New art exhibit on display in Vail |

New art exhibit on display in Vail

Caramie Schnell
VAIL CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily/Jean Richardson

Unbridled, wild and free. There’s something about running horses that speaks to artist Jean Richardson, and to the people that stare at her paintings of them.

The Oklahoma artist has been displaying her work at Vail Village galleries for upwards of 30 years, she said. An exhibit of her work is on display at Cogswell Gallery in Vail through the summer season.

“Her artwork shows an ongoing love affair with kinetic energies like wind and motion,” said Gallery Director Simone Fodde Crotzer. “She is one of the few abstract expressionist we know that has had a life interest in kinetic energy and how shapes change when in motion, especially in her latest group called ‘Myth of the West,’ where horses are depicted in motion through space.”

Richardson uses acrylic washes in her work, which she applies to the canvas and then quickly removes.

That way the “colors acquire a transparency – symbolic of fading memories,” Crotzer said.

The Oklahoma native lives “by a quiet pond at the end of a gravel road at the far northwest edge of Oklahoma City,” where she paints every day in a studio attached to her home. She majored in fine art at Wesleyan College. Richardson was inspired by the abstract expressionism movement and artists like Wassily Kandinsky and Jackson Pollock who used the intensely emotional style, which focuses more on the artist experience of a situation or a landscape, rather than a realistic representation.

“Jean chose early on in her artistic career to eliminate specific forms and to focus on the spiritual side of abstract composition that flickers between discernible subjects and the evocation of a feeling or a mood at the time of composition,” Crotzer said.

Indeed, when Richardson first began painting, her pieces were quiet and contemplative, she said.

“I tried to get a sense of haunting loneliness of figures on a vast prairie,” she said.

Then nearly two decades ago, in the early ’90s, Richardson began a series of paintings of running herds of horses, paintings that “were about movement and energy,” she said.

“Since that time, I have experimented with letting the background move – the clouds, the grasses, the wind and the figures remain in silhouette,” she said. “Variations on these themes are still evident as I continue to explore the image of the horse.”

One of her first series, called “Plains Myth,” depicted abstract, painterly interpretations of human figures on horseback.

“I chose the myth of the American West because of what it reveals about us,” Richardson said. “Why do we respond to the idea of the West the way we do? Probably because we live in such complicated, shifting, essentially anxious state that our fixation with some ideals shows how desperately we want and need the myth of wide, limitless spaces. We are hungry for the heroic and nostalgic for a dimly remembered past – longing for an escape, for immersion in nature.”

The myth then is not about the “real West” at all.

“In my paintings, I am trying to trigger the longing we have, not show what is really out there,” she said.

The horse, for Richardson, is a metaphor, she said.

“I paint the horse as a ‘stand in’ for the human spirit,” she said. “In my youth I did not approve of work that was sentimental or that obviously tried to manipulate the emotions. Now, however, I often want to do just that. Oh well.

“Longing after something is the human condition, even if we can never articulate just what it is that plucks at the heart.”

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or

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