Maynard Dixon-A Study in Contrasts

The Desert Caballeros Museum in Wickenburg, Arizona will be hosting an exhibition for one of the most well known and respected Western artists of all time.

Maynard Dixon-Beyond the Clouds (OK, I know that’s different than the title of this post, but stay with me) opens this Friday, December 9th and will run until March 5th. But I encourage everyone to go sooner rather than later. Then you can always go again -and again.

Below is the text from an interpretive I wrote for three of paintings which will be featured. Images of the paintings are shown as well.  Go ahead, check it out! It’s interesting stuff.

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Although Maynard Dixon is well known for his landscapes of the American West he rarely painted recognizable landmarks in their entirety. He chose instead to concentrate on capturing the essence of narrower perspectives, the beauty of which most individuals would overlook completely.

The three paintings exhibited here provide examples typical and atypical of his style. Two are portrayals of Camelback Mountain in Phoenix, the third of Tempe Butte in Tempe.

Red Knob is the viewpoint from the north side of Camelback Mountain near the present day Echo Canyon Bowl, Red Rocks and Cactus from the southwest side of the mountain, near 44th Street and Camelback Road. Both canvases offer small glimpses of a much larger subject.  Although Camelback is one of the most recognizable peaks in the metropolitan Phoenix area, it is likely few people would recognize the exact location of the scenes other than those intimately familiar with the mountain.

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Both pieces were created in May 1945, just eighteen months before his death. These are the last known Phoenix area landscapes painted by Maynard Dixon. The reason for his attraction to the subject matter is unknown. It is possible he was enticed by the red rock which constitutes the Camel’s head, one of the southernmost large sedimentary sandstone formations in central Arizona.

Tempe Butte is in stylistic contrast to the Camelback paintings.  This is one of the few examples where Dixon portrayed a natural geographical formation almost in its entirety as seen from a given vantage point. The view today includes Sun Devil Stadium, a radio tower on the summit, multiple high rises and a dammed up stretch of the Salt River.  Yet with all the changes since the painting’s creation just over a century ago the butte is still clearly recognizable.

The paintings provide examples of another variation in style as well. Dixon described his career as consisting of three periods –illustrator, painter, and artist. Tempe Butte was created during his “painter” period and is a fine example of his skill as an impressionist.  Red Knob and Red Rocks and Cactus were painted after he had evolved into an “artist”, and, like so many of his later works, include elements of modernism.

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Together the three pieces offer a priceless historical window into Arizona’s past when  the Phoenix urban landscape of today was still largely unspoiled.

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