Two of Helena’s favorite landscape painters, Josh Elliott and Dale Livezey, reunite for an exhibit of their latest works at A.L. Swanson Gallery Dec. 14 through Jan. 19, 2013.
Last December’s joint show by the two artists proved so popular, they agreed to an encore.
In an easy, give-and-take chat at the gallery, they shared insights of what they see and admire in each other’s canvases.
“What Dale does so well is he transcends the literal,” said Elliott, referring to a Livezey landscape of rimrocks towering into a twilight sky.
“You’re not going to argue that doesn’t feel real. He inserts himself into it. There are these beautiful statements of nature. They could be anywhere and yet are somewhere specific.
“He turns the literal into poetry.”
Hanging next to Livezey’s painting is Elliott’s painting of a ranch on Head Lane glowing in first light as it breaks through a fog of hoarfrost.
“I’m going for the intense morning light,” Elliott said. “The colors were really popping.”
Whereas Livezey is the poet with paint, Elliott calls himself the essayist.
“One thing Josh is great at is his textures and brushwork,” said Livezey. “I think there’s a lot of rhythmic texture that is real strong in his work,” he said pointing to the brushstrokes in the foreground stretch of snow and grasses.
“The other thing he does really well is subtle color nuances. It’s fun to study his paintings because you find little bits of color constantly. Like these shadows right in here, all in this little triangle,” he said pointing to the shaded part of a building.
“Here we’ve got greenish yellow, blue, violet, red — all in that little triangle.” Even the door is more than a red door. “I think Josh’s work is great.”
The colors have to be the right value and temperature, said Elliott. “There’s light bouncing around in there doing great things that’s fun to exploit.”
Livezey is also drawn to the light: “This is like what I do, which is trying to simplify … really looking at the power of color and simplifying shapes — as powerful color statements that read as an experience that all people share. So much of my work is of evening light when the sun goes down.
“All of us have taken photos of sunsets, but when we see them we think – this isn’t what I saw!
“I’m trying to figure out what we really do see, what we do connect with and try to bring that back.”
The rimrocks canvas seeks to capture a magical moment at dusk that Livezey experienced on a trip to Miles City.
Although the painting may appear simple, it’s surprisingly complex, said Elliott, pointing out that Livezey’s painting has only four color values, with the light-drenched rimrocks, against a dark sky, with a foreground already wrapped in purple shadows.
“The temperature change is exciting,” he said. “As an artist, that’s what excites you. As an artist you can see it.”
Livezey expects to have a half-dozen new paintings for the show. “I’m not a fast painter,” he said. “My work will be a continuation of what people know me for. They’re edge-of-the-day paintings — I make them more like poetry than an essay.”
“Mine will be essays,” said Elliott, “some of them short stories. There are a few smaller ones of Glacier, a nocturne near White Sulphur Springs and haystacks near Avon.”
Elliott’s also bringing at least one Southwest scene, a skyscape of a northern Arizona vista.
As contrasting as their approaches and styles are their backgrounds.
Elliott, the son of award-winning wildlife painter Steve Elliott, grew up surrounded by art, although he didn’t pursue it as a career until college.
For Livezey, his passion for painting began with a paint-by-number set when he was a child in Ohio.
He’d save the remaining oils and create his own paintings by copying animal pictures from magazines, until one day at age 12 he took his own money and bought his first set of oils. Largely self-taught, he admits he wanted to “do my own thing.”
It was at a Western Rendezvous of Art show that Livezey discovered contemporary Western art, he said, and began painting landscapes and taking workshops.
An early hero for both of them was Charlie Russell.
“He did such a great thing to make art acceptable in Montana,” said Livezey. “Charlie Russell is probably the most recognizable person in the state.” In fact, there’s probably no other state that claims an artist as its most recognized and beloved citizen.