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Essential West Magazine

Exploring Art, Literature, History, Museums, Lifestyle, and Cultures of the West

It amazes me that four letters - W-E-S-T - have the ability to evoke an instantaneous emotional image. Simply the act of reading these four letters has caused you to form a narrative of your west.

Can the West be distilled to its essence - a simple direction or region? I believe not; it is a deeper dive of consciousness. How America sees itself and the world defines us. Diverse cultures, strong individualism, open spaces, and raw natural beauty marinated in a roughshod history have formed this region’s unique milieu.

Our online magazine’s primary focus is to feature relevant topics in art, literature, history, museums, lifestyle, and culture; lofty goals for any publication. No single magazine can be the beckon of all things western; it is a diverse, evolving paradigm that cannot be pigeonholed. As the publisher, I hope to be the buffalo that grazes the wide expanse of western sensibility and relay to you a glimpse of how I perceive our Essential West.

- Mark Sublette

Featured Article

Remembering Ed Mell
Remembering Ed Mell

Contemporary Western art lost a giant last week with the passing of Ed Mell (1942–2024) on February 21 at age 81. No adjective, however, not giant or legend or icon or titan, seems adequate in explaining his influence on the genre. Ed Mell was contemporary Western art. His dramatic, angular, reduced landscapes – often featuring his native Arizona...

Artists take up the call...
Artists take up the call of protecting California's Giant Kelp forests

A warming planet means warming waters, too. With all the climate induced heat waves, forest fires and floods wreaking havoc on land – where we live – it’s easy to forget humanity’s carbon emissions are having an equally devastating impact on marine life. On coral reefs and fish, and off the California coast, Giant Kelp. The Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UC San Diego in La Jolla has enlisted a trio of local artist/scientists to reinforce this connection during the exhibition, “Hold Fast,” on view through Labor Day 2024. Guests weave through a labyrinth of cyanotype-printed giant...

A fresh breeze blows through...
A fresh breeze blows through Western Art: Malcolm Myers

“New old stock” describes old material in new condition. Vintage and pristine. Pickers use the phrase when finding classic car parts still in the original factory box or baseball card collectors come across unopened packs from 40 or 50 years ago. Jason Howard made an amazing discovery of new old stock western paintings sorting through Malcolm Myers’ (1917-2002) St. Paul, MN studio. Contained within, secured in a giant flat file under scores of papers, were more than 1500 watercolors depicting cowboys, Native Americans, buffalos, landscapes, horses, and teepees all produced with unique, loose brushwork in a remarkably fresh and vivid...

Jody Guralnick's lichen paintings bring...
Jody Guralnick's lichen paintings bring overlooked worlds into view

Western art specializes in the monumental: mountains, canyons, mesas. Jody Guralnick specializes in the microscopic: lichen, mold, mushrooms. Guralnick’s (b. 1953) interest in the small began as a child during summers on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. She loved nosing around the tidal pools where a careful observer can find a complete universe within a few square feet. From her home in Boston, Guralnick ventured to London for art school and then additional training at Pratt Institute in New York. She kept looking down, continually fascinated by what most never saw.   Jody Guralnick, ‘Inflorescence,’ 2023; oil on wood panels....

What is Western Art?
What is Western Art?

Cowboys, cattle, and cactus. Buffalo, bears, and bluebonnets. Mountains, valleys, and mesas. And horses. What is Western art? What is this thing it’s safe to say everyone reading this has a deep love and passion for? An exhibition of Laura Aguilar’s photography at the Phoenix Art Museum has me thinking more deeply about that question than ever before. Aguilar (1959–2018) is from Southern California. That’s western.   Laura Aguilar, Center #98, 2000-2001. Gelatin silver print. Copyright Laura Aguilar Trust of 2016. The pictures she’s best known for feature Southwestern landscapes. That’s western. Large format black and white images honoring the...

Contemporary Native Artists and the...
Contemporary Native Artists and the 'Cultural Corral'

I interviewed glass artist Preston Singletary (b. 1963; Tlingit) last month about an exhibition of his work detailing the Raven story on view now at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. During our conversation, he shared an expression with me I’d not heard previously: “Cultural Corral.” That term was coined by Hopi glass artist Ramson Lomathowama (b. 1953), a friend of Singletary’s. “It's a colonial point of view where people would like to keep the Native culture frozen in time,” Singletary said. “We should be allowed to evolve and expand our worldview, even in the context of our culture, and...

Catching up with Shonto Begay
Catching up with Shonto Begay

What a joy hearing Shonto Begay (b. 1954; Diné) on Mark Sublette’s “Art Dealer Diaries” podcast. Again. Begay joined Sublette for Episode 276 released January 3, 2024, and first appeared on the show way back on Episode 2 in May of 2018. I forget where I originally came across Begay’s work, but by the time I first saw one of his paintings in person at the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art in St. Petersburg, Florida in 2018, I was familiar with him. I was instantly attracted to his “mark making.” That’s the fancy art world term for the...

8 Essential Western paintings at...
8 Essential Western paintings at New Mexico Museum of Art

What could be more “essentially Western” than visiting the New Mexico Museum of Art’s Santa Fe Plaza location to enjoy its collection of Southwestern art? Opened in 1917 as the first building in the state dedicated to art, the museum has maintained its mission of collecting and displaying contemporary artwork relevant to New Mexico for more than century. I visited in December of 2023 and would like to share the paintings I found most “essentially West.” All of these artworks are in the museum’s permanent collection, but depending on when you visit, all may not be on view.   Awakening,...

Another big year for Native...
Another big year for Native art in New York begins at Phillips Auction House

2023 was an unprecedented year for the representation of Native American artists in New York. Native artists occupied the city’s most prestigious spaces from Juane Quick-to-See Smith (Confederated Salish/Kootenai tribes) at the Whitney Museum of American Art to Pueblo Pottery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee) at the New-York Historical Society. This deep, wide, and undeniable presence across the world’s cultural capital in 2023 signaled that, for the first time, Native American art entered the contemporary art mainstream. That momentum doesn’t appear to be slowing down for 2024.   HR, George Morrison, Summer Spectrum II, 1958....

The Canyon Road Farolito Walk:...
The Canyon Road Farolito Walk: Santa Fe's iconic Christmas Eve tradition

I checked another item off my “Essential West” bucket list attending the Canyon Road Farolito Walk in Santa Fe on Christmas Eve. Each year, tens of thousands of residents and tourists stroll the famed half-mile lined with art galleries to experience a one night, holiday, luminary event unlike any other. But don’t use that word here. In northern New Mexico, small paper bags weighted down with sand in the bottom and a candle placed inside are called “farolitos” – borrowing from the Spanish, meaning “little lanterns.” The rest of the world, even southern New Mexico, may consider them “luminaria,” but...