David Rathman and the Wild West Reimagined
David Rathman’s recent watercolor exhibit “Hope I’m Never That Wrong Again” at Mark Moore Gallery featured fading sepia-toned watercolor cowboys gallivanting around a fading wild west like ghosts…It was filled with images reminiscent of Lonesome Dove that would have made Larry McMurtry proud.
David Rathman | There Never Was Any Good Old Days, 2013, Ink and watercolor on paper, 28 x 42 inches. Image courtesy of Mark Moore Gallery.
At times these cowboys appeared to be riding out toward the viewers and at others, they looked to be fading into the background. Regardless, they welcome us into a turbulent past… Yet Rathman’s combination of monotone colors, delicate washes, and humorous titles suggest a rebirth and reimagining of the violent days of yore, in the form of bittersweet and gritty nostalgia. - Ellen Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor
David Rathman | installation view of grid of 15 portraits at Mark Moore Gallery. Image courtesy of Mark Moore Gallery.
On the back wall of the gallery, Rathman painted 15 portraits, arranged in a grid, featuring detailed views of the cowboys with varied looks of surprise, fatigue, suspicion, concentration and so on. These were instantly suggestive of a close-up shot one might see in an old western movie, as if suggesting and imitating a reflection of this genre.
David Rathman | I Hope I'm Never That Wrong Again, 2013, Ink and watercolor on paper, 28 x 42 inches. Image courtesy of Mark Moore Gallery.
In “I Hope I’m Never Wrong Again,” a train screeches through the side of the painting, disturbing an otherwise still horizon. Two silhouettes of men occupy this space as well – one racing away from the oncoming train and the other riding atop the train, as if a rogue cowboy adjourning a mission. There is amazing movement and contrast where the train has stirred up a cloud of dust that is pierced by the headlights of the train, making the dark and non-descript machinery of the train appear to tunnel forward into a turbulent sky.
David Rathman | Things Could Get Biblical in a Hurry, 2013, ink and watercolor on paper, 12 x 17 inches. Image courtesy of Mark Moore Gallery.
Rathman’s titles are humorous and suggestive of a larger narrative to an untold story, leaving me wanting to know more about the characters Rathman surely created in order to build this world. One of my very favorite pieces, “Things Could Get Biblical in a Hurry,” features a slew of men on horses in what appears to be a bloody skirmish. Here, the humor, the energetic brushstrokes, the suggested battle, and Rathman’s capacity to convey immense movement, emotion, and nostalgia with just one color tone and a creative title is a true feat.
David Rathman | A Little Light Went a Long Way, 2013, Ink and watercolor on paper, 28 x 42 inches. Image courtesy of Mark Moore Gallery.
In “A Little Light Went a Long Way,” a well-lit cemetery encompasses a lone man on a horse in the foreground… Here again, the story is not entirely clear, but the painting is suggestive of ghosts, apparitions, infinity, and fading memories as the main shapes and features of the painting seem to be simultaneously appearing and disappearing into the very paper itself.
David Rathman | It's a Different Horizon Out Here, 2013, Ink and watercolor on paper, 28 x 42 inches. Image courtesy of Mark Moore Gallery.
The skies in Rathman’s pieces are a beauty of their own. Seeing the violent and peaceful washes that make up the skies in most of his works, I began to wonder whether these were skies that are made of watercolor washes that happen to be dramatic and haphazard or washes that happen to be haphazard skies… And really, they oscillate between the two, capturing a piece of Rathman’s process by exposing the wash lines and hand of his artistry so clearly.
David Rathman | I Always Come Back for More, 2013, ink and watercolor on paper, 12 x 17 inches. Image courtesy of Mark Moore Gallery.
While the subjects were often violent, Rathman’s show overall was so calming with his dark and silhouetted cowboys plastered against spastic and fading skies. The combination of witty titles that were textually inserted across the majority of each painting’s sky only added to my appreciation and enjoyment. There is a real depth in Rathman’s paintings, performance, precision, and vision – one that I recognized from his last show “All my Lovelies,” but which was distinctly different and remarkably refreshing.
David Rathman | Long Ago and Far Away, 2013, ink and watercolor on paper, 12 x 17 inches. Image courtesy of Mark Moore Gallery.
David Rathman | Nothing Brings You Down Like Your Hometown, 2013, watercolor on paper, 12 x 17 inches. Image courtesy of Mark Moore Gallery.
David Rathman | Stand a Little Closer to the Lessons You Learned, 2013, Ink and watercolor on paper, 28 x 42 inches. Image courtesy of Mark Moore Gallery.
David Rathman received his BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MN). He has exhibited across the U.S. and his work is featured in fifteen public collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art (NY), J. Paul Getty Museum (CA) and the Art Institute of Chicago (IL), to name a few. Rathman will be the subject of a career survey at the Rochester Art Center (MN) opening September 21, 2013. Rathman is also represented by Larissa Goldston Gallery (NY). He lives and works in Minneapolis.
Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer.