Contemporary Art of the Southwest

June 26, 2014 |

Contemporary Art of the SouthwestSchiffer Publishing recently issued a gorgeous compendium of Southwestern artists and their work, covering Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. While the artists included is just over 100—admittedly low for the depth and breadth concentrated in just Tucson alone—the author does say in her introduction that “The Southwest is rich with artists. I could have easily produced a book with 200 artists and still not have exhausted the talent to be found in this region.”

The artists author E. Ashley Rooney chose to showcase are certainly some of the most interesting around. Rooney says via email that her method of selecting creators and their work was by looking “for art that hit me—grabbed my attention. I also looked for different mediums and different styles. I looked at how they used, combined and transformed their materials into art that changed the way we perceived the world. I looked at where they had shown and to whom. I wanted to include not only the artists who are cutting-edge but those who are just coming on the public scene.”

The artwork is richly diverse and definitely captivating. Styles range from serene landscapes to whimsical sculptures, meticulous gourd work, to surreal folk art, exquisite jewelry, photography, symbols and archetypes, paintings and drawings and so much of everything else in between. What the artists have in common is an eye for beauty—be it conventional, unusual, or absurd; they collectively have appreciation for form, light, color, texture.

The book was a collaborative effort between Rooney and the artists. She gave them the space to pick the included pieces, along with a bio. All the artists tell a brief story about their environmental influences, present and past, and what draws them to create what they do where they do. It is nice to get that insight coupled with the imagery.

"Beautiful Day," by Cynthia Reid

“Beautiful Day,” by Cynthia Reid

Included Tucson area artists are: Catherine Eyde, Daniel Martin Diaz, Jeff Smith, Elizabeth Frank, Martin and Karen Klay, Joan Marron-LaRue, Neil Myers and Cynthia Reid.

Reid explains via email that fellow artist Neil Myers recommended her work to Rooney, and feels that the “book turned out well, and given the range and overall quality of its work, I am gratified by being included in it.” Reid’s contemporary impressionist style is vibrant with nature’s beauty. Of her work, she explains that she loves “Tucson’s wonderful, abundant sunshine and believe it influences my choice of intense, warm colors.”

Million Volt Curtain, Rincon Mountains, AZ Jeff Smith

Million Volt Curtain, Rincon Mountains
Jeff Smith

Photographer Jeff Smith, known for his breathtaking lightning photos, says via email that he was included in the book due to a recommendation from Elizabeth Frank. Smith’s spread includes five photos, that he culled from shows at “Etherton Gallery and their satellite gallery The Temple Gallery.” Of the book, he says, “The first thing I do when looking at a book like this with contemporary artists is to look at all the other artists’ work. I was pleased to see that the craft and caliber was complementary to all artists and that all was of a skillful level. Awesome! Then I looked at my two page spread and I thought, ‘Wow, what a nice way to lay it out,’ and the imagery was accurate to the tonal range of what my prints are! To get this right, takes a lot of effort and I appreciate it! When a book like this is done right and in this case it is, it can be a terrific tool and vehicle for others to access to your work.”

Folk artist/painter Catherine Eyde was also recommended by Elizabeth Frank. Her spread of six pieces is beautiful, work she says best represented her at the time. “I was happy to see it (the book) done so well, as were other Tucson artists I have spoken to,” she writes via email.

"Bird Boy and Treehouse," by Elizabeth Frank photo: Jeff Smith

“Bird Boy and Treehouse,” by Elizabeth Frank
photo: Jeff Smith

The book also gives a six-piece spread of Elizabeth Frank’s imaginative and whimsical wood sculptures. Frank says she feels honored to be included, though “I don’t think of my artwork as Southwestern exactly but I was born here. This region has inspired me since childhood. The work I make is influenced by this area, even the materials I use. Much of the wood I carve is gathered in the mountains of the Southwest.”

While the book is not comprehensive of all of the talent in region—such a book would be too heavy to lift— it is a great launching pad for exploration. Art shifts our perspective, takes mind out of time, seemingly suspends space-time to the present while gazing on the work, marveling at its creation and inspiration. Art books hopefully lead us to art galleries and making real world connections. And who knows what those can bring.

The hardcover book, 240 pages, includes a resource guide and a guide to the artists; along with a historical forward by Julie Sasse, Tucson Museum of Art’s Chief Curator. The publisher says it is available at Antigone Books and at Barnes and Nobles locations. More information is at

Category: Arts, Books, Business