"The West's Best"

by Peter MacMillan Booth






A new and growing school of Western Art takes a new perspective of the West using a range of styles -- from impressionistic to realistic, from abstract to pop -- but still sharing a common characteristic, a fascination with everything Western.

Like their counterparts earlier in the twentieth century, artists trained in techniques other than the realistic style of the Western Storytellers are beginning to interpret the West from a new perspective. Much of this "New West" art should be viewed in contrast to what we more traditionally think of as "Old West" art. Historically, Old West artists followed a realistic and narrative style that shows a high level of craftsmanship and authenticity. New West art,meanwhile, presents an updated vision of the West. They are not rejecting Western imagery, but rather these artists sincerely embrace Western icons -- such as cowboys, cowgirls, Indians, landscapes, Hispanics, and desert scenes -- with a new and fresh perspective that reflects a more modern, diversified, and urban West. This new approach will at times times "massage, twist, tweak, and sometimes shatter" traditional concepts.The collective message of the New West artist is that "the West holds many people, much beauty, [and] many paths." They deconstruct the whole picture to focus on those specific images. In so doing, they propose new ways of looking at familiar Western subjects.


Key Artists

Robert Daughters


Daughters represents the senior artist taking a fresh look at the West using different techniques other than realism. This resident of Tucson and New Mexico had a very successful and award-winning career in advertising. One of his most famous creations was the logo that still emblazons Lee jeans. His impressionistic style has inspired people to call him the Vincent Van Gogh of Western art. He focuses heavily on natural scenes in the West. He emphasizes his subject with the strong use of colors, changes in brush strokes, and dark outlines. This is exemplified especially in Sanctuario de Chimayo with its use of long brush strokes, black outlining, and a dark backdrop.


Gary Ernest Smith

Smith's art is a prime example of an artist focusing on the Western icon instead of the story surrounding the image. The Californian portrays a faceless cowboy on a background of warm bright colors. Smith likes to freeze the people he paints in a moment in time to be studied and observed by the viewers who are emotionally drawn into the soul of the subject by the use of color and bold forms. This powerful work of art is a great addition to the DCWM collection as it reflects the growing artistic trend of exploring Western icons in today's increasingly urban world.


Bill Schenck

Another leader in the New West art is the New Mexican artist, Bill Schenck. He mixes his photorealism with pop art in a style that gives his work a "paint-by-numbers" look, a technique he developed while working for Andy Warhol. Schenck was also influenced heavily by that medium which created a lot of the Western images we know today -- the Western movies. The DCWM painting One Tall Cowboy plays on the imagery of a larger than life cowboy throwlng his shadow across the land.


Anne Coe & John Nieto

Two other important New West artists include Arizonans Anne Coe and John Nieto. Coe does strong political pieces focusing heavily on human interaction in the desert landscape. Nieto, meanwhile, uses strong colors to highlight his native themes. He has been chosen by the Salt Lake Winter Olympic Committee to produce the event's official artwork.

Dr. Peter MacMillan Booth

May 2002


About the Author

Peter MacMillan Booth completed his doctorate at Purdue University and since then has pursued his interest in American Southwest history as a writer, museum professional at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, and history instructor for Rio Salado College.


return to page 1 of "The West's Best"; Gallery Guide by Peter MacMillan Booth


Resource Library Magazine editor's note:

The "The West's Best" Gallery Guide was rekeyed and reprinted with permission of Desert Caballeros Western Museum on May 20, 2002. Resource Library Magazine wishes to extend appreciation to Michael Ettema, Executive Director at Desert Caballeros Western Museum, for this help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text.

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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Resource Library Magazine

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. [rev. 5/9/12]

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