“I love western art because it incorporates three significant elements– the figure, animals and landscapes. It is an endless challenge to represent varied terrain, characters and wildlife in authentic manner. There is great joy in the process. It is the solitude you experience while painting plein air in the mountains and the humility you feel when a painting brings tears to a lady as she sees her cowboy father, long past, making his way down a trail in one of your paintings.”
There is little make believe in Charles Dayton’s paintings of ranchers tending cattle in Bear River country in southwest Wyoming. Midsummer herding, shifts of light and lone figures on horseback are the hallmarks of a tradition that Dayton claimed in his youth on the family ranch and which he has reclaimed for his children.
When Dayton chose art over a successful career in business consulting in Utah, he returned to the sage and grasslands his ancestors settled at the turn of the 20th century.
There are no streamside cottonwoods, no pine stands in the high country and no clumps of rabbit brush across a vast, mostly unmarked landscape, that have gone unnoticed by Dayton. But it is the mystique of a solitary man amid the elements and domestic animals that Dayton captures in oil; and it is a scene that recurs, effortlessly and eternally, as seasons, centuries and generations pass.
If Frederic Remington was a father of Western art, then Dayton is an heir. Yet, unlike Remington, Dayton is representing an American West that is not in conflict. In open spaces where cultures warred, men died and pastoral prospects dimmed, Dayton has rubbed out violence and sketched in harmony.
Dayton gains inspiration for his mounted figures from real-life models. The cowboy in The Yellow Scarf is based on a cousin, who also was the model for the rider in Partners on the Drive. Yet the figures that appear born to the saddle and so at one with the rugged terrain maintain a degree of mystery, their faces in profile and their features obscured by wide-brimmed hats.
Dayton is attentive to detail without being dominated by it. His paintings adeptly portray the Wyoming sky of many colors and a loosely rendered range where grasses and brush add depth.
Curtis Tierney, owner of Tierney Fine Art in Bozeman, Montana, grew up on a fourth-generation ranch and can say with authority that Dayton delivers authenticity even as he conveys the ethos of ranching.
“It can be something as subtle as the posturing and conformation of a horse, the change in direction of reins or the twist of the cowboy’s neck as he looks back to check cattle,” said Tierney.