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Rob Akey: Observation, Memory and Invention: Western Art and Imagery Reconsidered

September 6 - November 3, 2012


The genre of Western Art has had from its beginning a penchant for the romantic and theatrical. As we distance ourselves from the tumultuous and tragic time period that defines the "settling of the West" mainstream western art seems to sink further into a collective state of repressed memory.  Artists continue to re-invent the golden era of the West that in some ways never was and never will be. Many traditional western artists, and I include myself in the number, happily succumb to the siren song of the market that allow us to "make a livin." I would like to think that many artists also yearn to express western subjects of a more serious and thought provoking nature.

Observation, Memory and Invention: Western Art and Imagery Reconsidered is my attempt to look at traditional western iconography in a current, honest and unblinking way that is both poignant and sometimes sardonically humorous. The subjects of this body of work range from an expired-horse-as-lunch, a stucco tipi as abandoned espresso stand, and traditional portraiture along side a famous scene of annihilation. The visual commentary pokes fun at the increasingly circus-like promotion of western art marketing. It is a reminder of the "dark side" of the west that was and that still exists today just in a different form.

-- Rob Akey



Akey, a Montana native was born in Whitefish in 1956. Rob displayed an early propensity for drawing and painting. Much childhood idle time was spent doodling comic book characters, the family pet, real and imagined scenery, and whatever presented itself for a kid with a pencil and an itch to draw.

Akey's family lived briefly in California and relocated to Great Falls, Montana in 1965. They resided in neighborhood close to Charlie Russell's home and studio. Rob explains, "That kind of proximity to Russell and his work afforded me a convenient exposure that I have come to value greatly as my work has matured. I am a huge fan of Russell's work, but it's not the cowboys and Indians that interest me. I always find myself looking past the 'subject' of his work and further into the landscapes. I can feel the love of the country that he had and as a fellow Montanan, I can appreciate that. I've always felt that Russell's ability as a superb colorist and his knack for capturing the atmosphere has been overshadowed by the distracting theater of his western subjects."

Akey received top honors as a high school senior in a state art competition. Rob decided to attend Montana State University and study foreign languages, but returned to Whitefish after his first year. Bob McKinney, a contemporary impressionist landscapist took Akey on a as apprentice for 2 years. "Bob believed in the basics, color theory and drawing, and was a great teacher and a real task master - you learned by doing." McKinney encouraged Rob to go back to college and complete his formal art education.

Akey earned a degree in design and illustration from Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and then worked at Tonka Toys where he eventually became Director of Creative Services.  He left nine years later for a similar job in Colorado Toy and Hobby Company.  Rob was homesick and could not resist the call of his native Montana, and returned in 1993 with his family.  In Fall 2005, Rob achieved his lifelong dream of becoming a full-time artist. "I've been studying the American Impressionists, a genre curiously absent from most art history curriculum. The influence and benefit to my work has been significant. I'm attracted to their use of a tonalist palette, combined with a painterly technique that is neither contrived nor clever". Akey continues to paint full-time and exhibits his work in local, regional and national shows. He is represented by several galleries throughout the northwest. Complete information on Rob Akey can be found on the web at www.robakey.com.


(above: Rob Akey, Choteau Sunday Morning, Oil, 48 x 48 inches. A bent old rancher in a Carhartt hobbles past a small town theatre advertising the latest Westerns.  Akey uses the scene to contrast the real west with the Hollywood version.  The real version grinds down grows old and dies, the other version endures.)


(above: Rob Akey, Enlightenment, Oil, 48 x 48 inches. This stucco tepee has stood in Browning for over sixty years in various roles from gas station to its current manifestation as an espresso stand. While somewhat whimsical at first glance, the strange unnatural light and cruciform telephone poles marching in from the East suggest a different and darker, theme of cultural injustices.)


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