GIB SINGLETON (1935 - ) View Collection
Gib Singleton is the foremost Western and Biblical sculptor in America – and, many critics and collectors argue, the world. His work is represented in major museums from the Museum of Modern Art in New York to the Vatican Museum in Rome, as well as in the homes and offices of luminaries from actors to politicians to spiritual leaders.
"Gib is a giant," says Paul Zueger, Gib's long-time friend and exclusive representative. "You can't say enough about his vision and his talent. I think 500 years from now, art historians will talk about Gib like they talk today about Rembrandt or Van Gogh or Michelangelo."
Gib knew from his earliest days that he would be an artist, even though no one believed a poor kid from a hardscrabble farm in southeastern Missouri could achieve such a dream. With no money for supplies or lessons, Gib traced designs in the dirt with sticks, made sculptures out of mud and straw, and drew Christ figures in pencil on paper sacks.
His family began to believe in his talent when he won a blue ribbon in art at the Springfield State Fair at age nine. And while they couldn't help him financially, they at least encouraged Gib to follow his dreams.
His first attempt at sculpting was transforming a granite tombstone "recycled" from an old cemetery. When he became fascinated with bronze, especially the works of Donatello that he saw in a book, Gib built his own foundry. He used salvaged materials, including a cut down 55 gallon steel drum for the furnace and an abandoned Electrolux vacuum cleaner for a blower. He figured the process out by trial and error, learning to determine the temperature of the molten metal by its color. He was 16 at the time.
Gib's trademark cowboy look emerged in early watercolors and acrylic paintings while he was still in high school, as did the first drawings of what would become his world renowned Biblical style. After high school Gib served a hitch in the US Army, put himself through college, earned a scholarship to the Chicago Art Institute, then won a Fulbright Fellowship to restore Renaissance art in Europe. He studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, and was later recruited by the Vatican Workshop.
Gib was driven to perfect his own art, and willing to pay the price of his quest. When he returned from Europe, he sold his work on the streets of New York, slept on beaches in Connecticut, and was often hungry.
As his unique style of sculpture developed, Gib coined a new term to describe it — "Emotional Realism". Gib says, "I got the idea of Emotional Realism when I was visiting a museum. I saw art that touched me deeply, and I realized that the emotions I felt were just as real as that piece I saw hanging on the wall. I think the ability to connect with the viewer on that emotional level determines the success of art, or music or literature."
While living in the Northeast, Gib visited the Frederic Remington Art Museum and was struck by the power of the artist's work and of the landscapes they represented. "I knew right then I had to go out West," Gib says. "I decided to move the Santa Fe and do Western art."
While his fascination with the West led to the creation of such well known pieces as "Texas Ranger", "Black Jack Ketchum" and "Santa Fe Trail", Gib never lost his love of Biblical and devotional art. In fact, he contends there's really no difference between the two.
"Any time your subject is a human being," he says, "it's a spiritual work. You come into this world by yourself, and you go out by yourself, and nobody knows why that is. We all have those questions, regardless of how we label ourselves or what kind of outfit we're wearing. I try to answer some of those questions in my work."
At age 78, despite health struggles, Gib draws and sketches nearly every day. And while his output has diminished significantly, he still sculpts a few new pieces in his tiny Santa Fe studio every year. "If I quit working, I'm dead," he says simply. Those new works are now automatically collected by knowledgeable patrons around the world, and are increasingly installed in high visibility locations.
And while he continues his Western work, many of Gib newest pieces are devotional. In these troubled times, he says that feels appropriate.
"People need security in the metaphysical world even more than in the physical world," he believes. "There are a lot of things that make no "objective' sense if we try to analyze them. Yet they do make sense – a great deal of sense – if we approach them with our hearts instead of our heads. That's how I try to work.
"The thing I really love about my work," Gib says, "is that I get to say, "I love you, man. It's going to be OK.' And the payment for my work is when someone comes up and says, "Thank you for making something beautiful in the world.'"
EARL BISS (1947 - 1998) View Collection
Earl Biss was a profound contributor to the explosion of Southwestern Art in the last half of the 20th century, and particularly to the rise of contemporary Native American Art. His compelling portraits of Plains Indian horsemen, his phenomenal grasp of the medium of oil painting, and above all the sheer exuberance of his palette and brushwork earned him a place in the history books of modern art. He was, according to one Southwest critic and collector, "The greatest colorist of the 20th century.'
Born in Reston, Washington and raised by his grandmother on the Crow reservation in southern Montana, Biss was an enrolled member of the Crow Nation and given the Indian name "Spotted Horse' by the tribe. He found inspiration for his works in tribal legends and histories learned from the elders, and in the sweeping landscapes of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains.
Biss was a central figure in the "miracle generation' of students at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe in the 1960s. When Earl and his fellow students – which included Kevin Red Star, T.C. Cannon and Doug Hyde – arrived at IAIA, western art was focused on cowboys and landscapes, while Native art was stylized, linear and depictive. (And often produced for the tourist market.)
That perspective was too narrow for Biss, who studied painting with Fritz Scholder, sculpture with Allan Houser, jewelry and design with Charles Loloma and architecture with Paolo Soleri. Inspired by these teachers, as well as fauvism, impressionism, expressionism and other modernist movements, Biss pushed himself and his friends to create an entirely new genre that we know today as Cotemporary Southwestern Art. "Earl was the catalyst,' Red Star said, "like the agitator in a washing machine.'
Biss went on to the San Francisco Art Institute on a full scholarship, then moved to Paris where he haunted museums and studied printmaking with S. W. Hayter. Returning to Santa Fe, he rented studio space with several of his fellow artists who continually pushed each other to further develop their unique styles.
Even as his career skyrocketed, Earl's struggle with his dark side intensified. He painted in bursts of 48 or even 72 hours, refusing to eat and working to collapse. When not in the studio, he was famous for his consumption of alcohol and other substances, and for going through nine marriages.
Weakened both by his lifestyle and a childhood bout with rheumatic fever that damaged his heart, Earl Biss died of a stroke in his studio in 1998. His works in the Contemporary Southwestern Art style are now collected worldwide.