Gordon McConnell | Biography

Back to Gordon McConnell | Work

Media Description: paintings


Creating paintings inspired by western movies and by Remington and Russell, he is a native of the West, having been born and raised in rural Colorado. He studied art at Baylor University in Waco, Texas; at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, and at the University of Colorado, Boulder where he earned a Master's Degree in 1979.

For two decades he worked as curator at the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, Montana, before leaving in 1999 to begin work as a full-time painter and independent curator.

His work is in the collections of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming; the Art Museum of Missoula; and the Yellowstone Art Museum; the Federal Reserve Bank in Helena, Montana; and the Deaconness Medical Center in Billings, Montana.

Artist Statement

For a long time, the images in my paintings have been identifiably, even iconically, western-stagecoaches and false-front main streets, poker games and gun battles, cowboys, Indians, cavalry troopers and horses, all suspended in a choreographed matrix of dancing paint. Distinct from the traditional western genre-which inventories the minutia of cowboy gear or tells sentimental stories of rangeland romance-my paintings embody something more elemental and timeless, animated and abstract. The images tend to be stark, graphic, and charged with painterly energy. Though they are derived from fugitive television images, the paintings, as paintings, are still, silent and non-ephemeral. They register the technological transfer of primal shadows onto the electroluminescent screens of our collective consciousness, a shimmering blur of perception and memory transposed in an interchange of gesture and description, painted marks simultaneously arresting and embodying movement. I've always liked what a painter friend, Marc Vischer, wrote in 1988 about an early group of my western paintings. Now, I'm fourteen years closer to actualizing my vision for this work, and his astute remarks seem more pertinent today than they did then. He wrote in part, "For McConnell, a searing light emanates from a new desert: that of television. And from that most desolate backdrop, he salvages fragments from a movie world that spoke of honor in a land that was lawless. In a romantic sense, McConnell's works are a visual seance. Figures, like specters distorted through intense heat waves, are captured from their eternity of 24 frames a second. Their shapes and shadows are brought back into a radically different world and given substance and texture. It is an impossible attempt to freeze them, to arrest the present's ceaseless molestation of the past, to close off the continuum. Sometimes this is done darkly and thickly as an emphatic gesture of permanence. In other works a few light strokes quickly applied suggest the ephemeral nature of film and perhaps the fleeting nature of our own lives."

I have been examining new imagery in my paintings, drawing subjects from Mexican graphic novelas, modern women and men of romance and mystery from the mid-20th century, motorcycles and airplanes. The end titles of movies, stated in several languages, have inspired me to begin a new series of cross-media translations in both acrylic and watercolor. My paintings have long begun where the movies have left off. The elements of water and light co-mingle in some pieces from this series and in others which take the viewpoint of a swimmer, watching other swimmers from the wet side of this aqueous membrane, looking up toward the light.

My arrival in Montana in 1982 brought me into intimate contact with some of the most storied places of the historic West and also gave me the opportunity to study the paintings of two of the most influential codifiers of western imagery, Frederic Remington and Charlie Russell. I became aware of how decisive an effect their work, and the work of other western illustrators, had on the formulations of filmmakers like John Ford, William Wyler, and Howard Hawks. At the same time, I recognized how distinctly different the formalized imagery of western films, in its temporal, technological, and theatrical mediation, is from any painting.


Born: 1950, La Junta, Colorado


1979 University of Colorado, Boulder, Master of Arts in Art History
1973 California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, post-graduate study, MFA program
1972 Baylor University, Waco, Texas, Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art, cum laude, Honors Program graduate "With Distinction," Co-recipient Outstanding Art Student Award


2003 Studio Residency, Ucross Foundation, Clearmont, Wyoming and 2000, 2001
1992 Individual Artist Fellowship, Montana Arts Council

Public Collections

Art Museum of Missoula, Missoula, Montana
Kriendler Gallery of Contemporary Western Art, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming
Nicolaysen Art Museum, Casper, Wyoming
Yellowstone Art Museum, Billings, Montana

