Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Divining deVillier

Divining deVillier

A self-portrait by the artist at his Ketchum studio. By David deVillier

It is a truth universally acknowledged that you can't swing a cat in this valley without clawing at least a dozen artists. To stand out in Ketchum's crowded galleries is not easy. But David deVillier seems to have managed it. A local artist in that loose, Sun Valley sense of the word (he lives here part-time), deVillier describes himself as a narrative artist: he likes to tell stories.

DeVillier's paintings, combined with their evocative titles, and-new to this exhibition, accompanying poems, try to express to his audience the story he saw emerging from the painting as he worked with it. Importantly, however, deVillier does not dictate that story. Instead he is passionate about viewers coming to their own, and, in his mind, equally valid conclusions, "Sometimes the interpretations that they (the audience) have will be close to the things that I think about, but sometimes they are entirely different. I think that's the thing that makes artwork interesting."

Unlike a lot of modern art deVillier's work does not alienate traditionalists, in fact he embraces traditionalism. Gail Severn of the Gail Severn Gallery in Ketchum, who has worked with deVillier since the late '80s, tries to explain his popular appeal, "I think the reason he is so successful is that he's dealing with very traditional ideas in a very non-traditional way. Landscape has always had a large following as has portraiture... David's taken those ideas added architectural elements and our interest in the West and the environment and put all those ideas together into a very unique, contemporary voice."

DeVillier has been coming to Ketchum for over 14 years, and now spends two to three weeks a month here. "Five minutes from where I work I can be out hiking or I can be listening to world class symphonies. I think this is really a pretty unique spot."

DeVillier has drawn ample inspiration from his appropriated home. Some of the architectural elements prevalent in his new work come straight from the Wood River Valley. The piece called "The Man Who Wants to Echo" incorporates the tower on the Bellevue Old City Hall Museum. "It is pretty much this shape (the tower in the picture) except on the real building it's actually tilted quite a bit more than this. But this building and the shape of the mountains behind it are a direct reference pulled from that location. There's another painting coming to this show that uses the buildings over at the ski museum (in Ketchum), the ones that are green and white with the big green doors. But in my painting they are surrounded by these strange cactus shapes that have nothing to do with this area. I think that's one of the fun things that artists do. Even though I deal with subjects that are recognizable, I also abstract them and manipulate them and make then more contemporary and creative in their approach."

The title of deVillier's exhibition, being held at the Gail Severn Gallery, is "Desires Dressed as Dreams." After viewing his new work Severn commented that it seems to have a much stronger focus on the lone female figure than his work of five years ago. As I talk with deVillier, in a slightly grim corner of the Ketchum industrial estate that he calls home (for his artwork at least), his conversation is littered with references to his recent divorce. Well, one can't help but draw parallels.

Standing in front of a piece to be shown in the exhibition I gently probe the topic of solitary women, "I was married for a long time, I no longer am, but a lot of the relationships that I had with my former wife over the years have made me curious about women--how they think and how they make it through life. So over the last couple of years they (women) have continued to reappear in my work. I have been trying to find situations that really talk about the mood of a woman in a particular setting."

The painting we are standing in front of is "The Long Search for Passion." It features a women hiding in a grove of trees (inspired by a grove deVillier came across whilst jogging at Lake Creek, just north of Ketchum). She is peering out at a tall instrument placed in the center of a clearing. The more obvious interpretation of the mood of this particular setting is one of a repressed sexual tension, a woman perhaps afraid to step into the spotlight where the object of her desire is illuminated. DeVillier bristles slightly at the sexual inference, "A lot of the figures I do are women. Some of those figures are semi-dressed, some are nudes, so the obvious answers that pop up are that these deal with sexual tensions. Some of that is there, but passion for me as an artist is a much bigger picture. My son and my daughter are becoming passionate about music, and that is the kind of passion I have for wanting to make artwork."

"Sometimes I feel my paintings are a very direct analogy towards life. In this one ("The Long Search for Passion," reproduced here), you're in this big forest and you're searching around and you don't always know the correct paths to take. But somewhere you may come out into an opening and there's this object and this object might be the answer to your passion. It's almost like you are afraid to approach it, though. You see it there and you could just walk out of the woods and pick it up--there's nothing scary about it--but at the same time passion brings a little bit of its own nervousness. Sometimes you're afraid to jump off that edge and look for it. Those kinds of things are things that hover around in the background of this passion." He draws breath before continuing in a slightly wry tone, "There are, of course, associations you could make as to the shape of the instrument."

True to the cliché, art and pain go hand in hand for deVillier. When I ask if he enjoys his work, he chuckles somewhat ruefully before answering. "Being an artist is not for the faint of heart. If you are going to try to make a living from your artwork, I think you've got to be a little crazy. There's a lot of hardship with art. I probably owe my divorce to some of the things that have happened because I want to be an artist. You have to love it a lot to be able to do it." So am I to assume that his wife didn't necessarily appreciate the artist as much as the man? Did he feel he had to make a choice between his art and his family? "These get to be tricky questions to answer," he says somewhat diplomatically. "I would like to think that I'm not a person who would chose my art over my family, but I'm one of those people who knew I wanted to be an artist from when I was a little kid. This is what I love to do. I decided I wanted to make these things for my own satisfaction and joy and because I truly believe I can make a living doing it and I have done that. But there's a lot of stress that goes with it. It would be nice to be able to snap your fingers and say it all works smoothly, sometimes it does but sometimes it doesn't."

David deVillier's "Desires Dressed as Dreams" opens at the Gail Severn Gallery, 400 First Avenue North, Ketchum on Friday, Nov. 19. There will be an artist's reception on Friday, Nov. 26 during Gallery Walk.

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