September 28th, 2022
Both artists’ work is inspired by the Western landscape and the life that thrives within. Both artists also begin their process through their own photography and experiences out West. Maura Allen lives in Prescott, Arizona, where her home boasts views of a sprawling desert landscape, while artist Ron Russon lives and works on the rural farm in Utah that has been in his family for five generations.
Maura Allen begins her artistic process out on ranches and rodeos, photographing modern day cowgirls, cowboys, ranchers, to reference and inspire in her work, while Ron Russon begins his artistic process behind the lens as well, photographing and carefully observing the wildlife that make the West their home. While these two artists’ inspiration and initial processes have many similarities, the ways in which they translate those themes into gorgeous works of art is uniquely their own.
Each artists’ body of work stands boldly all on its own, however, sometimes an unexpected pairing of artists’ work allows two different styles to be in conversation with each other, resulting in exciting new interpretations of both bodies of work. We are excited to see the ways in which the vibrant colors and loose textures of Ron Russon’s oil paintings play off of the bold silhouettes and lively compositions of Maura Allen’s mixed media work, and vice versa.
We spoke with each artist to ask them about the themes that they have in common, namely their appreciation and love for the West and their initial photographic process. Hear in the artist’s own words what inspires their work and get a behind-the-scenes look into how they make their beautiful tributes to the modern West.
Gallery MAR: What about the Western landscape or about Western wildlife compels you and inspires you the most?
Maura Allen: I’m inspired by what the writer and environmentalist Wallace Stegner said about the West—it’s a “geography of hope.” For me, the West is not a place or a point on the map; it’s a feeling, the spirit of possibilities, of openness, of new beginnings. There’s a reverence to history, too—and that’s what I work to convey in my work—the feeling the past is always present.
Ron Russon: I guess I am a product of my raising. I have always liked where I was raised and all that it entailed. I have been immersed in the western culture and lifestyle my entire life. My heritage comes from farmers and ranchers, and I have had great associations with ranchers and farmers which have espoused their values and lives.
As far as wildlife goes, I have always been drawn to animals of all kinds. I found it a treat to see local wildlife in the Wasatch mountains growing up. Wildlife has become much of my subject matter due to the excitement and magic I felt and feel while seeing them. Wildlife has also become somewhat symbolic in my work creating a vehicle of thought and perhaps conversation as well. Questions such as “Can wildlife art be high art?;” “What do the colors and subject evoke?;” and “Are the subjects of Western life and Wildlife worthy of, or worth the effort to explore in art?”
Gallery MAR: How has living in a more rural, Western setting influenced your life and work?
Maura Allen: When I’m on road trips (or sometimes just driving the 30 min from home to town), I’m drawn in by what I call “the long view” — the vastness of the landscape and how, as humans, we’re actually a tiny part of it. Like many artists and photographers, the golden hour, that time just before sunset when the light and shadows are extraordinary, is what I love most. It’s the ideal time for silhouette, shadows, and golden hues — and for wildlife to wind down the day and roam through a nearby canyon.
Ron Russon: Living in rural Utah has given me a foundation for work and industry, problem solving and thought, space and time to ponder and think. I love the landscapes, the birds, the wildlife, the weather, the seasons, the colors, textures, sounds, smells, and cadence of rural life, particularly in the era and location I had growing up. My high school graduating class was about 100 people. The town population was about 6,000 people. It allowed freedom to explore and succeed and fail without regret. I believe my work has directly resulted from that freedom. I will be “brave” and/or “daring” in my work due to having the freedom to be that while growing up.
Gallery MAR: Could you talk a little about the behind-the-scenes experiences of your Western photography? Is there a particular experience that stands out to you?
Maura Allen: Over the past two decades, I’ve been fortunate to have developed relationships with different ranchers and ranch families throughout the West — this is what I value most. I love visiting a ranch every year (and at different times of the year) to witness and record the changes of the seasons and the work: the cycle of caring for animals, seeing children growing into adulthood, parents sharing lessons with little ones — I’m honored to be able to photograph these moments and create work that celebrates those slices of the West.
On a ranch in Santa Fe, I’ve photographed the rancher — a master silversmith and saddle maker — and his son for 15+ years, starting when the son was in third grade. He is now in college. In that time, I’ve seen their relationship grow deeper, their land change due to climate, and their work as stewards of the West expand in meaningful ways.
Ron Russon: I remember graduating from BYU and taking a week to explore the Yellowstone/Teton area. I saw all kinds of bison, Dall sheep, ravens, and elk. That trip was amazing. I remember going to Mammoth and seeing huge bull elk everywhere. You couldn’t take a bad photo. Lamar Valley had bison everywhere. I even saw wolves on that trip. I didn’t get any good photos of the wolves, but they were life changing to see.
One other experience comes to mind. I was up a local canyon trying to get some photos of bighorn sheep and mountain goats. I was on a small river and saw a ferret bouncing up the far side. It reminded me of a miniature Tigger. It looked into the water and saw a small brown trout. The little ferret slipped into the river a few feet away downstream from the trout. I watched it swim up, go beneath the surface and just grab the fish like you would pull a box off of a shelf at the grocery store. I’ve had several experiences while out getting reference photos. It’s always good to be out in the world you are using as inspiration to create.
Gallery MAR: How do you feel that your work harmonizes with one another’s? What do you love about the other’s style?
Maura Allen: I love Ron’s larger than life fauna and how his use of color and pattern transports us to a new place. Plus, he’s a master at elevating the story (the moment in the painting) with a perfect title.
Ron Russon: I think Maura and I both follow a more intuitive process and are willing to explore creative options without fear, but instead, with interest and excitement. I believe we both have respect, love, and care for the Western culture, lifestyle, values, and heritage. We also have the interest in taking our own unique take on the subject matter and exploring that with a healthy abandonment of convention and embracement of freedom.
I love that Maura puts in the work to get her images to work from. She goes to the ranches and sees the ranch hands, and she talks with the cowboys and cowgirls. She is authentic. I love how her work follows her passion and is not limited. Plus, I love the shapes, textures, and interesting colors she decides to use.
Written by Veronica Vale, Maura Allen, & Ron Russon