Rocky Mountain High
Libby Barbee, Adam Bateman, Phil Bender, Geoff Booras, Terry Campbell, Joey Cocciardi, Jacob Feige, Flying O.H.N.O Twins, David Jones, Shannon Kelly, Suchitra Mattai, Tristan Sadler, Matt Slaby, Adam Stamp, Frohawk Two Feathers
Flying O.H.N.O Twins
Frohawk Two Feathers
April 19 — May 24, 2014
Saturday, April 19th / 6pm-9pm
Gildar Gallery is pleased to present Rocky Mountain High, an exhibition of works by 15 contemporary artists mining mythologies of a much storied region in the American West. Opening Saturday, April 19th with a public reception from 6-9pm, the show runs through May 24th, 2014 The Rocky Mountains– majestic backdrops to the onward thrust of western expansion, beer cans, brake lights, long tokes and the glory of god. Extending in the US down from Montana to New Mexico with its heart in Colorado, the 85 million year-old range continues to hold an inescapable allure for each new generation of pioneering seekers, speculators and storytellers. Perpetuated as barriers to overcome, ascendant formations to behold, and great treasure chests of resources to exploit, these tall rocks bare tall tales.
The artists in "Rocky Mountain High" take the mystique of this frontier land as their point of departure. At times embellishing, debunking and conflating romantic views of the landscape and its surrounding cultures, the work in this exhibit, which comes from all over the country, reflects the complexity of defining a sense of place amidst layers myth. The sublime beauty of the terrain itself has been a locus of inspiration for imaginative minds traveling West. Following various expeditions during and just after the civil war, Rocky Mountain School artists such as Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran helped establish the grandiose aesthetics of wonder associated with the region's landscape. The swelling colors and exaggerated lighting in their paintings created glowing visions of the Rocky Mountain inhabitants and surroundings. In the 1950's nature photographers like Ansel Adams continued this tradition of romantic depictions of the range and adjacent areas in stunning black and white images published in magazines around the country. At the same time, beat writer Jack Kerouac would also help to reignite America's love affair with the narrative of the Western outpost. Revelatory passages from sojourns in Colorado littered his stream of conscious novels depicting epic drug-fueled road trips from coast to coast. Of course these bucolic images in admiration for the wildness of the open land also served to promote its occupation by throngs of migrants enamored by visions of free living in god's country. Since their time as ancestral ritual grounds of the indigenous tribes who first populated the region, the Rocky Mountains have served as beacons for those seeking perpetual return, symbolic living and a higher spiritual connection. From its early territorial days, the land has played host to numerous fringe religious groups who found refuge in the crevices and shadows of these earthen behemoths. From turn-of-the-century utopian collectives to the Klu Klux Klan in the 1920's, counterculture communes in the 1960's and more recently fundamentalist churches and various new age religions, the territory continues to serve as a magnet for atavists from the far right to the far out. Of course, not everyone looks beyond the mountaintops for their ultimate reward. Many have looked on these juggernauts of metamorphic rock as literal and metaphorical gold mines. As the story goes, it is here at the threshold to the West that a man can stake a claim and strike it rich. A hotbed for major commodity rushes, the Rocky Mountain region has attracted wanderers from all over high on the notion of watching their fortunes rise. From gold and silver in the mid 19th century to coal, oil and gas in the 20th and now grass in the 21st, each new resource boom brings with it another surge in optimism and population growth. And when the fever breaks? Historically a few tycoons count their gains far away from the ghost towns and trash heaps left behind. Often laborers are left broken spirited and broken bodied. A number of artists have been their to document this harsh reality. Photographers like Lou Dold captured the brutality of the infamous Ludlow Massacre on April 20, 1914 when coal miners striking over working conditions and the Colorado National Guard became embroiled in one of the bloodiest armed labor struggles in the nation's history. Even in times of calm, harsh conditions persisted. Documenting housing communities in the late '60's at the eastern edge of the Rockies, photographer Robert Adams revealed the stark banality of modern frontier existence that in his words "cared almost not a thing for the people who lived inside."
In our current era, hundreds of mom and pop marijuana dispensaries that seemed to sprout overnight have shuttered just as quickly or been consumed by conglomerates as the price of product falls and the cost of doing business rises. Still the green rush marches on as thousands flock to this new industry in search of work and wealth. Perhaps nothing can more succinctly capture a region's sense of mythology more than a song. In 1972 the American folk balladeer, John Denver penned "Rocky Mountain High" tapping into a familiar naturalist sentimentality that resonated across the nation. The song climbed to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 list and eventually became an official Colorado state song. Beginning with a story of the singer's personal self discovery after moving to Aspen where he was "born in the summer of his 27th year", this tinkling ode to the area's natural grandeur praises the sublime mountains with views "as far as you can see", and the solemnity of the "quiet solitude, the forest and the streams". Despite painting a dewy eyed vision of the region, where one can sit in harmony with "friends around the campfire and everybody's high", the song ends with a sobering lament. In the final verse, Denver sings of his fear of those who, "tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more / more people, more scars upon the land". Like waking from a dream, as the realities of human intervention come into focus, Denver's vision of the unmolested Rocky Mountain environment wavers. This admission of doubt followed by the final return to the soaring chorus is indicative of the ambivalence that occurs so often when myth is confronted by the actualities of daily living. For a moment the mirage is pierced, while the desire to embrace its reassuring promises cannot be ignored. How does one reconcile these opposing forces? What happens when the boom goes bust, when the mountain guru preaching a practice of mindfulness turns out to be a womanizing alcoholic, when the friendly natives helping settlers in the soft light of the mountainous foreground are wiped out by a government sanctioned massacre, when the company creating jobs for your neighbors dumps toxic waste in your backyard? At some point every high has its come down, that's how you know it's time to take another hit. The artists In Rocky Mountain High wrestle and revel in this paradox of identity within a region not soon to shed its own powerful illusions.