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Envisioning the West: Wilson Hurley

Envisioning the WestPresented by the A. Keith Brodkin Contemporary Western Artists Project and Exhibit Curator Gerrianne Schaad.
Wilson Hurley, portraitWilson Hurley (1924-2008) was primarily a painter of western landscapes, but his portfolio also consisted of themes revolving around seascapes, aviation, and space. Furthermore, he was an author, a lecturer, an aviator, a banker, a lawyer, and a soldier. Everything he experienced added a new dimension to his painting and his life. He was distinguished as a Prix de West artist here at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, and his most notable works housed in the Museum are his five triptychs, Windows to the West, which include The New Mexico Suite(1992), The California Suite (1993), The Arizona Suite (1994), The Utah Suite(1995), and The Wyoming Suite (1996).Between 1991 and 1996 Hurley devised a proposal for five triptychs that would represent his vision of the western landscape. He then designed the interior of the Sam Noble Special Events Center at the Museum to display the paintings, engineered an easel large and strong enough on which to paint the 16′ x 16′ center panels and 10′ x 16′ end panels, monitored the delivery and hanging of the triptychs, and documented his process.
Photographs of Wilson Hurley, Rosalyn Hurley, and working on the triptychs
Wilson Hurley paintingWilson Hurley was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but grew up also in New Mexico and Virginia. He attended West Point and graduated in time to serve in the Pacific until the end of World War II. Upon returning to the United States he obtained a law degree from George Washington University and practiced law in Albuquerque while being a Sunday painter.While finding his true path as an artist, he co-founded the Citizen’s Bank and worked as an engineer at Sandia National Laboratories. At the age of 41 he started painting full-time. His early painting career was interrupted by the Viet Nam War, in which he served as an air controller.Hurley was largely a self-taught painter, though his training in geometry and engineering honed his eye. His years as a pilot made his landscapes unique, giving them an elevated viewpoint, a pilot’s perspective. As one critic said, “The sky is a very important part of his paintings. His knowledge of weather conditions makes his clouds seem real.”

Hurley’s paintings are dramatic. They capture a moment of heightened emotional contact with nature in which one element has a spectacular impact. Most often the drama is that of light hitting cloud or cliff: a luminous, fleeting last moment pause before twilight.

“I try to take my feelings – my perceptions – about the world and let you feel them, MAKE you feel them. If I can take the joy that I feel and impart it to you, then I have enriched your life and mine.” Wilson Hurley, Southwest Art, August 1985

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