Stephen Datz retraces artistic footsteps in new exhibition "New Perspectives: The Landscapes of Stephen Datz
By Chadd Scott
Stephen Datz 'Coffee with the Gossips' |30" x 60" | Oil
Stephen Datz has been here before.
Echo Park inside Dinosaur National Monument. Colorado National Monument and the Book Cliffs area near the artist’s home in Grand Junction. Arches National Park. Escalante, Utah.
He previously saw these places through the eyes of a young man, figuring out his way in the world and what the artwork that would take him through it should look like.
In his latest exhibition of new paintings on view at Medicine Man Gallery beginning January 22, collectors will find Datz, now 25 years into a successful career and having just passed 50-years-old, returning to these familiar and dramatic landscapes.
“Once I decided (landscape painting) is what I'm going to do and really started exploring the Southwest, there's this impetus to always just be going and finding a new place – ‘I haven't seen that canyon yet; I gotta’ go find that,’” Datz explains of his younger artist’s mentality. “I started thinking I haven't been back to some of these places that were the genesis of the inspiration for my desert paintings for 10 years and sometimes more.”
The idea to retrace his artistic footsteps intrigued him.
Stephen Datz 'The Map is Not the Territory' |32" x 32" | Oil
“What would I see if I go back and visit these places again? Would I see them differently? Can I see them differently? Can I go back and discern things that maybe I missed the first time or see a larger pattern in something, or maybe an opportunity that I never noticed before?” Datz wondered.
After a quarter century painting countless unforgettable views from across the Southwest, how could he choose his favorites?
“I had to come to terms with the fact that I'll probably never be able to go back and paint all the things that I've found in all the places that I love to go, so for this show, I sort of picked the half dozen areas that really were formative for me as my very first forays into plein air painting in the desert,” Datz said. “These are old familiar places; do they still have surprises for me? Do they still have new ways to inspire me?”
Of course, the answer was “yes.”
“Going back, I was astonished. There was so much,” Datz remembers. “Around every corner, every 100 feet, there's a different view – look up there in the wall of the canyon, there's a little group of trees that's really nicely set off against the shadows – it was just astounding to me, almost overwhelming really, just how much I was seeing this time around.”
His eyes now older, perhaps not as sharp, but his vision more seasoned.
“It felt like I'm seeing this place for the first time over again because so much more is being revealed,” Datz said. “I think going to these places as a young artist just starting out, it's like your eye really hasn't been trained, you don't have the experience of looking at things day in and day out.”
Stephen Datz 'Altitude Adjustment' |14" x 36" | Oil
Seeing the world through the eyes of an artist
A cursory overview of Datz’ figureless landscapes from throughout his career instantly reveals his interest in geometry. Geometric form. Shapes. His desert paintings possess an unusual angular, linear construction.
This influence goes back to his college days at Colorado State University. Datz wanted to be an artist, his parents demanded he choose a more practical profession. Graphic design was the compromise and Datz would earn a BFA in 1992.
“I spent a lot of time – every day – especially for the final two years where I was not only doing coursework, but I was doing an internship… all thinking about designs,” Datz recalls. “I'd have projects, logo designs, layouts and there's a pervasiveness of geometry in that kind of work. Typically, logos are shape oriented. The other part of it is, that's how my brain works.”
Everyone sees the world differently, Datz sees “shapes and patterns and structure.”
He also sees rock.
Rock formations, geology, rocky mountainsides and outcroppings. These are the focal points of his paintings.
“I find that the rocks – I'm very simpatico with them because they have their own geometry and structure,” Datz said. “I resonate on that level.”
On a more practical level, he lives among the rocks.
“It’s inescapable. I look out my window, I see red rock country, geometries, different forms, and I hardly can go anywhere around here without seeing that stuff,” Datz explains. “It's like the skeleton of the earth laid bare. You can see the structure. It's very obvious. There are other places in the country where that structure is still there, it's just that there's so much greenery on top that it's very muted and very soft.”
Medicine Man Gallery has represented Stephen Datz since 2011. The artist joined Medicine Man Gallery owner Mark Sublette on Sublette’s “Art Dealer Diaries” podcast in January of 2020.