SHERIDAN — An exhibit opening at the Edward A. Whitney Gallery this week explores contemporary landscapes that highlight the friction between human development and unyielding natural forces.
Wyoming-based artist Patrick Kikut will open his exhibition “Square States,” which consists of large-format oil paintings of contemporary western landscapes, this week and display it through Jan. 20.
Kikut’s paintings depict what he calls “tidal zones” between nature and human culture — landscapes that illustrate the tension between those two forces.
Nature, however, inevitably prevails; the human structures Kikut paints are abandoned and eroded by weather, slowly being overtaken by wilderness. And though humans have long since departed the landscapes, Kikut said the deteriorating structures act as echoes of humans striving on those sites.
“I’ve often described my landscape paintings as being empty stage sets where the actors have left,” Kikut said. “If you imagine walking into a theatre after everybody had left and you just had the stage where all the props were strewn about, you would have some information there about what the action might have been that resulted in what you are looking at.”
Kikut travels extensively to scout out these locations, exploring open highways through a wide swath of the West that stretches between Great Falls, Montana, to the north, Reno, Nevada, in the west, Marfa, Texas, in the south and Dodge City, Kansas, in the east. He said he does not have a method for scouting landscapes and will sometimes stumble across a compelling scene en route to a destination and will sometimes explore highways for the sole purpose of seeking out inspiration. Typically, though, he said he tends toward the margins when scouting out locations.
“When I go out I often find myself looking on the outskirts of town, maybe behind a truck stop parking or the outskirts of a reservation,” Kikut said.
Once he’s found a scene that captures his imagination, Kikut said he sketches the landscape and will expand that sketch into an oil painting when he returns to his studio.
“It takes a big process, from travel, to making that drawing, to editing those drawings and then to producing those paintings,” Kikut said.
The pieces that will be on display in the “Square States” exhibit were mostly painted in 2017 and Kikut said he selected the works featured with the Whitney Gallery in mind.
“I’d visited the space and I knew kind of the shapes each painting has within them and how those shapes would interact with the other shapes,” Kikut said. “Also color was another thing that came into mind; I guess just knowing the dimensions of the work and the dimensions of the gallery I could just close my eyes and imagine how they would lay out.”
Kikut’s exhibit will close a year in which the Whitney Center has hosted a number of exhibits that featured artists presenting unique takes on American landscapes, including photographer Chuck Hemard’s exhibit “The Pines” and Carsten Meier’s installation “Zirkel.” Whitney Center for the Arts director Erin Hanke said the landscape theme was unintentional, but fitting for Sheridan.
“I have been attracted to artists who can express the idea of place,” Hanke said. “What do we mean by a place? How does a place affect us for any particular amount of time? While artists all over the world approach this question of the meaning and power of space, but I think it is especially of interest here in Sheridan. Sheridan itself is such a unique place and has inspired artists for centuries.”
The exhibit’s opening Thursday, Nov. 15, will be accompanied by an artist talk with Kikut at 4 p.m., followed by a reception immediately after.