I’ve just experienced one of the most exciting contemporary exhibits of illustration in recent years. I had to postpone the next installment of my Wizard of Oz series to tell you about it.

The Character In Context Show opened to the public on June 7th at the A. R. Mitchell Museum in Trinidad, Colorado. The show is curated by fellow illustrator, Elliot Lang. The exhibit showcases one hundred seventy-five original works by a broad range of working illustrators.

“This is the largest collection of original illustrations for sale from living illustrators in the Western United States, and is the most comprehensive presentation of processes from living and working illustrators ever collected in one space,” says Lang.

I was fascinated by the the A.R. Mitchell Museum. Founded to preserve and promote the art of Arthur Roy Mitchell’s art, it is also expanding to connect that history to the broader contemporary art world with quarterly museum shows.

In his day, Mitchell found success painting cover art for many western and weekly magazines during the 1920s through the 1940s. Known for his cowboy covers that included accurate details of western gear, colorful action scenes as well as his superior anatomy of the horse, it was not uncommon for Mitchell to have multiple covers on view at news stands all over the country.

This show elevates the long-lasting appeal of the art of illustration that Mitchell loved so much, and brings its enduring legacy to unprecedented levels, a direct rebuttal to the mundane, repetitive disappointment of artificially created images.

…a direct rebuttal to the mundane, repetitive disappointment of artificially created images.

“The exhibit celebrates the enduring importance of illustration in the contemporary art sphere, featuring process work from each artist, from preliminary drawings to color studies, accompanying final artworks,” says Lang. “They’re all available for public purchase.”

While the sun set behind the mountains on a breezy, high desert evening, opening night found the museum overflowing with over 250 people and artists attending.

You may recognize many of your favorite artists included in the exhibition, with many attending the opening:

Julie Bell, Bud Cook, Sam Wolfe Connelly, Sarah Finnigan, Vanessa Lemen, Bill Sienkiewicz, Chris Visions, Scott Fischer, Thomas Fluharty, Teresa Fischer, Zachary Pullen, Ravi Zupa, Edward Kinsella III, Hilary Clarcq, CF Payne, Victor Adam Minguez, Ryan Pancoast, Scott Brundage, Omar Rayyan, Jon Stich, Cody Kuehl, Greg Ruth, Kellan Jett, Rhonda Libbey, Cynthia Sheppard, Joanna Barnum, Jeremy Wilson, Winona Nelson, Dan Cohen, Danny Bitton, Rednose Studio, Serena Malyon, Daria Theodora, Jason Mowry, Eli Minaya, Colin Poole, Kristine Poole, Reiko Murakami, Kasha Siemens, Elliot Lang, Ryan Mowry, Rob Jordan, Lynon Aksamit, Kelley Hensing, Patrick Stacy, Grant Cooley, Danny Schwartz, Hope Doe, Rob Rey, Donato Giancola, Anthony Palumbo, Sishir Bommakanti, William Ersland, Ashly Lovett, Primary Hughes, and myself.

Illustration is the longest continuous creative movement over the entire history of art. Its driving main theme: to communicate to the viewer and draw them into realms, worlds, characters, and story. To establish a connection with the audience that involves them and invites them to experience more.

The Character In Concept Show continues that grand tradition by showcasing a wide swath of today’s visual communicators. The quality of skills integrated into each piece, and the level of ideas expressed proves, once again, that illustration continues to pull us forward into imagination.

I had the honor to cap off the event by doing a demonstration painting Saturday morning after the opening. While not a western art show, I spun it a little bit and chose to paint Yul Brynner from The Magnificent Seven.