If Maynard Dixon and Chuck Close were to walk into a bar and create a new artistic style, you’d get the work of Jeffrey Pugh.

Like Dixon, Pugh paints a contemporary take on the American West. And, like many landscape painters before him, he wields a palette knife. But instead of thick, textured globs of paint stereotypical of the medium, Pugh’s work has been described as pixilated, digital and graphical — much like the portraiture of Close.

“There’s very few artists that I’ve seen in the Western art world that do things like him,” said David Navratil, director of Mountain Trails Gallery. “He’s a palette knife painter, but very detailed. Someone around [Mountain Trails] called it ‘digital impressionism.’”

With locations in Jackson Hole; Park City, Utah; Sedona, Arizona; and Santa Fe, New Mexico, Mountain Trails Gallery is known as one of the premiere fine art galleries across the American West.

During the Fall Arts Festival the gallery features new work by each of its artists participating in the QuickDraw, which this year is Saturday, Sept. 14. (For more on the QuickDraw see page A6 of the Fall Arts section.) Mountain Trails will also host receptions during the Sept. 6 Palates and Palettes Gallery Walk and the Sunday, Sept. 15, Art Brunch Gallery Walk.

Pugh has been represented by Mountain Trails for a few years, but this is the first time he will be joining the gallery’s ranks for the QuickDraw. He will be there with returnees Troy Collins, Lyn St. Clair, Chris Navarro and Bryce Pettit.

When describing his work, Pugh likes to use the word “pixelated,” which is why he can call Close — photorealist portraitist extraordinaire — a hero. Toying with primitive digital cameras about a decade ago, Pugh was drawn to how photos, when zoomed in, would look clunky and rough. But zoomed out, your brain would place all the pieces together into a coherent image.

On the surface Pugh’s subjects — western American landscapes — more closely resemble the work of Dixon, another one of his heroes. But Pugh uses the features of landscapes to tell very personal and symbolic stories, making them mini portraits of himself, his family and his life.

“There’s always a narrative that’s occurring in the paintings,” he said.

Looking at Pugh’s work as a whole, you will start to see certain patterns: lots of groups of threes and fives (he has three kids, and, with his wife, his family makes up five). Family dramas are sometimes represented by a herd of cows or groups of trees.

“I look for some of those designs in nature, and then I put them in a composition that helps me tell a little story,” he said.

Sometimes that story reveals itself months later. He recalled a recent show in which each painting told a different part of what happened to him in the previous six months, though he didn’t know that until the paintings were all hung.

These days Pugh is painting a lot of clouds and a lot of bison.

“I feel like there’s something on the horizon, some unease,” he said. “I’ll do a bunch of cloudscapes, and there’s this impending change with clouds. Something is changing in the atmosphere when you see lots of clouds.”

For the QuickDraw he plans to paint a bison. Recently he has been playing with the concept of placing the animal on a solid, vibrant, pop art-style background.

“There’s something about bison,” Pugh said. “There are very few things that carry enough weight that the painting is still about the bison, not this crazy bright background. I don’t even know what that means quite yet, but I’ve been having a lot of fun doing them right now.”

In addition to Palates and Palettes and the Art Brunch Gallery Walk, Mountain Trails will be hosting artist demonstrations in the gallery throughout the week. 

Contact Julie Kukral at fallarts@jhnewsandguide.com.

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