Will Pope | Biography

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Media Description: oil


Will Pope, born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1965, is a third-generation painter. He began his painting career while working at the Bedford Schoolhouse in New York in 1989, working in the company of artist Stephanie Clifton and cartoon film artist Ralph Bakshi (Fritz the Cat).

From 1990-1996 he lived and painted amidst a host of Taos, New Mexico artists, to include Agnes Martin, Larry Bell, Ron Cooper, R.C. Gorman, Jim Wagner, and his longtime friend and roommate, Wes Mills. Will went on to earn a Fine Arts degree at the University of New Mexico, focusing on painting and photography, and participated in two solo and 16 group exhibitions from 1990-1996.

He made his first films with writer/director Ian McCrudden in Taos, New Mexico (Baptizumseen, Trailer-The Movie) from 1991-1994, and was hired as a writer/producer in Hollywood. He worked with several "A-List" actors as a screenwriter until 1999 when he returned to Santa Fe for a one-man show of paintings entitled "Train to Nairobi" at the Santa Fe Armory. Will continued to paint and show with the Skeleton Art Gallery in Santa Fe and produced work for another single-person exhibition (Horse With Bather Series) in 2002.

After publishing the children's book "A Horse Called Jupiter", Will wrote, produced and directed a children's feature production by the same name which featured 17 hand-carved puppets.

Currently Will works as a painter and filmmaker in Bozeman, Montana and showcased 26 paintings in June 2006 under the title, "Maps for Matadors" also a one-man exhibition. He is also represented by galleries in Park City, Utah and Denver, Colorado.

Will's artwork has been widely acclaimed throughout North America and acquired by institutions such as The University of New Mexico to be a part of their permanent print collection and by the National Gallery of Mexico at Queretaro.

In addition to being a full-time painter, Will also recently completed an original screenplay for a major motion picture to be produced in 2006-07 in Cuba and maintains other works-in-progress.

Artist Statement

For simplicity's sake I have often referred to myself as a 'colorist and symbolist' painter. In recent years one gallery owner pegged me as a 'modern western fauvist.' My website titles the work as 'post-modern landscapes,' which more accurately would read, 'post-post.' The easiest way out would be to simply tag the work with the 'contemporary art' moniker and let it go.

There is a process of reduction in the original architecture of each painting; what to leave in, what to leave out. The landscape (which ultimately is more a thought-scape, as the components are re-arranged perhaps more in a symbol logic more appropriate to memory) is first separated into bandwidths, which upon first read simulate the recessive optical field, hinting at linear perspective. The compositions promote and then abandon this consistently, perhaps as a design feature (or conceit.) Since so much of the composition is intuitively placed, the compositions evolve not from formal design, but an organic process of continually balancing the painting. Every new element sends it into a new imbalance, ironically as an attempt to balance it from the last injection of content. The initial bands of color, done in Venetian plaster, work both as independent, isolated friezes having their own set of symbols (often animals) which interrelate with each other, and simultaneously operate as foreground, middle ground, and background registers to imply depth of field in the painting as a whole.

The content is usually geographically representational and is often made so with the inclusion of a map, or at least stamped text indicating 'legend' items from a map, i.e. 'rio,' 'california,' 'mexico,' etc. Recurring icons are windmills, trains, and region-specific flora and fauna, depending on the setting of the painting.

Other indicators of place are obvious pictures from a particular locale; African animals, Mexican banditos, or American bison. The first visual impression locates the painting in geographical terms; Art Deco adobe, hearts and submarines, Brazillian flamingos or matadors, and more traditionally, animals you're likely to see in Yellowstone; fox and bison amidst intimations of ranches and farms.

Recent works (at first blush,) are largely pictographs of the western American landscape. The reasons for this are fairly obvious; I live in southwestern Montana, a veritable cornucopia in subject matter, also my father painted animals in the landscape before me, as did his father before him. I see no reason not to paint this, and certainly there is an audience. Having said that, I hope that there is sufficient variance in the way that I serve up America as compared to others, that the wayin which I paint and present the subject matter is hierarchically more important than the blatant imagery itself.

To point: in consideration of 'Americana,' that which is essentially American to Americans and is symbolically pure, causes nostalgia for itself in the moment, and fulfills some common denominator in terms of Beauty, has been codified historically (largely in advertising) as a visual ideal. For example, all of the covers of the Saturday Evening Post, or ads which depict Santa Claus drinking Coca-Cola from a small ornate glass bottle.

Syrupy sweet Americana, acceptable to the masses and reason for celebration, ad-nauseum. One of the picture problems I pose, and which I think must be common to landscape painters and western American painters specifically is to properly reduce the content so as to avoid corny kitschy awfulness, and to instead inject meaning, beauty, mystery, honesty, and truth. (What can be done with the American landscape that is not trite, overdone?)

In my case it is a fine line, and one I pay close attention to. The pictorial representation of animals, (and other objects - buildings, cars, whatever,) are often stuck to the picture plane without other referent, and in illogical fashion. (Non-linear chronology, altered space-time. A quote from Einstein reads, 'The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once.') In terms of size, the animals don't always get smaller as they recede in space, also they often are not situated on anything that could be considered terra firma, and the way in which they are set against different colored backgrounds push them forward from the picture plane, so that they operate separate from the created environment. The number of animals which appear are too many, and wouldn't naturally conglomerate; this implies that what is shown is either a time-lapse representation, or a storybook illustration in which all of the characters in the narrative are depicted on the 'cover.' Either way, the impossibility of the situation lend to the idea that what is shown must be operating on at least one other level, and can be interpreted so that 'this landscape' is really, 'this is not a landscape.'

