ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Wilson Hurley’s best-known paintings are probably his Western landscapes, some of them breathtakingly spectacular because they were done on a grand scale, measured in feet, not inches.
The central panel of Hurley’s New Mexico Suite triptych, for example, is 16-feet by 16-feet. That’s just one of three panels that combine to present the Sandias, a favorite Hurley subject. Clouds billowing in pastel shades above the Sandias draw the viewer’s attention.
The suite is part of his monumental Windows of the West project.
The representational art of Hurley, an important 20th-century painter and a longtime Albuquerque resident, captured a wide swath of New Mexico landscapes and from over the West.
Weather phenomena – cloud clusters, thunderheads, snowstorms – and their influence on colors of sky were integral to many of his landscape paintings.
Two hundred of Hurley’s images are brought together in the new coffee table-sized book “The Life and Art of Wilson Hurley: Celebrating the Richness of Reality.” The author is Hurley’s widow, Rosalyn Roembke Hurley. Her husband died in 2008 at the age of 84.
Over his last 44 years Hurley was a full-time artist. Before concentrating on art, he had been a lawyer. In his lifetime, he created more than 1,300 paintings.
In a phone interview, Rosalyn Hurley – herself an artist – offered insights into what it was like to live with someone so totally committed to his art and to be supportive of that commitment.
“And I was ‘a fresh eye.’ Every artist needs someone who is honest with him to say if something works or not. If he respects that person, it’s helpful. It so happens he respected me and my opinion,” Rosalyn Hurley said. “It wasn’t adversarial. I critiqued the art – the composition, whether the aerial perspective was reasonable, if the atmospheric perspective made any sense. All of the elements that were involved.”
The aerial perspective was especially relevant in paintings Hurley made with the viewer looking down at the earth, including World War I warplane dogfights, remembered scenes on the ground during his time as a fighter pilot in Vietnam and images of the moon, of planets and of spacecraft.
Hurley’s creative output encompassed many genre of paintings. He created portraits, still life, images of historic ships at sea, such as Francis Drake’s The Golden Hind.
Hurley was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He and his family moved to the Washington D.C.-area when his father, Patrick Hurley, was picked to serve as secretary of war under President Hoover and then as ambassador to China under President Roosevelt.
In 1932 a young Wilson Hurley spent the first of many summers in New Mexico where he painted plein air with Santa Fe artist Jozef Bakos.
Hurley later graduated from the Los Alamos Ranch School and West Point.
The book quotes Hurley’s daughter Mary Hurley McCabe recalling a conversation with her father during his final summer. He waxed philosophical, she said, about finding beauty through art: “…Dad began to talk about pure color and limitless ways in which color and form can be expressed. …it was as though he was looking beyond this world and conveying his realization that the expression of beauty can take any form, and the ability of art to connect emotionally with the viewer was what truly mattered.”
Fresco Books of Albuquerque published the 379-page, large-format book.