SHERIDAN — It all started a year ago when six artists, writers and photographers were driving down the Bighorn Mountains after a ski trip. They spoke together of the cold, beastly landscape surrounding them and the literal beasts — the cows, dogs and other animals — seen and loved daily on the Wyoming plains and in their hometowns.
As the road wound down the mountain, their conversation wound into the metaphorical, to the beast within. That beast was different for each of them, sometimes good, sometimes bad and sometimes both. It was fear, doubt, a physical illness. It was the need to create and the joyous exhale when a new work had finally forced its way out and onto paper, film or computer screen.
The artists and writers were in the midst of a month-long residency at Jentel and had formed a cohesive group. This idea of “The Beast” took root in their minds, germinating and growing until it was decided they would return to Sheridan to install a collaborative exhibit in the land that birthed the idea.
“The Beast” is a conversation between stories, photographs and artwork created by five Jentel artists that captures connotations of the beasts within, without, around.
Lucy Jane Bledsoe
Fiction writer from Berkley, Calif.
Bledsoe credits the selection process at Jentel that grouped these artists together for the final product now installed at the Sagebrush Community Art Center.
She said the idea of “The Beast” resonated with each of them, so they spent the last year Skyping once per month about the show while creating their own renditions of beasts. It is her hope that the various pieces will speak to each other much as the artists did in the car after the ski trip.
As a writer, Bledsoe wrote 26 mini stories to capture her ideas about the beasts in her life.
“I think of the beast — we talked about is the beast positive, is it negative — and I think it’s both. All good artists have a tremendous amount of self doubt and worry and fear about their work, but that’s simultaneous with the inspiration and the joy and discovery of creation,” Bledsoe said.
Digital photographer from Santa Cruz, Calif.
Hillyard took a literal approach to “The Beast” after she found herself captivated by the beasts of the animal world and the way they interacted with their surroundings and with her.
“I love the cows. You’d walk up the road, and the cows would come running over to the fence and stare at you, like these two,” Hillyard says, pointing to an image of cows with their heads draped over a fence.
Hillyard said she used a new process for the show called a digital transfer in which she printed on large sheets of film, dipped them in an alcohol bath, laid them on top of large sheet of Japanese rice paper, rolled them out and lifted off the film to reveal the image beneath, giving it an aged, worn look.
Photographer from Greenough, Mont.
Stone has photographed and done drawings all her life. For “The Beast” she combined her biology background with her photography by shooting images of mammal skulls, both predator and prey, and combining the images into layered montages.
She shot the skulls on top of a lightbox to give them an iridescent feel.
“I’m interested in the idea of the mythological beast, so instead of just a grizzly bear skull, it’s the idea of something else, like what would a mythical beast or a beast within look like in terms of its bones,” Stone said.
Stone said she tried to capture her own internal beasts as well.
Printmaker from Denver, Colo.
As a landscape artist, Chauvin chose to examine how the land can be a beast, as well as the metaphorical aspect of walking pathways through the beast within.
While at Jentel, Chauvin explored rock formations and how they are used to alter the landscape.
“‘The Beast’ project sprung out of that because of some of the fires that happened in Colorado this summer. My interpretations started with how the environment itself can be a beast and how we’re at its mercy whether we like to think so or not,” Chauvin said.
Chauvin explored the metaphorical beast, too, with her depictions of mazes and pathways and how walking through landscapes helps her walk through the beasts within and sort out her thoughts.
Chauvin also said “The Beast” show has given her permission to pursue a form of artwork she loves that she often feels is not “academic” enough for her role as an art instructor at a university: pencil drawings.
Abstract artist from Bowling Green, Ky.
Arnold explored several aspects of “The Beast” with her abstract drawings that draw on both the macro level of geography and the micro level of biology and neurology. She said she was awed by the physical geography at Jentel and how it was more craggy and foreboding than her home landscapes in Kentucky.
“It felt very powerful both in a positive and in a scary way. I feel like ‘The Beast’ as positive or negative in many ways is an actor in the same game that we play within,” Arnold said.
Arnold said she’s been focusing on the brain and how it changes and forms and degrades, and how that effects memory. She tied that in with how the landscape in Wyoming is younger and seems to have more memory in its rugged lines, how it looks bare like bones.
“How do you have something so organic like plants or humans or beasts living in partnership with a geography that, in some senses, can be so stark and forbidding?” Arnold said.
Arnold translated that stark landscape into her own dealings with the process of aging and how the brain is degrading but should maybe be seen as merely shifting like the landscape, becoming no less beautiful in the process.
“The ideas of aging are very scary, and I think in many ways the beast of aging has been painted negatively, and we see aging as a loss. We don’t see it as a shift or a change,” Arnold said.
See the show
When: Artists reception from 5 to 7 p.m. tonight. Exhibit on display through Feb. 28.
Where: Sagebrush Community Art Center, 201 E. Fifth St. in the old train depot
Info: 674-1970 or www.artinsheridan.com