Tuesday, March 6, 2018

En Plein Air

It’s not a picture I’m after, not a representation of Nature, nor a landscape; though the word landscape is as good a name as any to describe what I’m seeking. Trying to realistically or impressionistically reproduce the scene before me has never been my reason to paint en plein air. It’s about being in the beauty of the moment in the landscape, and what it feels like; maybe it’s more to do with capturing the appropriate expression of my feeling about it, although that’s not it entirely.

I think painting outdoors is mostly about the laying-off of paint onto a canvas that sets one’s heart and mind aflutter with the possibilities of both beauty and truth; that which exists synonymously at the center of all experience in the natural world. It’s the search for me to discover that passage of paint - the one stroke at the right time, in the precise place with the specific tool, the explicit mix of materials, colors and textures in the correct order that invariably drops my jaw to the ground when I find it.

Don West

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Compass Rose Paintings

The Compass Rose is the Flagship Restaurant aboard the newest and most luxurious cruise ship in the world, the Regent Seven Seas - Explorer. The ship sets sail on its maiden voyage from Rome to Venice and all points Mediterranean this coming August, 2016.

I was fortunate enough to be the only painter to receive the Compass Rose commission of eight paintings from the CEO of Regent Seven Seas, Mr. Frank Del Rio, to grace this elegant space.

They are all acrylic/canvas/panel.

Mirage 28" x 62"

                            Dune   28" x 47"

                                     Glacier   28" x 39"

                             Beluga   28" x 47"

                                      Oasis   28" x 39"

                                                   Isle   28" x 28"

                                                   Reef  28" x 28"

                                                   Surf  28" x 28"


The last four paintings above, Oasis, Isle, Reef and Surf, were not the original four I painted for this commission.  Mr. Del Rio, felt that the original paintings (below) were a bit too off-color, too bright for the decor, as I understood it, and wondered if they might be changed or painted over in some way. And since I could see how he might feel that way, I chose to paint four new paintings to move closer to his vision of the elegant restaurant space.

Actually I love the original four, as I do the others; in fact, I'm quite proud of the entire group and feel honored to have been given this opportunity. And it was important to me to work with all of the people involved, collaboratively, in order to help create the sophisticated Compass Rose ambience that was at the basis of Mr. Del Rio's vision.

When my son, Ian, saw Firdbird, he commented on Facebook that his father was "experiencing a rapture."

                             Firebird 28" x 39"

And, indeed, I did.  Although I had not understood that while in the full throes of creation. My rapture lasted three months. Here are the others:

                                                   Flash 28" x 28"

                                                   Aspen 28" x 28"

                                                   Mesa 28" x 28"

You can view them all larger on my web site: WWW.DonWestFineArt.com 

Check out the ship at this link:

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Collector Speaks About The Work He Bought

The following comes from one of my collectors in 2008:
Thank you, Mr Hedgepeth.

Naxos/Paxos (diptych)
60" x 88"
I have been the honored recipient of Don West's work.  Naxos/Paxos represents along with Deep Space/Bottom Light a remarkable play of subjective composition.  The expression of icon like forms is at one point an Homage to Mark Toby, with symbolic like elements dancing like pelagic forms in space, and at another point fresh in exuberance, vital with color hue movements that provide exquisite tension as a dialog with the forms that both exert and fade before one's view. 
It has long been a struggle in 20th century painting to claim victory in the form/composition corner versus the raw expression of color.  West's work achieves a bridge between the two. Rothko's radiant color pulled away from form-giving and the drama of form was subjected. In a world filled with hunger to understand and communicate, West's spirited forms’ march of bold and muted strokes being contrasted with a dynamic stage that is also in flux symbolizes the give and take, back and forth of life forces.  If one wishes to give a living context to West's images, they can be interpreted at the tide pool level or at the Galactic scale. 

Don had shared with me his past experience in drama and stage management.  Having heard this it is as if a benevolent yet spirited conductor embraces the value of the landscape and the actors collectively.  The cinematic drama of the foundation of the canvas has both a past and a future, acting dynamically to be both fresh and respectful. One is not certain if the innocence of color is the driver of the work or the organic motion of looping elements are derived from Asian forms, furnishing us with carefully crafted man made meanings, or are these forms living creations, moving across time from an ancient past to a distant future.  Paul Klee's life forms march to and fro in similar ways, happily iconic, presenting the direct intent of their purpose, supported by a rich organic broth they seem to be feeding from.

Bottom Light 2
48" x 66"
West is a true master of composition.  The energy derived from his deliberate stokes and the explosive colors are woven into an asymmetrical dialog found in few other works today. This contemporary progression is compelling to the spectator. As Phillip Guston pressed his way out of pure expressionism to a language of form and composition, one is equally satisfied with the weight and deliberacy of West's work, presenting images that ebb and flow, asking us to witness their presence. The joy of Satie's musical works are that they come from places not directly tied to a beginning or end, one is suspended, gravity and time lay subjected joyfully by the surge of life.  West has paralleled music handsomely with his paintings. 

