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Space, Silence, Spirit -- Maynard Dixon's West

 

"That sense of sun and space and silence -- of serenity -- if I can interpret that with what I can muster of technical requirements, I will have reached the best of my endeavor."     

-Maynard Dixon

 

Space, Silence, Spirit -- Maynard Dixon's West, an exhibit at the Museum of Northern Arizona, is a collection of paintings and drawings from 1897 to 1942 that represent Maynard Dixon's travels throughout the American West.  This essential Western artist's work will be in Flagstaff, Arizona from September 28, 2002 through January 5, 2003. (left: photo: Walls of Walpi, copyright A.P. Hays, 1923, oil by Maynard Dixon of the famous pueblo in northern Arizona)

Late 19th and early 20th century artists realized the West offered an opportunity to document untouched panoramic vistas and record the character of a region that was succumbing to "progress."  Early Western artists were from Europe or America east of the Mississippi River. Maynard Dixon, however, was born in Fresno, California when it was still a frontier town and spent his youth on a ranch in the rugged prairie landscapes of the San Joaquin Valley.  

Throughout his life, the West remained remote and alluring, dangerous and mysterious.  His prolific career focused on California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, where he sketched and painted contemporary Indians and rapidly disappearing western landscapes.  By his own admission, what Dixon chose to paint was selective and romantized.     

The fiercely independent Dixon was unable to tolerate academic methods and scorned schools, fashions, trends, and movements.  His creed was simple: "Find the truth in the West's spirit, its vastness, solitude, and power; interpret the land's relevance to people and its dominance over their very spirit and lives; and, finally, with enormous clarity, simplicity, and honesty, portray the culture of the Native Peoples and their special metaphysical harmony with the land, their gods, and lives."  Dixon's work communicates more about the realism of the image than about himself as the artist.  Dixon's was a unique style that was his answer to American modernism of the day, with simple but powerful compositions distilled to only the most essential elements. Vivid qualities of light and color. Broad, simplified shapes.    

He roamed the West on foot, horseback, buckboard, and automobile.  Dixon wrote about one of his western journeys: "In those days in Arizona being an artist was something you just had to endure -- or be smart enough to explain why.  It was incomprehensible that you were just 'out seeing the country.' If you were not working for the railroad, considering real estate, or scouting for a mining company what the hell were you [doing]?  The drawings I made were no excuse; and I was regarded as a wandering lunatic."  The influence of Dixon's work and his popularity has remained strong and his work continues to gain new admirers wherever the wide open spaces of the West are cherished.

rev. 8/22/02

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