Corporate Collections

Central Montana Surgical Hospital, Great Falls, Montana
Billings Clinic, Billings, Montana
DCI Group, Washington, D.C.
First Interstate Bank, Billings, Montana
Federal Reserve Bank, Helena, Montana
Federal Reserve Bank, Saint Paul, Minnesota
Switchback Ranch, LLC, Cody, Wyoming
Walkers American Grill and Tapas Bar, Billings, Montana

Selected Individual Exhibitions

2012 Wild Riders, Charles M. Bair Family Museum, Martinsdale, Montana (opening July 20) Staged Relics, Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art, Great Falls, Montana
2010 Spaghetti Western/Gordon McConnell Paintings, EVOKE Contemporary, Santa Fe, New Mexico
2009 The Kiva Presents: Gordon McConnell, Koshare Indian Museum, La Junta, Colorado Good Earth Market, Billings, Montana
2008 Ucross Foundation Art Gallery, Clearmont, Wyoming
2005 Gordon McConnell: Paintings, Yellowstone Art Museum, Northwest Projects Gallery (brochure)
2004 g2 Gallery, Scottsdale, Arizona
Botanica Fine Arts, Bozeman, Montana, and 2001, 1998
2003 The Kiva Presents: Gordon McConnell, Koshare Indian Museum, La Junta, Colorado
2001 Westering: Watercolors by Gordon McConnell, The Dana Gallery, Missoula, Montana
2000 West of the Screen: Small Paintings by Gordon McConnell, Toucan Gallery, Billings, Montana
Gordon McConnell, Peterson Hall Gallery, Scottsdale, Arizona
1999 Phantom Empire: The West of the Western, Paintings by Gordon McConnell, Nicolaysen Art Museum, Casper, Wyoming

Selected Joint Exhibitions

2010 Teresa Elliott + Gordon McConnell / two contemporary views of the west, EVOKE Contemporary, Santa Fe, New Mexico
2008 Joint Exhibition with Duke Beardsley, Mountain Trails Gallery, Jackson, Wyoming
Joint Exhibition with Randy Horst, Jailhouse Gallery, Hardin, Montana
2007 Joint Exhibition with Thomas Carlson, g2 Gallery, Scottsdale, Arizona
2003 Joint Exhibition with Bale Creek Allen, Sala Diaz, San Antonio, Texas
2001 Out West-Adam Jahiel, Photographs; Gordon McConnell, Paintings, Ucross Foundation Art Gallery, Clearmont, Wyoming (catalog)
[B]old New West-Charles Ringer and Gordon McConnell, Toucan Gallery, Billings, Montana