Warren J. Hedgpeth, Architect
Hedgpeth Architects
3883 Airway Drive
Suite 210
Santa Rosa, CA.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Revelations from Sonora (1990)

Monsoon (diptych -1990)
50" x 72"

            I’ve been here 16 years and in just the last year I have begun to understand the depth to which a love of place can go.  First impressions of Sonora especially in summer leave you gasping, if not for air, then for water.  It is dry, dusty, that particular gray that only the seemingly dead saltbush can conjure up as a bitter taste on the tongue in an empty mouth.  At 112 degrees your thoughts of Sonora encompass only the idea of leaving.  And no matter how soon that is, it is not nearly soon enough.  If you make the mistake of staying on, of surviving, you begin to believe you can survive anything and that you can come and go as you please.  But it’s not true.

            Right from the beginning you know it won’t be easy to live here.  You work in the city and maintain a house there and you might even love it, but you live in the desert.  During the day the sun rings your head like an anvil.  The sky re-defines the term horizon; it is so large that you understand the line is really a circle and can be found in any direction.  You begin to wonder what the taste of rattlesnake is like.  You develop the reptilian gaze of a roadrunner, the defenses of a jumping cholla, and the cunning of a coyote.  Your skin becomes beaded like a gila monster.  And every summer when you begin to dream of the ocean, you realize you are in a desert that was once undersea, and that Sonora is forever your destiny.

            I didn’t consciously come here to learn the ways of the plants or the rocks or the animals.  I was just passing through with a wife and a young son who is now grown and married.  It’s all subconscious how Sonora slowly invades and conquers your being.  And, so simple, how like a saguaro seed dropped on the caliche, it puts in roots that completely surround and engulf until you are no longer who you were; you are now Sonora, just as the saguaro is Sonora.  And like the saguaro you throw your arms up all around to find yourself so shallowly rooted but so firmly bound to the spot.

            Finally, when you find out in the middle of your life, by some stroke of luck, that you are a painter, even though for years you struggled and thought you knew it already, Sonora takes hold of you like a brush and begins to use you in ways you never thought possible.  You forget everything you’ve ever learned or stole and who you learned or stole it from.  All the plans, deals, and daily grinds disappear and what you have become through the hot, dry desert nights and the muggy monsoons takes over and Sonora paints itself.  And you can only suspect that Sonora finds you worthy while it recreates itself in you.
Don West

It's now been 40 years next month:
Catalina State Park (2014)
8" x 7"

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Thought I would post a statement about my work written by Ian West, my son, in 2007 as an introduction to the book: 
Don West, An American Outsider
Paintings 1977-2007.

50" x 42"
graphite, acrylic, wood panel

Ian’s statement:
The proverbial distinction between looking and seeing isn’t a matter, as they say, of apples and oranges.  It is more one of apples and eating.  There are things and there are the processes in which things involve themselves.  My father has always been a man of action.  This means several things at once:  if he can put his skills to it, he’s interested, if he doesn’t understand how it works, he will learn how, and if he can’t see into its nature, will look into himself for the closest analog.  He will make something happen, and the beauty of action will be rendered on a canvas or a block of wood.
You modern abstract artists, admit it!  You’ve let yourself in for the one about what an eight year-old is capable of.  It’s been so easy, the ascendancy of the non-represental – and now art is one of those things where people shrug equally whether they like or dislike a thing.  No one who has spent any time at all up close to my father’s works would think to pull up that old saw.  It wouldn’t occur to them any more than it would if they’d spent time up next to Lucien Freud, say, or Georges Seurat.  But how is this a viable comparison?  Because while Freud is stylistically muscular and Seurat is, shall we say, densely intricate, we know for sure that they both represent a world we exist in.  But that is the beauty of it:  without the umbrellas and lakeside loungers and supine depressives in dingy studio apartment in which to frame our appreciation for language, we’re left with the pure – and therefore somewhat frighteningly irrational development of an ability, a capacity for expression.  And expression is work, when you have to have it just so, when simply having done with it, having it out for consumption, isn’t enough, or even relevant.
Relations, it is said, stop nowhere.  One of the artist’s jobs is understood to be the arbitrary freezing of the relating elements in just the right telling posture.  Since one cannot show everything, and we know that it is futile to try, one must opt for the most elegant substitute:  the moment that shows most.  This is what I see in my father’s labors:  a body of work that concerns itself with freezing not any particular arrangement of the elements – since his work for many years has been so stubbornly non-representational – but with freezing a view of the very process of relating that all these elements are so fiercely busy about.
i.e., drama.  Drama, so beautifully on the surface of life, is not merely the play of surfaces against other surfaces – drama is that little wedge of self-revealing light that results from that contact.  Drama is vital, oh make no mistake.  But let’s not confuse that with necessity – since none of it is necessary.  No, it’s just the light that comes off the thing – you either have a use for it, or you don’t.  A little fire comes off your encounter with an artwork – does it matter?  Can a little aesthetic drama save your life?  Let’s not get carried away.  But is it as relevant as, say, the quality of what you put in your mouth to ensure your existence for another day?  You better believe it.
Be prepared:  my father’s work is very very amoral – that is, it’s not on the wrong side of the question, but rather doesn’t care about the question.  Ah what freedom!  Would that we all had . . . ah but we do.  Simply to have a choice.  That is beauty.  There is a glow that comes off these canvases.  How could light possibly be a matter of morality?  They are great works because they glow for chrissakes!  No, they are great works because my father spent twenty years tuning the relations between the primed face of a canvas and its many acrylic shrouds.
Can we really be bothered about beauty?  If you value your health.  It’s funny how a dose of beauty works like a balm on people’s prejudices – and they love their prejudices.  But watch when they get a shot in the heart – sticking a nose in a flower will do it.  The experience needs to cut through our ready concepts for looking and judging – the fences go up so quickly!  What do we know about looking over fences – we either hate what’s there because it’s over there, or covet what’s there because . . . it’s over there!  Here is a fence – in other words, here is your device of complaining.  Question:  did you build that fence?  Or merely allow yourself to be hemmed in by it?  Again, don’t just look – looking is the activity of establishing a distance, between you and your – target.  Give a try at seeing – that is, give a try at participating in the experience that’s portrayed in front of you by these works.  And take your cues for how to go about it from the works themselves.  You must be silent, you must relax, and you must positively give in.  Difficult, yes.  But then, if you value your health.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Saguaro National Monument East #5
7" x 8"

