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A vision in charcoal

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“Primal,” a charcoal drawing by featured artist Doug Monson. PHOTO COURTESY OF CREIGHTON BLOCK GALLERY AND DOUG MONSON

By Timothy Behuniak EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – Doug Monson is a self-taught artist originally from Levan, Utah, who currently has large-scale charcoal drawings featured in Creighton Block Gallery in Big Sky.

As a contemporary Western artist, Monson’s drawings stem mostly from images he’s captured in the field in the Yellowstone region, greater Montana or in the Tetons, which helps unite his portfolio under a Western-themed umbrella.

“I can get a lot of mood and emotion from charcoal,” Monson said in a phone call from his new home and studio space in Afton, Wyoming. “I also mainly keep a plain white background to help focus the composition and make my drawings stick out from more colorful works in modern galleries.”

Monson has loved nature and art since he was a young boy and grew up drawing outdoor scenes he experienced and wildlife he saw in and around Levan. Although he’s dabbled in oil painting, he ultimately felt pencil drawings and eventually charcoal were the most convenient medium for him to practice.

“I like to draw what I know and what I see,” Monson said. “I think my art has a bit of uniqueness because I never received a formal art education or studied under a particular artist.”

Monson originally contacted Creighton Block Gallery Director Courtney Collins, who works with gallery owner and purveyor Colin Mathews to curate art and artists in the gallery. “We’re always actively searching for new artists to feature, but Doug sort of fell in our lap,” Collins said. “I had been looking for a charcoal artist who creates large-scale pieces, and the fact that he uses a lot of negative space fit what we were looking for. Plus, Doug is very humble and wonderful to speak with.”

One quality that makes Monson’s work attractive, according to Mathews, is the simplicity of black and white and Monson’s ability to capture the personality of the animals he draws. “The character of animals is something we have an emotional connection to,” Mathews said. “His art creates the moment of connection with the viewer.”

That connection and the high caliber of Monson’s work first drew Mathews to the artist. Mathews has been surrounded by a variety of quality art and artists throughout his life. After growing up outside San Francisco at the tail-end of the Beat Generation, he studied art history at Stanford University while focusing on art in Western civilization. As fate would have it, he and his wife, Paula Craver, along with Courtney Collins, now own and curate Creighton Block, which features contemporary and traditional Western-themed fine art.

After a career intertwined with law and D.C. politics, Mathews returned to his Western roots in 1997 by moving to Virginia City, Montana, a Gold Rush-era boomtown situated on the other side of Lone Mountain. In 1998, Mathews and Craver purchased a restaurant and later converted it to an art gallery. “Art is a passion of both my wife and I,” Mathews said. “Plus, it was a glorious 75-foot-long space with stone walls, lots of surfaces and high copper ceilings. It was a beautiful gallery space.”

In 2010, Creighton Block Gallery moved to Town Center after a request from the Simkins family, the founding property owners in the heart of Big Sky. Today, Mathews and Craver along with their staff share a love of Western-themed art in their current gallery spaces on Ousel Falls Road. One space focuses on contemporary work while the other focuses on traditional and representational work. Both spaces, however, have held or currently hold on their walls work from National Geographic photographers, Native American Smithsonian artists and up-and-coming local artists.

“Almost everyone has had the experience of standing in front of some painting or sculpture and having a powerful emotional response,” said Mathews, referring to Monson’s work. “We connect with works of art.”

When viewing a Monson piece, it’s easy to connect with the massive, curious-looking animals. The extreme detail, authenticity and bold contrast that comes with charcoal drawings will stop you in your tracks and leave your heart and mind soaring, almost as if you stumbled upon a live wolf or grizzly bear in the wild.

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