In Wyoming where I grew up, I used to watch the summertime afternoon storms roll in and roll out every hour or so, or icicles grow overnight in the wintertime, or walk from indoors to out when it's 40 below zero and experience the event horizon, immediate and real, existential cold and hot. I'm attracted to vivid moments at or beyond what scientists call the event horizon. It's more than just a pretty picture even though it is a pretty picture.
More than just another southwest painter, my work has been called surrealism, expressionism, utopian, fantasy, magical realism and most recently inversionism, a term still being defined by the artists who work with it. Technically, inversionism can effect any potential characteristic of an image such as color, composition, or its element, its form, and even content. Inversionsim gives me another tool for my paintbox.
I use inversionism to stretch beyond the now ordinary modalities of abstract or overtly real art, beyond existential pain that invades so much contemporary art toward something radical, something simultaneously real and infinitely distant, a "counter-essence", a new modernity, even utopia displacement, a term I coined for my work that simultaneously contains separate realities, of places simultaneously real and not real; from Wikipedia, "Utopia" translates from the Greek as "no-place-land" as well as "good-place-land", most recently expressed in my I Dreamed America paintings.
My painting I Love New York City Jazz, displaces a Wyoming hillside with East Coast urban New York, New Jersey and Taos Mountain. Golden Gate displaces San Francisco and Colorado, Fibonacci's Stairs - Wizards displaces Yosemite, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming with a bit of Middle Earth and Italian mathematics, An American Parody in Oz displaces Taos with the Emerald City.
It's not about technical prowess, although there's plenty of technical behind the scenes bravado. It's about joy. And I use paint to express it.
It's why those who get my art get it. It grabs them and pulls them in. It speaks truth to their joy. I choose not to paint hurt, or pain or ugly, even though shock appeals as in my exception to the rule, War Is Peace, truly a dystopia, a painting of an end-time scenario--September 11 New York floating on an oil slick with burning oil wells displaced over the Rio Grande Gorge, the river running black and "the bomb" going off over Taos Mountain in negative relief--a beautiful black and red painting of a horrific moment on an event horizon we'd rather not experience; it's truly inversionism and utopia displaced. With this notable excpetion, I've been told my paintings do not reflect mine our our existential pain.
I've been told my art reflects a man at peace, it's the flip-side of the Bhudist word dukkhas, a poly-word which translates as suffering or unsatisfactoriness and its opposite--peace and joy, something transcendental--there's magic beyond the end of the rainbow, and it's joy I'm expressing.
My early painting A Blue Door Amidst the Evening Flame uses inversionism to quietly capture joy. On the surface, it's just a painting of a blue door at the Grade School in Taos set against a vivid winter sunset. In fact, the blue door inverts on its own inversion. The very essence of a door represents protection from the elements, with the promise of warmth and shelter on the other side. And its very stark blueness represents the promise of blue sky and the happy warmth of summer to come. The sunset is the very antithesis of the cold blue black emptiness of winter and night and loneliness. It speaks to our joy.
My search for Joy brought me to New Mexico at the edge of the Rockies and the Southwest, to a place where the light and shadow shift constantly, where we have four distinct seasons, where the old and new are in decay at the same time, where we are on the edge of new and old civilizations -- Los Alamos and the bomb, Taos tourists and the Tewa Pueblo, the likes of which drew me to paint in the first place, to capture and describe something instantly, beyond words, of things on the edge of change -- whether real or imagined -- shadow vs. brilliant sunlight, utopia vs reality, urban vs. rural, New York and Wyoming, yin and yang, Art West and Beyond.
Art James West (a.k.a. Alan Heuer)