David Yarrow’s “Storytelling” exhibit marks the third consecutive year he’s chosen to show in Big Sky during the holiday week
By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER
Although his works are shown in galleries in major cities and larger ski towns including Aspen and Jackson Hole, photographer David Yarrow says Courtney Collins Fine Art of Big Sky sells more of his art than the galleries he works with in New York or Los Angeles.
On Dec. 20, the Big Sky art gallery opened Yarrow’s “Storytelling” exhibit, in conjunction with his new photobook by the same name. The showcase will remain open to the public for free until Jan. 23 with copies of the book for sale. Originally from Glasgow, Scotland, Yarrow told EBS that Big Sky is among his top-10 markets in the world including Berlin and Monaco.
“Clearly as a result of things like the Yellowstone Club, there is a huge accumulation of wealth here,” he said. “If you’re building a chalet or a home here costing $25 million, you’re probably going to fill it with good art. And big art.”
He says wealthy homeowners, including YC members, visit each other’s homes and often ask where they found their art. If high-quality art is available, Yarrow believes that art collectors would rather purchase from a local gallery than import from larger markets. He estimates that Courtney Collins Fine Art sells $2.5 million worth of his photographs each year.
“When I first heard of Big Sky, I never thought we’d be doing those kinds of numbers,” he said. “We do tend to go to the areas where there’s new build, and there’s wealth. It’s not rocket science… it’s just business sense. Places like Big Sky, I see such growth in terms of people moving here, perhaps accelerated by COVID.”
He began photographing western Montana—mainly Virginia City, Billings, Big Timber, Butte and Ennis—around 2014. He was surprised to see that his Montana shots sold almost all over the world except for Montana. Around 2018, gallery owner Courtney Collins helped introduce Big Sky’s luxury-tier market to his art.
“It’s a huge honor to sell David’s work,” Collins said. “I work really, really hard with my team to do it. Work is hard but it’s a huge honor and a privilege. He’s one of the top selling photographers in the world.”
Yarrow travels the world to bring global experiences to his consumers, but he said the American West has been “kind of a happy hunting ground of ours” for its dramatic backdrops and alluring characters.
“[The West is] also a metaphor for human endeavor and resolve and fortitude,” Yarrow explained. “Some of the people that first came here must have been very tough. The circumstances were not easy.”
Many of Yarrow’s western shoots are staged with wolves that have been habituated to humans as primary characters. He recognizes wolves used in metaphor, including language like “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” and said they are a beautiful, revered animal that represent Montana and the West. However, he’s transitioned away from photoshoots with actual wolves and now uses Tamaskan wolf dogs, which share 99% of a wolf’s DNA.
“Because we’re living in an area of political over-correctness and cancel culture and wokeness, all of which I think impinge on creative art, we got a bit of [criticism] for using wolves for perceived commercial gain,” Yarrow said. “It’s a bit of nonsense in that horses are used all the time in horse racing for commercial gain, so where do you draw the line?”
Yarrow said these dogs look just like wolves, “but it just gets the wokes off our backs.”
Juxtaposing wild animals with human subjects in staged photographs is one way that Yarrow feeds viewers’ desire for interpretive art.
“They don’t want things that are too literal,” he said, although he pointed to his photo of two musk oxen in Yukon snow as a rare example of a subject so exotic it can stand alone.
“Quite often I think you need to throw in something which creates a visual disconnect with the viewer and allows them to look at it, look at it again, perhaps see something they haven’t seen before.”
This past spring and summer, Yarrow held a photoshoot at the Crazy Mountain Ranch east of Clyde Park. On Dec. 28 at the Montage, Courtney Collins Fine Art hosted a party for clients, collectors and hotel guests, showcasing and selling shots from the photoshoot.
“People trust [Collins], and they like her. That’s the most important thing,” Yarrow said. “Courtney has the preeminent art gallery here, and she’s got some good artists. She’s done a fantastic job and people trust her, which is so important in an unregulated market like art.”
Yarrow shows his work in about 35 galleries around the world. He tries to visit each a couple times per year.
“And for my family who are all out skiing today, if we give them a choice for where we’re going to visit at this time of year, they’re going to say, ‘Dad, can we go to Big Sky, Montana?’” said Yarrow, who also grew up skiing in Scotland. “And what’s wrong with that? You can’t get better than that.”
On Dec. 28, Yarrow held a public book signing and displayed 17 new photographs, never seen before in public. Some of them are selling, according to Collins.
For Yarrow, the book signing was “fun, one of the nicest things, just chatting away with people.”
He added, “there’s a spirit of friendship here in Montana, and collaboration, because we shoot here an awful lot. Our network grows every year, and it’s almost like a second home for us.”