To follow this tangent, and to further deconstruct, the form objects (animals, buildings, trains) can be removed, leaving only color, and the handling of it, and other gestural marks, the primal and most fundamental registration between the artist and the painting. The ensuing argument is that the purpose of the entire endeavor are these (the impulsive marks,) and that the other images, (animals, etc.) laid on top, are really vehicles to facilitate the more primary gestures. (In other words, the proper vehicle to transfer the primary information from the mind of the mark-maker to the witness.) One way to think about it is that there are two paintings: an underlying abstract, and a formal representational painting on top.

It must be assumed that everything presented is intentional. If not, then it could be presumed that I as the artist don't have the ability to make images that would be necessary to convey my intent or meaning. If the images I make are made because this is the limit of my ability, then what is being transferred is simply meaning by default, and no assumptions can be made beyond that. Assuming I can make whatever image I want to, then my choice of symbols, in this case animal imagery and landscape are what I consider proper to convey ultimate meaning. Again I will say that it is the way that I make these images that is important. In a Picasso cubist painting, the cubism and the handling of materials outweighs the subject matter. He is saying, 'this is one of the ways that I think' which is of far more importance than 'this is what I'm thinking about,' i.e. a guitar, a woman's face, a vase of flowers.

When I paint a fox, I am not simply painting a fox. There are straight lines and knife marks and legs without paws. While I could fashion an academically and anatomically 'perfect' fox, glazed in old master's style in Italian chiaroscuro, in my opinion most of the meaning of the image would be lost, and would avail no personal significance from me whatsoever. The way that these clues as to my inner being manifest are largely impulsive, intuitive beats of color or line, much to me like improvisational music, or stream-of-consciousness writing; unedited, unplanned. Having studied the formal pillars of design and color and composition, ultimately it is the automatic process of problem creation and then solving, toward balance and final resolve, which keeps the act of painting compelling and worth repeating.

In terms of process, the use of Venetian plaster is the result of testing and trying myriad materials for ground. Immediately prior to this personal discovery, I had developed a recipe for concrete panels that were organic and yet formal, which resembled stone and marble, but were obviously a man-made surface. I literally had been looking for fifteen years, as I have an automatic bristling when it comes to canvas. For years I attached thick Arches watercolor paper to canvas, but even that was only a compromise. The plaster is workable in several directions, which can be made to look like flat stone or cracking paint, and can be colored in almost any shade or tint. On many works I add patches of dyed glycerin, essentially the basis for candles and soap. It is applied in a hot liquid state, poured into foam core cut-outs as molds. The surface of the paintings is of paramount importance, and moves in the direction of a three-dimensional bas-relief.

The works are hand-painted, and also made with use of templates, much the same as a multi-layered block print. I use Photoshop to separate out the individual color layers in a photograph, and those separate layers are printed on card stock, and then cut out. I lay them in with a broad-knife in oil - producing an image much like a posterized screenprint. The works utilize photography, printmaking, and painting, and although the final works are referred to as paintings, the various processes are satisfying in all three areas, and make a more complex final image, providing layered information and texture.

I use the highest quality materials available, in hopes that the works will survive for generations. The panels I use are hand-made to withstand warping or degrading, and I use high quality oils and pigments. After the paintings are made, I sometimes stain them with olive oil and crushed Italian dry pigment. They are then coated with ultra-hard, non-yellowing marine urethane, and finally with a mixture of Damar varnish and beeswax, which is heated and applied by hand, and buffed to just above matte (a subtle shine.)


University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 1991-1995
Agnes Martin, Taos, NM
Wes Mills, Taos, NM
Ron Cooper, Taos, NM
R.C. Gorman, Taos, NM

National Gallery of Mexico, Queretaro, , Mexico
University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Exhibition Record (Galleries and Art Shows):
2008, Visions West Gallery, Denver, CO, Two-Man Show
2008, Meyer Gallery, Park City, UT, Two-Man Show
2007, Visions West Gallery, Livingston, MT, Solo Exhibition
2006, Artifacts Gallery, Bozeman, MT, Solo Exhibition
2004, Skeleton Art Gallery, Santa Fe, NM, Solo Exhibition
2000, Santa Fe Armory, Santa Fe, NM
1995, Harwood Museum and Gallery, Taos, NM
1995, Stables Art Gallery, Taos, NM
1995, Stables Art Gallery, Taos, NM, People's Choice Award
1994, Tazza, Taos, NM, Solo Exhibition
1994, University of New Mexico, Taos, NM
1993, Salon Evening Shade, Taos, NM
1993, University of New Mexico, Taos, NM
1993, Stables Art Gallery, Taos, NM, Best of Show Award
1993, ASA Gallery, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM
1993, John Summers Gallery, Albuquerque, NM, Solo Exhibition
1991, Magpie Gallery, Taos, NM, Solo Exhibition
1991, Taos Open, Taos, NM

Magazine and Newspaper References:

2008, Buffalo Nickel 2008 catalogue for summer shows. Forward by Ben Mitchell.
2007, At Home Magazine, In the Studio: Full of Possibilities
2006, Community Crossroads, Will Pope: Breaking the Mold on the Western Landscape

2008, Ben Mitchell Buffalo Nickel, 35 pages (color), Exhibition Catalog
2006, Will Pope Maps for Matadors, 35 pages (color), Exhibition Catalog
2004, Will Pope A Horse Called Jupiter, 155 pages (color)