The University of Montana’s College of Visual and Performing Arts honors teacher, artist and alumnus George Gogas during its 16th annual scholarship event, Odyssey of the Stars – A Celebration of Artistic Journeys, 7:30 p.m. March 5 in the UM Dennison Theatre in Missoula.
Gogas is a thinker. He’s thoughtful about local politics, how the elk herd is faring this winter, and whether or not a particular horse is worth his salt. He’ll offer his opinion on just about any subject in a polite way. But he’s also the kind of thinker whose opinion is formed through dedicated and sustained looking.
He and his wife, Lynn, have been staples of the local arts community for decades, rarely missing an exhibition reception or lecture. Always generous, Gogas is quick to offer encouragement to young artists or mild criticism to those who need it.
He has thought more about two aesthetic camps found in Montana – traditional western and contemporary – longer than most people have been alive. Surrounded by grandeur, many artists have responded to the western landscape with a certain romanticism, depicting grand vistas and majestic wildlife.
Contemporary artists – especially such post-war Montana modernists as Isabelle Johnson, Gennie and Robert DeWeese and Bill Stockton – have also struggled to express the Montana landscape using shape, line and color.
As an artist, Gogas is equally enamored with, and influenced by, both western art and modernism. He manages to be not only tolerated, but celebrated in both circles.
He’s the rare artist who can talk horses and describe abstract principles in the same breath. If you ask him about his painting he’ll say, “Oh, you know me, I’m just a mid-20th century formalist,” almost by way of apology
Gogas is the well-loved creator of a series of imagined meetings between Charles M. Russell and Pablo Picasso called Judith Basin Encounters. This exceptional series takes the two proverbial leaders of these seemingly irreconcilable styles, who were contemporaries but never met, and depicts their fantastical exploits with tongue-in–cheek aplomb.
Gogas also creates almost completely abstract paintings, such as his Rubens Revisited or Gold Band series, which he describes as “just paint on a canvas.” The artist is quick to point out that the paintings have “no narrative, no symbolism, no social message,” but instead reflect a series of relationships between visual elements.
Gogas was educated in the Missoula public schools and holds a bachelor’s degree in art from the University of Montana and an MFA from the University of Washington. He went on to teach art in public schools for 30 years, having a profound effect on his students – some who became artists in their own right. Gogas retired in 1985 to pursue art-making full time. He is a passionate supporter of art of all kinds, consistently exhibits his work, and always has a good story to tell.
Odyssey of the Stars pays tribute to UM performing and visual arts alumni and tells the story of their artistic journeys. While honoring Gogas, the event also showcases UM students and faculty members from the Schools of Art, Media Arts, Music, and Theatre and Dance.
For details, call 406-243-4971 or visit www.umt.edu/umarts/.