By J.E. Knauf for Fine Arts Spring 2000

Most artists alliances are established around a similar style, or approach, a kind of mutual support group whose members approach their work from similar perspectives. Not so with THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WEST, a new, exclusive gathering of artists whose styles range as broadly as their individual personalities.

They have gathered together from all points West; JD Challenger, Robert Daughters, J.E. Knauf and Maria Sharylen all maintain studios on the red  soils of Arizona while John Axton, David DeVary, Bill Schenck and K. Douglas  Wiggins share the famous light of northern New Mexico. Nelson Boren has staked out territory in Idaho leaving Ben Wright as the lone Texan.

The cohesive element uniting this gathering lies in their departure from the traditional approach to the Southwestern art genre and their spectacular success as individual artists.  For the first time ever, these accomplished contemporary painters have gathered together and produced a completely new and comprehensive body of major works; a two year traveling museum exhibition sponsored and produced by the Arizona Commission on the Arts. While the engine driving Southwestern and Western painting has historically been illustrative, it often seems to share the spotlight of public perception with the kind of decorative art found all too often, and in far too many hotels and dental offices, unfortunately leading casual observers to adopt understandably limited expectations. In contrast, each, OSW artist represented has in some way tapped into powerful cultural and regional images, fusing an honest appreciation of the indigenous with surprisingly contemporary and varied visions.

With this in mind,  we find it all the more exciting that we can now point to a group of painters that not only don't fit the Western artist stereotypes, but who are today very successful participants in the genre, massaging, twisting, tweaking and sometimes shattering traditional concepts of Western Art.  Their work is not an external parody of Southwestern subjects but a sincere embrace of its iconography. The OSW artists have drawn national and international collectors to diverse perspectives of the West, a province that has always embodied some of the country’s most distinct and powerful self-images. In some intuitive fashion they each have demonstrated a sophisticated acknowledgment of, but at the same time a subtle remove from expected cliches. Individually they have made their mark. Collectively they represent THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WEST and are creating, refining and sharing visions of Western places and peoples that continue to enchant the world.

Early paintings and photographs of the indigenous peoples of the Southwest have for more than a century engaged our imagination, focusing worldwide attention on the extraordinary visual power of these truly American images. JD Challenger , J.E. Knauf, Maria Sharylen and Ben Wright continue the exploration of native peoples, each artist arriving at a distinct nexus of cultural respect and artistic consideration.

JD Challenger wears a Western persona with all the panache expected of an artist so widely recognized, but it’s his haunting visions that have earned him the admiration of  so many Southwestern art aficionados. His gallery and museum shows at home and abroad continue to draw huge support from every corner of the Genre.

Maria Sharylen, co-founder, driving force and currently the only woman in the group, presents a tableaux of indigenous Southwestern, Mexican and South American peoples. A sensual colorist, Maria’s rich, bold paintings depict simple acts of daily life, moments perfectly preserved and celebrated in her exquisite work.

Transparent layers of pigment and glaze provide optical lenses into the singular visions of J.E. Knauf and Ben Wright. Both artists have utilized formal training as painters to investigate personal and cultural connections with potent forces of the West. Knauf is recognized for his intimate and contemporary union of today’s western icons with an alchemist’s innovative use of materials. Wright, part Comanche, on a journey of visual and spiritual exploration, has established an artistic portal leading viewers to a modern but essential glimpse of enduring awareness.

Rounding out the contingent of figurative painters we find juxtaposed Nelson Boren’s cowboy cinematic, David DeVary's seductive ensembles and Billy Shencks slightly edgy visions.

Zeroing in on the essential aspects of his western subjects Boren hides their faces but still leaves us suspecting his characters are all red blooded champions in their own arenas. His large-scale watercolors stand uncontested as monuments to the Cowboy in us all. DeVary’s sleek adaptations of cowboys and cowgirls, surrounded in metallic gold, silver and copper leaf, exude a definite attitude, a larger than life quality, romantic while always hinting at the repressed wishes and desires of a contemporary society. The ambiguous narratives of Billy Shenck’s western hard edge dramas, populated by his brash and gritty characters, contribute just the right amount of skepticism we would expect from one of the Southwest’s maverick painters.

Three artists complete the group providing the OSW with three distinct and compelling views of the Western Landscape.  Robert Daughter’s crystalline vision continues to transport us to his vistas where the man, the light and the paint join to capture the clarity of the land. Luscious, buttery and alla prima his painterly abstractions all lead to a heightened sense of reality.  For K. Douglas Wiggin’s reality appears to be something entirely malleable. Rhythmic motions of undulating hills and skies are the startling products of Wiggin’s magical brand of Expressionism.  Space is refined to it’s essential elements in John Axton’s world of shadow, light and color, a place John defines as “the infinite extension of the three dimensional field of everyday life.”

Individually, members of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WEST have exhibited paintings in galleries and museums around the world. The inaugural show and gala opening for the Arizona Commission on the Arts traveling exhibition is set for April 29, 2000 at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenberg, Arizona. It will, for the first time bring it’s members work together in the same venue at “Arizona's most western museum” and set the standard for shows to come.