My little painting found a buyer at the Davis-Dominguez Small Works Invitational opening last night. At 7:00 pm, the place was packed. Got to see a bunch of artist friends and had a great time - felt like an art star with a red dot on the piece.

There was a lot of really good work there. Loved Eric Twacthtman's piece. Albert Kogel's work grabbed me. Jim Cook had a painting that I considered stealing. JoAnne Kerrihard almost got her's stolen as well. There were just too many that I loved; too many to mention by name and too many people to see them all. I will be going back.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Middle of Nowhere

The Middle of Nowhere
60" x 72"
(original from the series of twelve paintings)

The Middle of Nowhere ( redux)
54" x 60"
The Middle of Nowhere (redux) is available for purchase

show statement: Revelations from the Middle of Nowhere (1989)

            It was after we had gassed up at Truth or Consequences and headed west that things began to happen.  I should say that I began to notice things happening.  Time itself seemed to slow down.  I grew irritable in the heat, anxious to get back to Tucson.  I was tired from helping Sam Scott move into his summer studio.  But Sam seemed to get younger, more cheerful.  The farther from the main road we got, the happier he became.  He wanted to show me this little town.  The land changed as we passed into foothills.  Cicadas buzzed like snooze alarms.  Hillsboro was my own rural past in Kentucky.  Sam was intrigued as if he were discovering it for the first time.  It was new to him though he had been through there often.

            His enthusiasm took us to an old stone church he loved that someone else had begun to renovate.  It was a sure disappointment; I could tell he had his own renovation plans.  In town we toured a garage that would have made a great studio with an attached home.  I thought Sam was going to make a deal on the spot.  Over an hour and a houseful of marvelous antiques later, I reminded him we had to travel.  He reluctantly agreed.  We headed southeast as I silently speculated on the nature of curiosity.

            As we left the foothills, a storm came up over the mountains and Sam couldn’t resist pulling off the road to watch.  We had already seen redtail hawks, turkey vultures, crows, finches, cattle, and pronghorn antelope with their young.  But, did I know how strong an impact ‘seeing’ could have?

            We had stopped on the road to Santa Fe, more to talk to the Native American family than to buy one of the watermelons they were selling.  Sam seemed to need close contact with people of his chosen home.  They were the real New Mexico.  To speak with them in their own Hispanic tongue reassured Sam that things had changed little since his leaving.  And so we sat on the tailgate of his Chevy, eating the last of their homegrown melon and watching the rain come.

            I saw things more clearly that I had ever seen them.  The dead, tangled branches of tumbleweed stacked randomly on the barbed wire fence, stuffed there by the wind, bristled with clarity.  In the middle of nowhere, we watched what we thought to be hawks or buzzards toying with a jackrabbit.  It was almost ten minutes before we could see that it was the wind – a dust devil torturing a tumbleweed.  The angel who troubled the waters was now troubling the land while my life came together more cohesively than I could ever have imagined.

Don West