Alan McNiel has worked as an independent studio artist for over 25 years, exhibiting in museums, galleries, and art festivals throughout the west.
This year his work has been featured in solo exhibitions at Hockaday Art Museum and Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art, as well as group exhibitons and auctions at C.M. Russell Museum of Art, Waterworks Art Museum, Yellowstone Art Museum, Missoula Art Museum, and Museum of Art and Culture in Spokane, WA. His paintings are in numerous public and private art collections, including University of Washington Medical Center, University of Monatana, North Idaho College, and Washington State Percent-for-Art.
Alan McNiel’s family moved west in the 1970’s from Tennessee to a town in Arizona near the White Mountain Apache Reservation. Every day scenes included the desert landscape with ancient pueblo ruins perched on a mesa at the edge of town and red chili peppers drying on the sides of stucco houses. In high school McNiel was hired by an archaeological team, excavating a nearby pueblo which had been abandoned for centuries. The first step was to remove rocks and earth with picks and shovels. Next, they gently removed delicate ceramic and stone artifacts with small trowels. McNiel notes that this experience has influenced every part of his career as an artist. Although his current work has more to do with impressionism and contemporary realism than archeology, McNiel’s appreciation for Pueblo ceramics is always somewhere under the surface – like foundation blocks hidden from sight while remaining an essential part of the structure.
McNiel has created this series of large scale oil paintings based on his original photos to re-create modern day artifacts with a sense of everyday experience in the year 2015. Though these scenes of western towns and landscape are not unusual at this time, in a few years what we think of as pictures of everyday life will be about life in the “old west” – as memory of the 21st century quietly becomes a part of the past.
Alan McNiel graduated from Colorado State with a BFA and then a MA from the University of Montana in Missoula – both times with emphasis on ceramics and drawing. Also during those years McNiel and his wife Debbie built a home and studio in the community of Yaak, Montana. After graduate school he worked there as a potter, firing a wood-burning kiln about once a month for the next ten or fifteen years. In 1995 McNiel began painting full-time – at first working with watercolor, and then with oil and mixed-media.
McNiel embraces the idea in Navaho weaving of intentionally leaving a mistake, which is seen as a door for the spirits to come and go. Though his wife and he joke about that a lot, as an excuse for all of his mistakes, McNiel sincerely thinks it’s a really important idea. In some ways it reminds him of the idea of open space within a painting – where something is left unsaid, encouraging one to fill in the gaps with our own imagination. He states, “I like the impressionist idea that we mix colors within our minds, and believe there are many ways that perceptions help us complete images as we bring our own thoughts and memories into the understanding of a painting.”
“I hope these images will add something of value to the lives of others – as a catalyst for thought, a record of what has been, and a point of reflection.” – Alan McNiel, 2015