'Adventurer' artist Edgar Payne retrospective set at Gilcrease Museum
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Sunday, December 02, 2012
12/02/12 at 4:07 AM
When Scott Shields was first approached about serving as guest curator for a retrospective exhibit of Edgar Payne, he knew just a couple of things about this California artist.
"I must confess," he said, "I had the same idea about Payne that a lot of people had - that he was a fellow who painted the Sierra Mountains and a whole lot of lakes.
"I had no real sense of what he managed to accomplish in his life," Shields said. "But the more I studied him and delved into his life and career, the more I grew to like him."
Shields laughed, then added, "And that's always a good thing - because I've done some shows where I came to the opposite conclusion about the person I had spent all this time dealing with."
During his life, Edgar Payne was considered by critics and audiences as perhaps the quintessential California artist, for his boldly painted and boldly colored images of the state's landscape that were exhibited and praised at home and abroad.
But like many Californians, Payne began life in the middle of the continent - his family lived in various towns in Missouri and Arkansas, and he began his artistic career in Texas and Chicago, making his first trip to California in 1909, when he was 26.
And those peripatetic early years set the course for the rest of Payne's life.
"That was perhaps one of the greatest surprises that came from working on this show - that Payne was almost as much an adventurer as artist," Shields said. "He was one of the first artists to exploit the automobile. He'd drive his Model T Ford up into the mountains as high as he could, then would take a pack train to hike even higher.
"Payne was determined to go to places that other artists of the day would never think of going," he said.
Payne also traveled widely outside of California, capturing what he saw on canvas. The exhibit includes examples of paintings Payne made during treks through Europe, from scenes of Italy fishing boats to portraits of the Matterhorn.
Later in his life, Payne also toured the Southwest, producing what Shields considers to be among his most beautiful works.
"These paintings are all about monumentality, vastness, eternity," he said. "He's dealing with the idea of scale, which I think is one reason why he begins to place more figures in his paintings.
"But the beauty of Payne's work is evident whatever the subject matter," Shields said. "I really wasn't prepared at the start for just how incredibly beautiful his paintings are. The brushwork, the colors - you walk into a room full of these works, and it's pretty overwhelming."
"Edgar Payne: The Scenic Journey" was created earlier this year by the Pasadena Museum of California Art, to celebrate its 10th anniversary. It is the first major retrospective of Payne's work since the 1970s.
More than 100 pieces are in the show - primarily Payne's paintings, along with sketches, drawings and photographs.
Gilcrease is the third and final stop on the exhibit's tour. Jon Stuart, a Gilcrease Museum trustee, was instrumental in helping bring the show to Tulsa.
"He's also one of the lenders to the exhibit," Shields said. "And I'm very grateful for his help to bring this show farther east, because that's one of the things I wanted to accomplish with this exhibit - to help bring the rest of the country's attention to California artists."
As director of the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, Shields said his work is concerned primarily with California artists. However, he said, while growing up and during his early art studies, "I never heard much if anything about California artists. The focus was always on artists of the East Coast and sometimes the Midwest.
"It's as if California is its own little island," he said. "It's in the west, but not considered part of 'The West.' But artists like Edgar Payne, who made their homes here in California, were exhibiting all over the country, and all over the world. They were recognized as the major American artists that they were and still are."
EDGAR PAYNE: THE SCENIC JOURNEY
When: Sunday through March 24
Where: Gilcrease Museum, 1400
N. Gilcrease Museum Road
Admission: $8. 918-596-2700,
Original Print Headline: Art Adventurer
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
“Sunset Canyon” EDGAR PAYNE/Courtesy
“Untitled (Laguna Seascape)” EDGAR PAYNE/Courtesy
“Cargo Boats” EDGAR PAYNE/Courtesy
“Along the Riviera” EDGAR PAYNE/Courtesy
“The Rendezvous” EDGAR PAYNE/Courtesy
“Matterhorn” EDGAR PAYNE/Courtesy