DESERT MAGAZINE February 1976 Page 24
Story by: Nick Lawrence
THE RESURGENCE of western art the past several years is a result, in one form or another, of a rather significant cultural regression —a throw-back to our history of the West; an integral segment of our current wave of nostalgia.
With this renewed interest by western art patrons throughout the country, and not surprisingly a very strong patronage in the art centers of Europe, our traditional American masters of this theatre of art have enjoyed an overwhelming surge in demand. The Remington’s, Russell’s, and more recently the Frank McCarthy’s are stripping previous economic standards to bits.
Remington set a western art auction record in 1973 of $175,000. Extremely prolific, meticulous with the authenticity of his subject matter, he left an estimated 2,800 works at his death in 1909, and not surprising in light of the current trend, these works, together with other masters of the field, do not even begin to satisfy the market.
There are few contemporary western artists producing ultra-exceptional work. In the opinion of artists themselves, Frank McCarthy is probably the best western artist today. He paints with incredible realism possible with oil on masonite (which is an extremely difficult technique that only the very best accomplish with any worthwhile results). Buck McCain is producing some very credible work specializing in very large oils. One of the fine newcomers is James Zar.
Zar, like McCarthy, paints with a realism that is absolutely stunning. Unlike McCarthy, whose composition encompasses magnificent sweeping landscape with action characters, Zar’s subjects loom from the canvas with a fantastic aura of mystic. Specializing in the American Indian, Zar has been able to capture the sweep of the history of our ‘first’ Americans as few artists have done. Painting with tremendous power and technique with use of color tones seldom seen, Zar’s balance and subject structure are overpowering.
A student of the American West, Zar, in planning a painting, does very significant research into the tribal history, regalia, and facial characteristics in addition to regional study for landscape and background setting. A composite of the subject is then drawn to approximate final proportions at which time his great talent takes over for the final work.
His most dramatic works are portrait in nature with subject, regalia, and landscape in total complement. The remarkable detail work is extraordinary, a la McCarthy. A recently completed work, however, is a departure in that a full posture oil of a Mohave Indian, “Desert Dweller”, just might be Zar’s most impressive work to date in terms of pure painting technique.
Zar has not always been enamored with the American Indian as subject matter. “My catharsis from surrealism to the realism of the American West and our ‘first’ Americans came about very suddenly after a trip through the southwest and the plains of the midwest when the opportunity presented itself to visit several reservations,” he explained.
“I have always been interested in our Indian heritage, history, and culture. After seeing these people on their ‘reservations’, the grandness that was theirs became a very emotional experience for me and ultimately has influenced my subject matter professionally.”
One is so very aware of the strength in the subjects of Zar’s paintings that one wonders if he possesses a special insight. “Because of the fierce pride and deep reverence this land has worn upon their faces,” Zar clarified,” I feel they are our true chroniclers of the past. In addition, mysticism and religion are mankind’s highest order of awareness and the American Indian of the past has had little or no acknowledgement for his unique contribution in this area to our American character.
“Each Indian I choose to paint has motivated me this degree because he, or she, seemed a mirror of this inner quest; a person frozen to the significance of their own personal vision.”
What sets apart the exceptional artisans from mass mediocrity is not only basic talent — in some cases genius — but a common denominator . . . versatility. Oil on canvas is Zar’s forte; however, his work with oil on treated cardboard is not short of magnificent. His pencil sketches exude a dimensional quality that only the very best technicians are able to produce.
James Courtney Zar’s formal art education at San Jose College, the San Francisco Art Institute, and private studies under the dynamic Keith Finch, represent 15 years of mastering his craft. Croup shows include the Horizon Gallery, Venice; Fiengarten Gallery, Los Angeles; Santa Barbara Art Museum; Hartman Gallerie, Thousand Oaks; Peterson Galleries, Beverly Hills; a one-man show University of Santa Clara.
Zar’s work, in addition to this publication, is featured on the cover of the International Artists Directory (1976); contributing art Arizona Highways Magazine; New Mexico Magazine, Bicentennial Issue, January, 1976. He is currently teaching art for the ABC Unified Adult District, Norwalk, California.