The MonDak Heritage Center announces the opening of Walter Piehl – Retrospective 1962-2018. The exhibition will be displayed through Aug. 14 with a closing reception attended by the artist at 6 p.m. on the final day.
As the saying goes, this isn’t Walter Piehl’s first rodeo. For over 50 years, Walter has been an artist, mentor and teacher. He is an aficionado of history and art with a lifelong passion for Western Americana that stems from his upbringing in a ranching family that rode horses, raised stock and participated in rodeos.
“I will always be a painter of Western Americana. The horse culture and the ranching culture were always so important to me part of my everyday life. Pursuing art and pursuing that subject matter which was so important to me, naturally led me into all sorts of themes of the Wild West, of the tame West, of the rodeo and of the historic West.”
Walter Piehl was born in Marion, North Dakota. He grew to love horses and the rodeo at an early age when he would assist his father, who was a stock contractor and part-time rodeo producer. His artistic talents and his love for the rodeo led him to explore the creative possibilities of putting the intense action of the sport to brush and canvas. After Piehl received his Bachelor’s degree in art from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, he then earned both an MA and an MFA from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.
Piehl, having grown up in a state without the benefit of an art museum, became a teacher to not only pursue his love of painting, but to teach and share his appreciation of art with others. Piehl has taught at the University of Minnesota, Mayville State College, as well as Valley City University. In 2018, he retired as an art professor at Minot State University where he had been teaching since 1970.
His paintings, which demonstrate a unique blend of Western and contemporary artistic styles, have been shown at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art, the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, the Museum of the American Cowboy, the Missoula Art Museum, and the Yellowstone Art Museum, along with many other galleries throughout the southwest and midwest. The Plains Art Museum held Piehl’s first major retrospective in 2003, followed by the North Dakota Museum of Art and the Northwest Arts Center at Minot State University.
His passion for rodeo, horses, cowboys, and cowgirls permeates nearly every artwork in this exhibition.
Unlike the western artists familiar to many—Charles Russell and Frederic Remington—Walter choose a different path and left representational art behind to find his own unique style. His art always addresses the subject, whether a bucking bull and rider engaged in battle or a cowgirl swinging a rope, but in a way that engages the senses and enables the viewer to experience the action. Walter works his magic with explosive
color, brushwork and bold line. He draws a basic outline and then uses pure color brushed, splattered, rubbed and swiped onto the canvas or paper. Often the color obliterates the line. Walter acknowledges that he has a love affair with “line”. He describes “line” as his mojo, where his mind, hand and brush connect like alchemy to bring life to the painting’s subject.
“I want people to know how fast a brush stroke was put on and that paint is a fluid medium, that it drips, and it splatters, and those drips and splatters are collateral enhancements...I want them to look like they were done in a frenzy of activity and that the paint was applied with great energy.”
This exhibition is organized to highlight Walter’s many suites—the hallmark of his work. His art is celebrated here to showcase the scope of his career to date and to give viewers the opportunity to visually experience the evolution of an artist’s style.
“I like paradox, contradiction, color, things cowboy and putting on paint — but not necessarily in that order.”
There are many underlying themes in Walter’s art, each suite recognizing the battle between man and beast, myth and reality. To experience his work one needs to both step back to experience the explosion but also look closely to enjoy the detail.
Walter’s quotes were extracted from the documentary video, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, produced by Prairie Public Television.
The MonDak Heritage Center is located at 120 3rd Ave. SE in Sidney and is open Tuesday-Friday from 10-4 and Saturday’s from 1-4. Admission is free. For more information call 406-433-3500 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.