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Monday, July 30, 2007

Steve's Maynard Dixon paintings on display
Dixon's Brawny Scenes Are Drawing Buyers Beyond Cowboy Country

By Michael Janofsky
Last Updated: June 14, 2007 00:03 EDT

June 14 (Bloomberg) -- Throughout the American West, Maynard Dixon has a profile as long as late-afternoon shadows on the ocher and russet deserts he loved to paint. For more than five decades, until his death in 1946, he captured the look, culture and isolation of a region holding fast against urbanization.

Many of his works depict the solitary and often unforgiving lives of cowboys and Indians, winning him a reputation in some quarters as a ``cowboy painter'' and accounting for his huge popularity among collectors of Western art.

Yet Dixon was more than a one-trick artist, as a new exhibition at the Pasadena Museum of California Art attests. It's the largest show ever of his work, revealing through oils and drawings an evolution of style and an unexpected variety of subject.

An added treat is a selection of paintings that have never been shown in public. Among the 109 works on display, most from Brigham Young University Museum of Art in Provo, Utah, are 34 from private collections, including those of actors Diane Keaton and Steve Martin.

Visiting the show on opening day, Martin expressed a deep admiration for Dixon, saying that one of the works he loaned to the museum, ``Steers to Market,'' hangs at his home ``between an Edward Hopper and a de Kooning.''

``I want to keep him with those great painters,'' Martin said.

Collectors beyond the Western states where Dixon lived and painted -- California, New Mexico and Utah among them -- are appreciating him just as much.

Wider Popularity

``All good Western art is now as likely to be shipped to New York City as Montana and Texas,'' said Mike Overby, a partner in the Coeur d'Alene Art Auction, whose sale in 2005 realized a Dixon record: $1.68 million for ``Story Tellers,'' more than twice the $600,000-$800,000 estimate.

``He is collected all over the United States,'' Overby said. ``Even internationally.''

Overby declined to identify the buyer of ``Story Tellers,'' a 36-by-39-inch oil painted in 1917 that shows eight Indians huddled inside a tent. It now hangs at the museum in Provo.

The Pasadena show (which does not include ``Story Tellers'') is heavy with the scenes Dixon, born in 1875, is best known for: richly colored landscapes of flat-topped mesas, barren deserts and, yes, stern-faced cowboys and Indians.

The show's number and range of works make it easy to see Dixon's stylistic progression, from the post-Impressionism of ``Rain on Talkali Mesa,'' a gauzy, Monet-like desert scene of lavenders and tans painted in 1915 and loaned to the museum by collector W. Donald Head, to the modernism of ``Steers to Market,'' a muscular painting from 1936 of two cowhands driving the herd forward in a spray of dust.

Labor Scenes

On another wall are works that might not be immediately identified with Dixon, including dockworkers from Depression-era San Francisco painted during the time he was married to the photographer Dorothea Lange. They show a dexterity of subject, yet the faces reflect the same disenfranchisement Dixon's Western figures often do.

Donald J. Hagerty, the art historian and Dixon expert who curated the show, described him as ``the Western version of Edward Hopper'' for his use of vibrant colors and light against shadow to convey loneliness and isolation.

``The general public, even those not into art in a profound way, is beginning to pick up on Dixon,'' Hagerty said. ``He is moving farther and farther into the American consciousness.''

``Maynard Dixon: Masterpieces From Brigham Young University and Private Collections'' is at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, 490 E. Union St., Pasadena, California, through Aug. 12. Information: +1-626-568-3665; .

(Michael Janofsky is a reporter for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)


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