The annual exhibition of contemporary Western paintings and bronzes at the Phoenix Art Museum is a longstanding fund-raiser from the museum’s Men’s Arts Council and as such, it must meet certain expectations among Western art aficionados. Whenever I stop in to see the show, I am basically predisposed not to like much of it — Western art doesn’t exactly string my gee-tar, you could say.
Yet I am going to advise that you stop by the museum, too, and just be selective about which works you spend time with. The paintings of Ed Mell, Merrill Mahaffey and Bill Schenck are familiar territory and worth seeing. But I also paused at the photo-realistic depictions of the Old West by Benjamin Wu of San Francisco, who captures the day-in, day-out toil of farmers in the oil “Harvest Season.” Also in this vein are the barn scenes with a wonderful sense of sunlight evident in Ann Hanson’s paintings. She hails from Shell, Wyoming.
Bill Shepherd of Santa Fe, New Mexico, does commendable still lifes incorporating Native American pottery, baskets and rugs. Dean Mitchell won “Best of Show” with a watercolor, “Pima Relic,” which will ring true for anyone who’s noticed the contrast of old reservation life with new Native American enterprises. I was somehow mesmerized by Scott Baxter’s palladium photos of four vaqueros — the facial expressions, I guess. Last time you were in Terminal 4 of Sky Harbor, you might have caught Baxter’s work documenting 100 Arizona ranchers for the state Centennial.
Best of all — for me, anyway — were Jay Dusard’s black-and-white photographs turning desert landscapes into dreamy abstracts. Follow the link to see examples of this Arizonan’s work.
The show runs through December 31, 2012, and check the museum website for shows opening in February 2013 that look quite promising.