‘Near the edge’
Heritage Center exhibits Stanton Englehart’s ‘Horizons’

A pair of gallery goers take in Stanton Englehart’s Henry’s Mountains series, currently on exhibit at the Anasazi Heritage Center, near Dolores. The show, “Horizons,”focuses on the recurring theme of horizons in the late artist’s work./Courtesy photo

by Jules Masterjohn

Much has been written about the landscape paintings and the life of the region’s late elder artist Stanton Englehart. With a body of work topping 5,000 pieces, there is much more to be seen. The current exhibition, “Horizons,” on display at the Anasazi Heritage Center near Dolores, provides us with another opportunity to look into the creative mind and the searching soul of this artist.

With an artistic life as prolific as Englehart’s, the paintings are bound to show similarities in his chosen subject, the landscape, or in the color schemes throughout the paintings. Some may find these repeated features a convenience – that the artist was simply restating familiar ground. Others might understand the repetition as a creative choice in which the artist examined the familiar to an ever-deepening degree. Englehart chose the later stance, and the group of works selected for the exhibition illustrates this perspective.

Englehart’s investigative interests are clearly demonstrated in the landscape series Henry’s Mountains. Each of the six distinctly colored diptychs is a pairing of an oil on canvas with a mixed-media on paper. This grouping of 12 pieces stands out in the gallery as an example of the artist’s mastery of materials and his voracious appetite to understand the surrounding world and the territory within.

From Henry’s Mountains: Red on one end of the gallery wall to Orange, then Yellow, Green, Blue and finally Purple, this series shows the artist’s use of what he referred to as a “temperature gauge.” These specifically ordered hues were for him not merely the physical progression of light as seen in a spectrum, divided into its colored wavelengths, but also an emotional barometer.

Color is the foundation of Englehart’s painting. It can be enough for many viewers to simply behold the vibrancy and luminosity of his works. Too, the color has an immediacy that grabs us and demands our attention – it says “wake up and live in this moment on this glorious land.”

If the bright colors make us stop and take notice, the details within the swirling paint of the skies and the delicate pencil lines that describe the landscape are what pull us in close and hold us – just as the actual terrain of his beloved Colorado Plateau held him. Englehart said, “To this day, I need to be near the edge. I seek it daily in the mountains surrounding Durango, and in the desert country near here and in Utah when I get away. Here, I find inspiration for my work, renewal for my mind and body, and a sense of hopefulness about the earth and my interpersonal relationships.” He speaks for many of us who find comfort, rejuvenation and awe in this dynamic place we know to be our spiritual home.

Englehart had a magical way of transcribing the huge scale of this vast terrain into a small, intimate experience. He could transform the universal into the personal, which he did with every painting his brush stroked. Eight superb examples of this slight of hand can be found in the gallery’s vestibule. Viewing these pieces, I understood for the first time the connection between his small works and the large oils. Englehart’s facility with the mixed-water media of acrylic paint, gouache and watercolor was so great that these paintings look almost to have created themselves. There is a sense of play and experimentation in each that is liberating to view, and I am certain was freeing for him to paint. He could allow the materials to partially dictate what the art would become, compositionally and emotionally.

Every artistic life ebbs and flows. For Englehart, who found his lifelong subject matter early in his career during the 1960s, the 80s were his most prolific period. It was during this time that he produced some of his most innovative landscape paintings, the large oils that combine classic Renaissance realism and pure abstraction. The painting, “Unsure of Direction,” offers a realistic, toothy horizon line set in a deep-space perspective as well as a slacking, broken thread that stretches across the sky between two architectural shapes, one on each side edge of the canvas.

What was the artist describing? What place on earth … or, wait – perhaps it is not ON earth but the earth seen from a place above? The viewer’s point of view is looking down from the top of a pyramid or from a spacecraft or from the Gates of Heaven. Metaphorically speaking, Englehart was positioning us, the viewers, outside our usual sphere of perception – unbound from the material world and beyond our egos – to see the world in an enlivened, fully human way.

“Horizons” offers some surprises for those who think they know Englehart. Many works will reassure those that they do. Though he was grounded to this earth, he was also married to the cosmos and his awareness was vast, curious and penetrating. His wife of 60 years, Pat Englehart, offered, “He couldn’t paint fast enough to keep up with his ideas.”

Thankfully, he lived well and painted long – we are all the richer for it.

Join Englehart’s friends and family at the opening reception of “Horizons” on Sun., Dec. 6, at 1 p.m. at the Anasazi Heritage Center, 27501 Hwy 184 near Dolores. The exhibition continues through March 27, 2010. Hours are 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. daily with free admission through Feb. 28. Call 882-5600 for more information.



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