Montgomery-Lee Fine Art painters explore new realms in Western Art
What: Sherry Johnson and Jared Sanders exhibit opening
When: 6-9 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15
Where: Montgomery-Lee Fine Art, 608 Main St.
The term Western Art refers to work that depicts the landscape, wildlife and history of The West, and Montgomery-Lee Fine Art gallery expands the boundaries of the genre, said oil painter Jared Sanders, who along with fellow oil painter Sherry Johnson will open a new exhibit of their works this Saturday at the gallery.
“Montgomery-Lee and Park City itself, while located in a Western Art market, pushes the envelope of what Western Art is, so what they show are the not-so-typical landscapes or subjects,” Sanders said.
While Sanders’ works are composed mostly of barns in various conditions set within simplified landscapes, Johnson’s art zeroes in on the skulls of wildlife, including but not limited to cattle, goats and deer.
Sanders and Johnson, who will attend a free artist reception Saturday at Montgomery-Lee Fine Art, took time to discuss their art during two separate interviews over the past few days.
Johnson finds the bare bones of essence
Johnson, who has been represented by Montgomery-Lee for a little more than a year, has been painting skulls of domestic and exotic beasts for years.
“I think the fascination with skulls came from my childhood,” she said. “I grew up in Orem, Utah, on a farm and spent a lot of time in nature. I would hike the Wasatch mountains and remember coming across sun-bleached bones of animals.”
For some reason, these skeletons resonated with her, and she began drawing bones, and eventually adding color to them, while attending art classes at Utah Valley University.
“I’ve had to ask myself many times about why I would want to paint a dead animal,” she said with a laugh. “I just find the shapes beautiful. They are simple. They are organic.”
Johnson’s favorite skulls to draw are ones with horns or antlers.
“The horns remind me of wood or the bark of a tree that I climbed when I was a kid,” she said. “They are like the branches I used to swing from.”
The painter uses photos or real skulls she finds, buys or borrows as guides with her art.
“I’ll compose the image at first, before I started painting,” she said. “ I go in with a drawing first that is really tight. Then I’ll come in with a contemporary approach and start laying down my color.”
One of the recurring challenges Johnson faces is deciding what background color will go best with the skull.
“I do wrestle with that quite a bit,” she said. “Sometimes it will get to a point where I will put the painting aside and come back to it with fresh eyes in a few days,” she said.
Johnson’s go-to medium is oil paint.
“When I was at art school, I took a variety of art classes in mixed media and watercolor,” she said. “But for some reason, I’ve settled on oils, and I love the richness of colors they offer. I love the way you can manipulate the paint to create a variety of effects. I feel there is more freedom.”
Johnson uses a brush instead of a palette knife.
“While I use a brush, I also use the other end to do some scratching on the painting,” she said. “I come in with transparent layers and weave my way through a work, and then I’ll scratch out of a wet layer to reveal the colors or what I did underneath. This is a good way to build up texture.”
Like many artists, Johnson loved drawing and painting when she was a child but took a break from it to raise her family.
“When my kids grew up, I went back to school and got a BFA in painting and drawing,” she said. “So, while I started my art career late, I feel like I’m revving my engine now.”
Sanders finds structure in barns
Sanders, like Johnson, fell in love with drawing and painting when he was a child.
Early in his career, he painted Western landscapes of trees, farmlands and mountains.
“My wife and I would travel around to find these places, and she would take photos of the different barns we would see,” Sanders said. “One day, I asked her if I could use one of her barn pictures for a painting, and it took off from there.”
Sanders, who has been represented by Montgomery-Lee Fine Art since the mid 2000s, said he is drawn to barns for a variety of reasons.
“I like how they are made for completely utilitarian purposes, but the design, shapes and colors add an abstract element to the landscape,” he said.
Not all barns make a good painting, because some of them aren’t very pleasing to the eye,” according to Sanders.
“So I spend a lot of time looking mostly for the right shape,” he said. “Since my paintings are pretty simplified, I work mainly with the composition of shapes within the canvas.”
At the same time, Sanders tries to find different ways of representing barns in his works.
“Many artists talk about how you shouldn’t put anything in the dead center of a work, or that everything should be off to one side,” he said. “So I sometimes like to put a barn in the center of the painting, and when I do, it’s just me asking, ‘Why can’t I do this?’”
Sanders has found that even when he puts a barn in the middle of his composition, the barn itself can give an asymmetrical element to his painting.
“Sometimes the sides of a barn aren’t the same, and the landscape can be different on each side of the barn,” he said.
To capture that flexibility, Sanders prefers to work with brushes and oil paint.
“There is no other medium that is as versatile and can create the desired effects that I want,” he explained. “If I mess up, I can wipe it off, or I can let it dry and paint over the top of it.”
Sanders began his road to becoming a professional artist while taking art classes at Utah State University.
“I thought I needed to learn commercial art to make a living to be successful,” he said. “I learned that might not be the case when I graduated. So I went into fine art. Although I worked a few day jobs and did night shifts, I eventually got here.”
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