Denver’s William Havu Gallery shows Sushe and Tracy Felix

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For more than three decades, landscape painters Sushe and Tracy Felix have been on the leading edge of contemporary Western art.

The wife-and-husband couple live together, but work separately, and each is a major star of the genre. They have placed works in top-tier regional museums, private collections and in respected galleries, such as the William Havu Gallery in the Golden Triangle, where they are exhibiting recent paintings right now.

To see the art

“Invisible Horizons,” with recent paintings by Sushe and Tracy Felix, continues through June 6 at William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee St. The gallery is closed during the coronavirus pandemic, as per state guidelines for businesses. When restrictions are lifted, call the gallery at 303-893-2360 for viewing opportunities. Plenty of info and images are on the website: williamhavugallery.com.

The show, which was destined to be one of the local art scene’s major spring events, was interrupted a few days into its run by concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, which is keeping people largely in their homes. The exhibit, originally set for six weeks, has been extended through June 6, but we wanted to give folks a chance to see at least some of the work now, and that presented a good opportunity to catch up with the artists and ask a few questions.

Sushe Felix, “Nature’s Fireworks,” acrylic on panel, 36 x 60 inches. (Provided by William Havu Gallery)
Left: Tracy Felix, “The Needles, San Juan Range,” oil on panel, 60 x 48 inches. Right: Tracy Felix, “Wind,” oil on panel, 24 x 20 inches. (Provided by William Havu Gallery)
Sushe Felix, “Spring’s Bluster,” acrylic on panell, 48 x 48 inches. (Provided by William Havu Gallery)
Sushe Felix, “Redrock Breezes,” acrylic on panel, 16 x 20 inches. (Provided by William Havu Gallery)

Q: Unfortunately, a lot of people won’t see your current exhibit. So much work and buildup and then … . That had to be disappointing, no?

Sushe: I worked on this show for several months and was very excited for it to open, and the Havu Gallery did an exceptional job in putting the show together. All one can do at this point is to try to stay positive and know that all the hard work was still worth it. The paintings are still available and the show is still up. It will all lead to future ideas for both paintings and shows.

Tracy: It is disappointing to be on lockdown after six months of painting. However, with the digital network that exists today, many people can view the work online and keep the visibility going.

Q: I have enjoyed looking at your paintings for years. But I think the current situation — all of us sticking very closely to home right now — gave me a different perspective on them. I’m feeling like a captive, and these paintings celebrate the freedom of wide-open spaces and soaring mountain vistas.

Tracy: I want my paintings to take the viewer to a hopeful and happy place. Especially right now,  people need a positive experience, and I hope I can give that to them.

Sushe: Creating my work is very fulfilling and joyful for me. After that is the joy that the viewer gives me when they tell me how much my work uplifted them or gave them peace or gave them hope.

Q: When I look at your paintings of all those grand landscapes, with their peaks and valleys and big skies, I want to rush right out and visit. But are those real places? Or scenes that you dream up?

Tracy: Most of my paintings are of actual locations. However, I do love to create landscapes from my imagination — the ideal landscape.

Sushe: The landscapes I create are all from my imagination. I may refer to a photo of a specific area with certain elements that I find interesting. However, I always manipulate them and move them around to create my own unique landscape and my own special world. Sometimes our travels through the Southwest will inspire a certain composition; going on one of my daily walks can also be very inspirational.

Q: I wonder if we can break down the discussion about your individual styles into two parts. First, in art historical terms. Can you each talk about the painters, schools, movements or periods that influenced you?

Tracy: I am interested in the regionalist artists of the 1930s and ’40s, such as Grant Wood, Charles Bunnell, William Sanderson and Emil Bisttram.

Sushe: Back in the 1980s, I became interested in the regionalists from the 1930s and 1940s. Shortly thereafter, I discovered the modernists and fell in love with their stylized depictions of the American Southwest, most specifically the artists who settled in New Mexico, such as Raymond Jonson and Emil Bisttram.

Q. Now let’s get a little more squishy. When you make a painting, what is the most important thing you want to capture or express?

Tracy: I want my paintings to express movement and energy.  I love the interplay of the mountain peaks with the clouds.

Sushe: I start every painting with a drawing. I find that in the smaller format, I can compose a piece more quickly that contains the amount of motion, the repetition of form and both the energy and stillness I am looking for. I like to use a variety of forms in each painting, from organic to geometric, and both horizontal and vertical lines.

I like to repeat forms, as in using the same shape in both the clouds, the hills and also in the plant forms. I feel this connects the entire composition together and helps to keep the viewer’s eyes moving throughout the painting. Some of my work contains more movement and energy, as in the pieces depicting storms, whereas others will be more still and peaceful. In all of my work, I strive to create a feeling of positivity, joy and a bit of magic.

Painters Sushe and Tracy Felix. (Provided by Tracy and Sushe Felix)

Q: Give us a peek into your process as a couple.

Tracy: We each have studios on different floors in our house.  We work most every day from late morning to early evening.

Sushe: I love being able to go into my studio whenever I choose. However, I do find that having a regular, consistent schedule for painting is very beneficial. I work anywhere between four to six hours almost every day. At night, I prefer to draw for an hour or two.

Q. How much collaboration is there? Do you have “art arguments?”

Sushe: We really don’t collaborate on any of our paintings.  We will, at times, discuss what we are working on at the moment and sometimes ask the other what they think of a certain idea.

Tracy: Our art tastes are very much in sync with each other. After 35 years of being married, we know each other’s work very well.

Q: This coworking arrangement must make some sense from a business perspective? Artists are a small business, in a way.

Sushe: Overall, I feel it has been extremely beneficial for us to both be in the same business. We understand how this business works and know there are both good and hard times involved. We both share some gallery representation and are also in separate galleries. We both feel very fortunate to have been able to support ourselves as professional artists for over 35 years.

Tracy: It has taken many years and many galleries to get where we are today. I always encourage young artists to try to work on art every day and to never give up.

Q: Your subject matter overlaps, but your painting styles are distinct. There is one big difference I noticed: Tracy works in oil paint, Sushe in acrylic.

Tracy: I have always worked in oil because it dries slowly and I can work with it longer. It makes it easy to do the glazing layers that I use in my work.

Sushe: I have worked in other mediums in the past, like pastel and oil paint. However, I found that I prefer acrylics for their fast drying. My work involves several layers of color, one on top of the other and side by side. Acrylics also work for me in the brushing technique I use which is called scumbling or dry-brush painting.

Q. Finally, I need to call out two paintings in the current exhibit that I was particularly drawn to. For Sushe, it’s “Nature’s Fireworks,” which has these dynamic bolts of lightning crackling over a cityscape. They look, to me, like powerful, electric pitchforks hurled to Earth by some angry god hovering above.

Sushe: I wanted to depict the incredible energy and power that exists in nature. I find lightening to be both incredibly beautiful and destructive at the same time. It demands our attention and respect.

Q: And for Tracy, it’s “Wind,” which has three super-white clouds dancing over a mountain of red rocks in some far-off desert. There is an amazing lightness and motion to the clouds.

Tracy: Clouds are always an important element. They are the last thing I add when I compose a painting, and are usually very spontaneous.

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