By Maria Wyllie
Explore Big Sky Associate Editor
BIG SKY – Large monitors measuring approximately 4 feet wide by 7 feet tall hang on the walls of Creighton Block Gallery’s private upstairs showing room. They seem out of place among paintings of brightly colored Indian warriors, luminous tipis and Western landscapes that encompass the exhibition by R. Tom Gilleon and his wife Laurie Stevens.
“Just wait,” says Colin Mathews, owner of Creighton Block Gallery in Big Sky. “This will make your blue eyes turn brown.”
The images on the two screens begin to load, revealing that these monitors are more than just computer screens – they’re digital canvases, powered by a revolutionary technology platform and virtual gallery called PIXoils.
The idea for this new fine art form came about when Gilleon, a renowned contemporary Western artist, asked business partner Marshall Monroe if they could make his paintings move. Having formerly worked in the Disney Imagineering studio for many years together, the two were used to experimenting with similar projects and got started.
Paving the way for a new era of premium art adapted for the digital age, this “technology-inspired medium allows for the exploration of movement, rhythm, migrations, cycles, transformation and the evolution of images over time,” states a press release from Monroe’s creative strategy services firm, Marshall Monroe Magic.
Rather than limiting a painting to a single point in time, the new digital art enables Gilleon to take his paintings to new levels as he continues to explore the indigenous West.
“There is a whole range of artistic possibilities if you can introduce time into a painting,” Mathews said.
Gilleon’s second and third masterworks developed on the PIXoils platform are called “Hungry Fox Equinox” and “Three Wise Men.” Both pieces are currently on display at Creighton Block Gallery,
as a part of the Gilleon and Stevens show, which was made possible through a partnership with Altamira Fine Art, headquartered in Jackson, Wyo.
“Hungry Fox Equinox” first premiered in March at the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls. “Three Wise Men” makes its debut here in Big Sky.
The concept of time is applied to both pieces, but in different ways.
“Hungry Fox Equinox” portrays a lone tipi amid a winter landscape. Rather than being set in a single point in time, the scene moves through an entire day, revealing subtle changes in light as evening approaches and the northern lights come into view.
“As opposed to a canvas that is very static, this painting … gives you a greater horizon to show a lot more about that particular scene than just one time shot on canvas,” the artist said in a phone interview.
The piece is comprised of 14 separate digital paintings. Viewers have commented that it’s both calming and soothing, but also mesmerizing, which Gilleon said was his intention.
“By looking extremely hard at an oil on canvas one can almost experience the same effect, but it requires more effort,” he said.
While “Hungry Fox Equinox” presents a landscape over 24 hours, “Three Wise Men” is homage to 100 years of portraiture, showing how art and painting styles have developed over time.
The work, which consists of 21 separate digital paintings, features the faces of three synchronized Indian warriors from the same time period. “It shows how art changes whereas the actual person remains the same,” Gilleon said.
The Indians first appear as old black and white photos shot in the late 1800s, then morph into sepia and color prints. From there, Gilleon shows the painting stages: a blank canvas with a sketch that transitions into an oil painting, then into a modern style of art before finally entering a Pop Art stage, and gradually moves into Gilleon’s own interpretation.
“The new digital media works show another direction that Gilleon is doing currently, and his diversity as an artist,” said Mark Tarrant, Executive Director of Altamira Fine Art.
The show also features Gilleon’s bold, brightly colored oil paintings of tipis and Indians, and some of his field sketches, which have never been shown before. Selected by Altamira, Tarrant said the pieces were chosen based on what recent works were available, while also ensuring that Gilleon’s iconic subject matters were on display.
His wife Laurie Stevens’ work brings a softer touch to the show, balancing out Gilleon’s stoic warriors and lone tipis with warm displays of the West’s daily wonders.
“This is the first time that Gilleon and Stevens – spouses with long, independent careers as artists –have done a show together,” Mathews said. “We’re thrilled to have Laurie’s work back in our gallery, and I have told her that the show is better for having her female artistic energy.”
Having both canvas and digital pieces in the exhibition allows the viewer to better understand the evolution of Gilleon’s work and how the new platform allows him to further explore Western mythos and preserve it in the digital age.
A reception for the artists will take place at Creighton Block Gallery July 15 from 5-8 p.m. The event was scheduled with the Big Brothers, Big Sisters’ golf tournament on July 14 at the Big Sky Golf Course, where Gilleon will be one of the celebrity golfers. For more information, visit creightonblockgallery.com.