What inspires Vegas painter and printmaker Montana Black?

Montana Black
Photo: Wade Vandervort

Las Vegas-raised artist Montana Black works in the territory of dreams—softly-glowing people and animals; postcard-perfect landscapes; origami cranes, motel signs and vintage cars seemingly floating in pastel-colored space. Her paintings, drawings and linocut prints betray a ceaseless curious creative mind, yet that restlessness has roots in a place—this Valley, to be precise. In anticipation of the reception to her latest show— February 28 at 6 p.m. at Nevada Humanities—Black took a moment to talk about where those dreams begin.

What has had the strongest influence on your art? I had the opportunity to go to Europe with the University of Eastern Michigan during my early university days, a cultural history tour that changed my life. I was struck by was the religious paintings and icons in the Catholic and Orthodox Catholic cathedrals. Growing up here … Las Vegas is not exactly a bastion for Renaissance art, you know? I’d never seen anything like that. That trip made me want to get involved in the arts. Prior to that I was in the sciences, with an intention to go into the Park Service.

So, I switched my major and I was exposed to all kinds of amazing art and artists. The ones that really resonated with me—and still do, although not quite as much—were Cy Twombly, Francis Bacon … There was a painter named Gregory Gillespie, whose work was very fresh and different, but had the same feel as those icons and altarpieces.

I was always drawn to wanting to capture the ineffable. I’m not a religious person, but my work has always been very much about spiritual pursuit. None of my figures ever seemed complete to me unless I put an aura around them, and I feel that to this day.

Other influences that I really would like to mention are Käthe Kollwitz, Vernon Fisher and Anselm Kiefer. Recently I’ve developed a strong interest in landscapes; prior to this I was mainly interested in the human form. They’ve always been important to me in my life, but now it’s translated into my work. There’s Edgar Payne and Maynard Dixon … They were mainly about the American West, and they captured that vast, anything’s-possible landscape that I love so much.

Do you have favorite Southern Nevada landscapes? I love to drive around Northshore, around the Lake Mead recreational area. And I love Valley of Fire. There’s some gorgeous rainbow rock over there that just … I see it and I just wanna eat it. We have so much amazing beauty within a very short distance.

How about favorite local artists? Suzanne Hackett-Morgan’s wonderful desert landscapes and Americana have always been a favorite for me, because of my own love of the desert and road trips and the romance that goes with that. Ann Hoff’s drawings and prints totally blow me away for their intelligence and craft; I love looking at her line. Gig Depio’s sheer size is incredibly engaging; his paintings create, inform and dominate whatever environments they’re in. I never get tired of Bobbie Ann Howell’s cut-paper creations; she creates entire worlds I can get lost in. Susan Foresteri’s paintings are sublime; she creates these wonderful, lush environments. [Note: Forestieri passed away several days after this interview was conducted.] I love, love, love Wade Schuster’s perceptual paintings of Las Vegas. I love Sean Jones’ witty and delightful pop culture-inspired drawings. There are so many amazingly talented people in this town creating exceptional art: Joseph Watson, Jerry Misko, Alex Huerta, Mary Warner, Tim Bavington ... It goes on and on.

What’s your preferred creative medium? I love them all, for different reasons. This might sound like a cop-out, but it isn’t, because each medium has its own personality and feel. It’s a matter of what’s best for what I’m trying to do. It’s nice to have that versatility, and it’s taken years to get here—what’s gonna be the best done in oil, what’s gonna be best done as a print, and what’s gonna work as a drawing, or as a drawing and a painting. I like to combine those two in my work, too.

It also has to do with what mood I’m in. One of my absolutely favorite things to do is to unwind at the end of the day … to put on a movie I’ve seen a thousand times, and just draw. All the stuff of the day sort of drains out as I’m drawing. When I get into the right side of my head, the dialogue shuts up, and that’s a blessing.

And recently I’ve really gotten into linocut printing. I like the feel of carving an image into the linoleum. That’s actually sort of taking me into wanting to do wood carving (laughs). I’m gonna start whittling here pretty soon! Sometimes I want a three-dimensional object to hold.

What does Las Vegas’ art scene have in abundance, and what does it still need? It seems to have a lot of growing support within the political sphere. So, I was just at a wonderful gathering that Wendy Kveck had organized with State Senator Yvanna Cancela and also a bunch of community artists and leaders. They were talking about funding a set of sites for the Las Vegas Art Museum. I feel like we’re finally getting some serious positive community support.

What it desperately needs is a place where can we all hang, like [defunct coffeehouses] Enigma, Café Copioh or Café Roma. There’s no sort of uber-local art place, like this really great sort of coffee shop … I’m having a hard time putting it in concrete terms. There are bars, but I don’t drink. I want a place with the big, overstuffed couches and chessboards.

GINGER-SEAN-MONTANA: OUR DAILY BREAD Through March 27, Monday-Friday 1-5 p.m., free. Nevada Humanities, 1017 S 1st St. #190, 702-800-4670.

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