Russ Horton’s artwork featured in Kansas City gallery


Jamie Pellikaan

Horton’s Oil on Linen work titled Wakarusa Pond 2020.

Assistant Professor of Art Russell Horton’s work ‘paints’ a picture of Kansas scenery, but he doesn’t want it to completely ‘color’ your perceptions of the state.

His latest art show, housed in the Hillard Gallery in Kansas City, Mo., seeks to present a side of Kansas some people may have never seen before.

Entitled “Encountered Spaces,” the art show details various landscapes around the state of Kansas that Horton has transferred onto the canvas. The show began on Sept. 4th and will run through Oct. 23rd.

“I am a painter of my surroundings,” Horton said.

Horton occasionally plans the places he paints as he prefers landscapes which offer broad horizons. However, the occasional spot of land will call to him without warning.

“I can’t figure out why but, as I work on the painting, the reasons become clear to me, “Horton said. “Generally, these places have a stillness to them. They are moments between distraction.”

Horton worked on the show for about a two to three-year period between the 20-25 pieces the show is comprised of.

Bob Swearengin, both the owner and the director of the Hilliard Gallery, has been acquainted with Horton’s work for five years. The gallery usually houses around 10 featured art shows a year.

Horton described the process of becoming one of those featured shows as “serendipitous.”

Swearengin was visiting the Holt-Russell Gallery on Baker’s campus to view Professor of Art Inge Balch’s work.

“We had a faculty show up and he saw my work there for the first time. He offered me a spot on his artist roster,” Horton said.

Typically to be considered for feature in a gallery an artist must send their work in and will often place a new artist’s work with others to see how an audience will interact with it.

Horton’s first solo show at the Hilliard Gallery was in 2017, but he had been featured there as a part of various group shows. “Encountered Spaces” is Horton’s second solo show at the gallery.

“If an artist has a solo show here, they are at a point in their career that people should start discovering them and paying attention to their work,” Swearengin said.  “I compare [Horton’s] work to Edward Hopper with the exception of [Horton] being more of a realist.”

Swearengin also talked on the challenges faced with holding an art show during a global pandemic. Because of Covid-19, the gallery has taken extra measures that all visitors must be compliant with.

These measures include mandatory masking within the gallery, contact tracing information being taken and the placement of markers that insure visitors are remaining socially distant while remaining in a one way flow as they view the show.

Horton described his painting style as falling under the term “contemporary realism.” The Hilliard Gallery’s website describes Horton’s depictions of the landscapes with the following:

“These spaces are dusty and dirty places and [Horton’s] color palette is purposefully muted and gray to reflect this place. The abstract nature of the architecture, shipping containers and concrete overpasses are a departure point for further exploration of a world that, viewed out a car window, quickly flashes by on the way to some aspect of our lives.”

The Hilliard Gallery can be described as an eclectic urban gallery and shows contemporary art.

Swearengin commented on how viewers may feel when viewing Horton’s work.

“Everyone gets something different I feel, that is the beauty of art.  But in short, [Horton] presents the viewer with a location, that usually is not often observed as being picturesque, but he is able to turn it into just that, Swearengin said. “He takes a sublime scene and makes it into view that requires your examination of the place.”

The title, “Encountered Spaces,” is partially inspired by a book Horton has been reading entitled “The Courage to Create” by author Rollo May.

“In his book he talked about the artist’s “encounter” of a subject as emotional, or Dionysian, in nature that is balanced over time by investigation and problem solving, which is a more Apollonian pursuit. I think in those words Rollo May summed up mine, and every artist’s, process in making.” Horton said.

Horton also commented how during his process in making the landscapes each painting can present a unique challenge.

“They all have their moments of euphoria and satisfaction when I get something correct or solve a problem presented to me,” Horton said. “Some of those problems are solving how to make a particular color or how does an object relate to the space around it. These are my favorite things to do and what keeps me coming back to the easel.”

With “Encountered Spaces” Horton wanted people to understand that every viewer will have a differing reaction to his work.

“I do think we all have a connection with the landscape in some way or another. Some of us desire peace in the openness. Others will respond to the urbanscapes and back alleys as a place they can connect with, maybe having been there once or twice,” Horton said.