
Friends and fellow artists Wendell Locke Field and Mike Piggott are catching a big art wave. Both are witness to a decade of incredible profile growth for Jackson-based artists. They view Western history through a new artistic lens. They grapple with the new time demands of social media on artists and the fact that they’d just like to paint. They respect traditional artist representations of Jackson Hole and the West, but they’re striving to drive a new message across. They mourn an ever-eroding wilderness and sense of community, but cling to this place with love.
Ten years ago, the exploding Jackson Hole gallery scene didn’t really know their names. Now, both are represented by top tier galleries: Field, by Altamira Fine Art and Piggott by the Tayloe Piggott Gallery. Both galleries specialize in contemporary Western art.
We began by talking about how gallery representation affects their creative rhythm.
We wake up every morning, and it’s like looking for a date! You check your email, your Instagram. – Mike Piggott
“I’m so grateful to be at Altamira. I can finish a painting and know that hundreds of people will see it. It affords me much more time,” says Field. “Up until Altamira took me on I spent all my time on Instagram and other media. I’d rather be painting, but social media was the only tool I had. Even with gallery representation, the pressure to perform on social media is intense.”
Piggott agrees, and adds that galleries request artists back up their promotions with their own. A good idea, because artists as individuals have legions of friends and colleagues independent of their galleries. The hotter you are on social media, the hotter your sales.
“We wake up every morning, and it’s like looking for a date! You check your email, your Instagram,” laughs Piggott. “But we can feel the momentum building. Everything we’ve done is paying off. Any barriers that kept Jackson’s artists out of the rest of the country’s spotlight have crumbled. Just the other night I was at a ranch cookout with artists from all over the place. Ten years ago that would not have happened. There were artists from London, from L.A., from NYC. People we’re getting to know. It’s not a locals thing anymore, it’s turning into something else.”
Regional artists are depicting the view of the West that’s happening right now, but they’re not getting enough attention, say Piggott and Field. What they are doing is part of the vernacular, just as when the Impressionists, the Taos Society and so many groups were working. They painted what was happening in the moment. For young artists in Jackson, that practice feels slightly subversive. We should be painting the new history, say the artists. We should talk about how development and affluence are stomping Jackson’s soul; art is the fertile soil of any community.
And even though they’re painting the West as they see it, there’s no getting away from nostalgia. Things are changing so fast, we yearn for what was just a few short years ago. Field’s paintings are starry-eyed, imbued with a storyteller’s love. His canvases pack in the wonder. Optimistic tenderness pervades everything from the Tetons, to the Park Cabin near Field’s home, to a kitchen’s place as the heart of that home.
Field’s paintings remind me of those of Marc Chagall’s “I and the Village.” Childlike and cosmic, hopeful and embracing, Field’s illustrative, folk-like works instantly bring a smile.
How do I simplify all this, especially the Tetons? It’s hard.- Wendell Field
“There’s a path where the animals walked. Now witnessing that is rare. My first few years there was a bison bull that used to curl up against the outside of my yurt at night to sleep on exceptionally cold nights. I could lay down to go to sleep and put my head right up against the flap that was against the bison and feel his head next to mine. That doesn’t exist anymore. I’ve been told the yurts are an eyesore. The person who said that probably has a couple of paintings of tipis in their house. We’re living that.”
Field wakes up to a drop-dead gorgeous view of the Tetons every morning. Fifteen years flew by before he painted them; now, he’s absorbed. At the same time he’s adding more references to the presence of people. Many of the objects he paints are probably near the end of their life; he’s fond of the old propane cylinders and rusty cannisters scattered about.
“The Park House around the corner in Kelly, I love to paint it. There’s an old propane tank, a satellite dish, and it’s out in the frontier. Nothing else around. I’m drawn to that corner. A beautiful chunk of metal, surrounded by sagebrush. My favorite art says the most with the least, but how do I simplify this, especially the Tetons? It’s hard.”
Piggott makes the point that we are the last outpost in this country to deal with infringing development.
“People in cities are already totally numb to this! And yet we keep telling same story of the old West. But there’s oil squirting out of machines, our carbon footprint is gigantic, and we’re in denial.”
Piggott has been painting cowgirls of late. His contemporary cowgirls exist in a slightly mysterious aura and can bring to mind either a deer caught in the headlights or a Helmut Newton. Working largely from photographs, he says having a live model in the room when a portrait isn’t going well is unsettling. Piggott often stays up all night working in his Jackson studio; Field arrives many mornings to find a brand new painting.
Spare and mysterious, Piggott’s landscapes can project a sense that something important is obscured; what’s missing from these scenes is as important as what’s visible. Nostalgia becomes a warning.
“I’ve been known to take a photo of something beautiful and delicious at Persephone’s, and the next day there’s a painting of it. If I see a cowgirl on Instagram, I’ll gesso the canvas and start painting her. It’s visceral, whatever I see. I don’t have a big theme. I don’t want to paint the darkness in the world. It’s the idealist stuff that keeps me going. I must say that someone like Norman Rockwell, I have a problem with him and I love him. He’s so idealistic he drives you crazy. But then you realize he came from a broken family with insecurities, mental instability and alcohol problems. So I like someone like Norman, then I also relate to someone like Leon Golub his whole career was painting police brutality. The opposite of what Norman was doing, but equally gorgeous.”
Field and Piggott agree that Jackson’s contemporary scene has grown, and that’s good. Admittedly, to get their messages across they have to sell. And for much of their journey Jackson’s arts community has happily supported them.
To view or purchase art by Mike Piggott, visit www.tayloepiggottgallery.com
Some artists paint to be heard; others paint to listen. The latter is painter John Potter’s choice. An Ojibwe raised in the Upper Great Lakes country of Wisconsin, Potter “grew up with an abiding love for the Natural World in the forests of the Great Northwoods.”
Of his work Potter says, “Painting for me is a form of communication with our Creator, and of gratitude as well; for the life and beauty brought forth on this Earth, especially in our remaining wild places. Because of this, I feel a sense of responsibility for the privilege of painting, for the gift of the craft.”
Writing on his Blog, Potter proclaims that in our world, Art is life-sustaining. It is Art that nourishes us emotionally, intuitively, spiritually. When he paints–no matter if it is wildlife, landscape or both, he communes with the Creator. It is true living, a meditation.
August 16-19, 2019, Potter will be on hand for “Inspired by Yellowstone,” a visiting artist series taking place at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel in Lake Village, Yellowstone National Park. On those days, from 2:00 – 7:00 pm, you will find him at his easel just outside the hotel Gift Shop.
In Jackson, John Potter is represented by Mountain Trails Gallery. You can find his work there, and you may also view work on his website, www.johnpotterstudio.com . There you will also find more about John Potter himself. That’s very important!
And to find out what’s happening day-to-day in the Jackson Hole Arts scene, just visit my Facebook Page! There’s something new every day! Be sure to press that “Like” button!