Stinson, who studied at Colorado State University before going on to Tufts University and the art school of the Boston Museum of the Fine Arts, has made a reputation for himself with contemporary takes on the tradition of Western landscape paintings. Stinson's signature is to create a landscape in an attenuated horizontal shape, then present it in a beautiful handcrafted frame of luxurious cherry or padauk wood. Like all Western landscapes, these paintings are dominated by the mountains and sky. But Stinson adds an element that traditional painters of the landscape usually leave out--the mostly negative impact of society. Though at times the evidence of civilization in the wilderness can be picturesque, Stinson more often chooses to include in his paintings those things that literally spoil the view--drive-in movie theaters, trailers and, lately, abandoned gas stations.
In the 1996 oil on board "Cisco Air Stream," the shiny aluminum trailer of the title shares the foreground with a satellite dish. In the background, we get a long view of the mountains and the cloud-streaked sky. Stylistically, Stinson looks to photorealism, but rather than adopting that style's smooth and seamless surface, he gives his work a very dauby and expressive finish. Another Stinson painting capturing an isolated home in the mountains is the 1996 "Pink Trailer," another oil on board. A tumbledown two-tone 1950s trailer--outfitted with a gable roof, no less--is depicted on a hillside under a bright sky of clear blue with a huge billowing cloud coming over the horizon.
In addition to these wonderful paintings are a group of small Stinson collages that take a distinctly different view of the landscape. Instead of employing modest homesteads and abandoned buildings to express the presence of humanity, Stinson uses the human figure itself in works that obviously were inspired by plays on words. In "Continental Divide," a perfectly rendered pencil drawing of a nude man's backside is placed on a map of the Rockies at the Canada/U.S. border. The same ideas inform "Foothills," where Stinson has put a drawing of feet together with a map of Boulder County.
Stinson's use of the Western landscape as social commentary constitutes a virtual school among the region's artists, especially painters and photographers. This summer's under-attended blockbuster The Real West, currently showing at the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Public Library and the Colorado History Museum, presents work by many of them (Stinson not included). But the time is long past due for a proper museum survey of the movement.
John W. Ford: New Mixed Media Assemblages and Don Stinson: New Paintings of the Old West, through July 27 at 1/1 Gallery, 1715 Wazee Street, 298-9284.