Selected Group Exhibitions

2012 Wings of Man: The Art of the Horse, Holter Museum of Art, Helena, Montana
2012 Best of the West featuring Gordon McConnell Paintings, Broschofsky Galleries, Ketchum, Idaho
2011 Icons of the West, Dana Gallery, Missoula, Montana
Masters in Miniature Invitational Show, Trailside Galleries, Jackson, Wyoming
2010 MIXX IV, Babcock Theater, Billings, Montana
10th Anniversary Show, TURMAN LARISON contemporary, Helena, Montana
2009 Seven Perspectives, Stremmel Gallery, Reno, Nevada
Whitney Gallery of Western Art, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming
Bighorn Galleries, Cody, Wyoming
2009 Montana Triennial, Missoula Art Museum, Missoula, Montana
2008 Visions West Gallery, Denver, Colorado
Western Art Roundup, Custer County Art and Heritage Center, Miles City, Montana (also 2007)
MIXX III, Ryniker Gallery, Rocky Mountain College, Billings, Montana
2007 Leading the West, Mountain Trails Gallery, Jackson, Wyoming
Introductions II, Stremmel Gallery, Reno, Nevada
Big Names, Small Works, Toucan Gallery, Billings, Montana
Range of Expression II: A Montana Invitational, Ucross Foundation, Clearmont, Wyoming (catalog)
The Wild Bunch, The Arts Center, St. Petersburg, Florida (catalog)
Out West: The Great American Landscape, Meridian International Center, Washington, D.C. (catalog). Exhibition traveling to the National Art Gallery, Beijing, and other museums in the People's Republic of China through 2007.
MIXX, Grafix Studio, Billings, Montana
MIXX II, Grafix Studio, Billings, Montana
Looking West, Belger Arts Center, Kansas City, Missouri
2004 American Visions: The Contemporary West, Mountain Trails Gallery, Jackson, Wyoming
2003 Out of the Bullpen: Baseball in Contemporary Art, Art Museum of Missoula, Missoula, Montana (catalog)
2002 Inaugural Exhibit, National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, Fort Worth (catalog)
Series, Gallery of Contemporary Art, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and University of New Hampshire, Durham (catalog)
New Art of the West 8, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indianapolis, Indiana (catalog) and 1992
Drawn 2, Barry Whistler Gallery, Dallas, Texas, December-January 2003
2000 The Non-romantic West: Bill Stockton, Patrick Zentz and Gordon McConnell, Beall Park Art Center, Bozeman, Montana
Contemporary Montana Painters, Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman
1999 Art Equinox 1999: A Regional Survey of Contemporary Art, Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art, Great Falls, Montana (catalog) and 1991, 1992
1995 The Contemporary West, Big Horn Galleries, Carmel, California (catalog)
1992 Crazy About Cowboys, Artworks Gallery, Seattle, Washington
Way Out West: Gordon McConnell, Walter Piehl, Larry Pirnie, Bob Seabeck, Big Horn Gallery, Cody, Wyoming
1991 Electrum XX, National Juried Exhibition, Holter Museum of Art, Helena, Montana, Best of Show Award, and 1988, Juror's Award

Selected Art Auctions

2006 Yellowstone Art Museum 38th Annual Art Auction, Billings, Montana (catalog) and 2000-2004, 1999 (work purchased for the museum)
Buffalo Bill Art Show, Buffalo Bill Historical Center and Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, Cody, Wyoming (catalog) and 1993-2005
2004 32nd Annual Benefit Art Auction, Art Museum of Missoula, Missoula, Montana, and 1991, 1999-2001, 2003
2003 Annual Benefit, C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, Montana (catalog) and 1992-2002
2002 Postcards from the Wild West, Nicolaysen Art Museum, Casper, Wyoming, and 2001 (work acquired by museum)
the HORSE of course! community exhibit and benefit auction for Northern Pacific Railway passenger station renovation, Billings, Montana (catalog)

Selected Publications
In addition to exhibition catalogs cited above.

Kristen Rickels Prinzing, McConnell paints art to think about, The Billings Outpost, June 9, 2005, pages 21, 32
Jim Larson, Exhibitions blend to tell Western story, The Billings Outpost, April 14, 2005, pages 21, 26
Jaci Webb, Tuning into Western icons: McConnell's horses, cowboys inspired from both first-hand and media perspectives, The Billings Gazette, March 25, 2005, page 5D
Elizabeth Guheen, Straight Shooting: The Paintings of Gordon McConnell, Gordon McConnell Paintings, Yellowstone Art Museum, 2005, six page brochure
Felice Koenig, San Antonio Update, Glasstire.com, June 16, 2003
'Things Have Changed' charts new artistic territory, The Billings Gazette, December 20, 2002, page 19-D
Out West: Adam Jahiel, Photographs; Gordon McConnell, Paintings, Ucross Foundation Art Gallery, 2001, sixteen page catalog
New American Paintings, Number 24, November 1999, Volume 4, Number 5, cover illustration and pages 3, 110-113
Gary Svee, State transcends labels, The Billings Gazette, April 14, 1996, page11C
Westerns provide artist's inspiration, The Billings Gazette, September 23, 1994, page 7D
Christene C. Meyers, Westerns inspire modern show, The Billings Gazette, January 15, 1993, page 3D
Jet Holoubek, Seeing Ourselves, Montana Artpaper, Fall 1988, pages 2-3
Marc Vischer, Western movies inspire new paintings, The Billings Gazette, February 5, 1988, page 3-D