The Art of Walt Gonske: A Retrospective
Taos Art Museum at Fechin House
September 23, 2017 through January 7, 2018
“The West has passed—more's the pity. In another twenty-five years the old-time westerner will have gone too—gone with the buffalo and the antelope. I'm going to hand down to posterity a bit of the unadulterated real thing, if it’s the last thing I do—and I’m going to do it muy pronto.”
--W. Herbert “Buck” Dunton
Enjoy a close look at the work of an artist whose art has embodied the Southwest for four decades. Taos Art Museum at Fechin House is proud to present a retrospective exhibition of the artwork of painter Walt Gonske, to open at the beginning of the Taos Fall Arts Festival, on Saturday, September 23.
An acknowledged master of Southwestern art, with more than four decades of exploring every aspect of the mountain desert landscapes of northern New Mexico, the painter Walt Gonske actually started out in life on the East Coast, and envisioned a career in illustration. He has defied expectations ever since, and flourished both in what he chose to do and where he chose to live. This exhibition is a celebration of those choices.
“Walt has been a good friend and generous supporter of the Taos Art Museum at Fechin House since before I arrived here in 2013,” said V. Susan Fisher, the Museum’s Executive Director and Curator. “As the next in our annual series of special exhibitions of the work of living Taos artists, this show will trace the evolution of an important artist’s work, as well as his path through the landscapes of the Southwest.”
This comprehensive exhibition of 40 paintings spanning the period from 1974 to the present is expected to draw a large audience of those who love this region and the artwork it inspires.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Walt Gonske copied comic strip characters as a boy and admired the work of illustrators in nearby New York. After high school he studied illustration in Newark before moving on to the Frank Reilly School of Art in New York City. There he acquired a thorough foundation in drawing and painting. After a stint in the Army Enlisted Reserves, he enjoyed a successful career in men’s fashion illustration… until he discovered the West.
Gonske visited New Mexico on a family trip and found a landscape filled with light and drama and galleries filled with landscape painting and other fine representational art. It was a revelation after the self-referential abstraction of New York. Gonske remembers the impact of this revelation: “Maybe I could move out there and paint landscapes and maybe even make a living!” By 1972, at the age of 29, he headed west for a new life and a new career.
It was a whole new country and a perpetual source of compelling subject matter. “I’m drawn to the timeless quality of the Southwest,” he reflected, “the land itself in different seasons, the adobe structures, the play of strong light and shade.” Remarkably, the remote town of Taos offered a deep painterly heritage as well. The artists who made Taos a world-famous art colony in the first half of the 20th Century also furnished insight and inspiration. This retrospective exhibition in the Taos Art Museum at Fechin House brings Gonske full circle: connecting four decades of his art with one of his early sources of inspiration in Taos: the Russian émigré artist Nicolai Fechin. “Of the artists that came before, Fechin had the biggest influence on my work. I would often see a composition as if painted by Fechin and then try it myself. He had remarkable skills, wonderful color, and taste.” Gonske is not alone in being influenced by Nicolai Fechin, but he may be the most successful.
Gonske’s career in Taos bridges the town’s past and present. “In the early ’70s, I was a member of a group called The Taos Six,” Gonske said. The Taos Six was a group of painters who helped revitalize the Taos art market by attracting an entirely new generation of collectors. The group included Walt Gonske, Ron Barsano, Julian Robles, Robert Daughters, and Rod Goebel. “Two members, Ron Barsano and Ray Vinella are still close friends after 45 years” Gonske continued. “Another member, Rod Goebel and I often painted together. He could paint in the impressionistic tradition with the best of them.”
Walt Gonske’s own technique varies between elegant resolution with a fine finish, and a loose, fresh painterly touch. Over time he has learned how to simplify the different forms and objects in the landscape, allowing him to respond more spontaneously to what he sees and loves. “I try to get the same emotional reaction I experience into the painting itself” he said. “The painting is made up of one impulse after another. Expressive paint put down and left alone, a record of all those moments during the process.”
Walt Gonske has been recognized by the Southwest Watercolor Society, the National Academy of Western Art, and the Gilcrease Museum Rendezvous Exhibition. His work is represented by galleries in New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas.
Exhibition Dates: Saturday, September 23 through Sunday, January 7, 2018
Winter Hours (through April 30): Tuesday – Sunday 10 AM to 4 PM
Walt Gonske, Middle of March, 1988, oil on linen, 30 x 30 inches, courtesy of the artist.
Walt Gonske, Taos Winter, 2004, oil on linen, 26 x 30 inches, courtesy of the artist.