By James Durnin
“Gaia is my ethic. We are all a part of her. She is the evolutionary force. Gaia is the real driver that runs our lives.” – Stanton Englehart
On Feb. 24, the Durango Arts Center, in partnership with the Englehart Family Trust, will open “The Women,” a never-before exhibited series by legendary local artist, Stanton Englehart (1931-2009). Though many of his students, friends and family have seen these pieces in isolation, there has never been a show exclusively displaying this entire body of work.
“The Women” is a series of paintings that spanned at least three years of Englehart’s life, 1967-1969, and are a reaction to the arbitrary bounding, dividing and abuse of the environment he witnessed during this time. The female forms in the images symbolize the tension, violence and containment of the earth. This sense of strain represents the increasingly discordant relationship between man and nature. Though he could not have anticipated the current environmental and political situation we find ourselves in today, “The Women” is a body of work that confronts the struggle for equality for both women and the environment. Englehart was assuming his role as an artist in the most important way he could. In a eulogy for the poet Robert Frost, President John F. Kennedy remarked on this role:
“The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state …”
In creating this work of art, Englehart is asking us to reflect on our own relationship to the planet on which we live; to be critically aware of our society’s shortcomings, but also to be conscious of its highest potential. What action would we take if we found our sisters, mothers, daughters bound to an arbitrary line that ran contrary to their nature? This arbitrary line can be seen drawn across our borders, our communities and our landscapes every day.
The geologic term that describes our current era is the anthropocene, the first geologic era in which humanity is the driving influence that shapes the condition of the climate and environment. This term was not in circulation during the time the work was created, however, the work anticipates the enormous power human beings derive from technology.
“The Women” is a call to us as a people to consider our relationship to the earth and our place within the cosmos. Will we continue on a path of exploitation and imbalance, or will we humble ourselves to a position of moral and ethical stewardship?
This exhibit, made possible with lead support of First National Bank of Durango, will consist of more than two dozen mixed-media paintings and a triptych that combine elements of the female form with Englehart’s well-known landscape motifs. The Englehart Family Trust is exhibiting this work in the hopes of bringing the community of Durango together to reflect on our relationship with each other and to our planet.
James Durnin is the grandson of Stanton Englehart.