Copper, coal, wood and paint.
These are just some of the art materials that come together in Monte Dolack’s newest exhibit, “Altered State,” a collection of paintings, sculptures and sketches that look at how we humans have, indeed, altered our state.
One of Montana’s most acclaimed artists, Dolack explores the volatile relationship between nature and industry in Montana in these new works.
The show, created specifically for the Holter, includes 19 paintings and sculptures and six drawings and sketches. It opens at 5:30 p.m. today, with an artist reception, and Dolack will give an artist talk at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 18.
In many ways, the works tell the story of Dolack’s own personal and family history.
His grandfather, Steve Dolack, was a Slovak immigrant who started his own coal mine in Belt. His father, Mike, worked for the Anaconda copper refinery in Great Falls. And Dolack, a Great Falls native, also worked there while attending college.
Dolack, who initially gained national acclaim as a poster artist, has done a number of works focusing on nature, such as one of his most famous celebrating the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park.
In these latest works, the materials he chose to use are copper, coal, wood, acrylic and oil paint and found materials. Instead of painting on a cloth canvas or board, he chose copper for his canvas.
“Painting on copper panels allows some of the iridescent quality of the copper to show through the oil and acrylic paint glazes,” he said in an interview at the Holter on Wednesday.
Dolack also ventured into more new territory — creating sculptures from found objects and even from coal.
One sculpture, a car constructed from hundreds of dinosaurs, he called “Fossil Fueled,” while a companion piece, a dinosaur made of autos became “Tyrannosaurus Wrecks.”
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“Hopefully you look at them and think about the meaning,” he said, “and also the humor. I’m just trying to look at it and raise questions and not lecture.”
The works and their titles are meant to be “more ironic than sarcastic,” he said.
“I just wanted to follow through on my ideas,” he added. One of these is the sculpture, “A Marriage of Convenience,” — the figures of a man and a woman created from coal.
“I wonder if it’s my grandfather and grandmother,” he said of the pair, “or seen a different way is it every person? We’re surrounded by the effects of climate change. It’s not a matter of belief but a matter of science. A large part of it is driven by burning fossil fuel.”
He sees this latest body of work as an extension of his earlier very whimsical and popular “Invader” series, which depicted creatures “invading” our space — penguins bursting out of a kitchen icebox in “Regridgeraiders,” and ducks flapping their way through the kitchen window and into the sink in “Kitchen Preserve.”
But this time, his eye turns to look at perhaps our invasion into nature — Butte’s Berkeley Pit, the Milltown Dam, coal trains and climate change.
Dolack’s art, which over the decades has been inspired by nature and Montana’s landscapes, has an idealized and heightened quality to it, which he attributes to his love of surrealism. “It’s where imagination coincides with what I see.”
Writer Todd Wilkinson calls Dolack a “Western magic realist” — a term Dolack embraces.
One of Dolack’s more surreal works is “Suspension of Belief,” depicting a stunning Montana landscape with the sky aglow with a brilliant sunset. Drifting across it, along with flocks of birds, are lumps of coal floating like clouds.
In another, “Sacred and Profane” we see a dazzling and luminescent Berkeley Pit with Our Lady of the Rockies glowing from a nearby mountain top and reflected in the pit water.
“The problem in making these paintings has been how to find the irony and beauty as well as honesty and truthfulness and not lose one’s sense of humor,” he wrote in an essay about the show. “Almost everywhere I look in Montana there is a subject matter that speaks of our altered state.”