What’s the Big Idea?

In 1871 a young artist named Thomas Moran stepped off a train in the small town of Green River in Southern Wyoming(USA). I can only imagine what he must have felt as he first gazed on the cliffs featured in his painting, below, a first vision of the West.

“Nearing Camp on the Upper Colorado River, Wyoming”1872 © Bolton Council. From the Collection of Bolton Library and Museum Services

A Vision of the West
What are you thinking of when you look at this? What does it conjure up in your imagination? How do you feel? When I first saw it I was mesmerised, it’s beautiful, it glows, you can almost feel the heat emanating from it, then a cool breeze as your eyes meet the steadily flowing river, it transports me to a time of discovery and adventure. What made my first experience of this even more special was the fact that Thomas Moran was born in my home town Bolton, in the North West of England. Of course such attachments are full of sentiment but staring at this I felt a remarkable connection to it and the person who painted it, proud that we shared a heritage.

The painting is called “Nearing Camp on the Upper Colorado River Wyoming” and was acquired for the Bolton Public Gallery in 1998 after a dramatic race to raise enough funds and secure the painting, preventing it from being sold to international collectors. My name is James Naughton, thats me on the left, in the header image at the top of the blog, with the glasses, without the hat. The day I saw the painting for the first time I was 27 and still in the process of trying to establish myself as a landscape painter. I went on to carve out a successful career in this field. It’s safe to say I was inspired by it. “I felt a remarkable connection to it and the person who painted it, proud that we shared a heritage”

The Big idea: Dreams come true
Around 13 years later I was sat with Art Consultant Lee Corner in a Cafe in Huddersfield, we’d been discussing various ideas that might present different challenges for me and my work. I mentioned that I’d always had a yearning to actually go to the Green River Cliffs and Yellowstone National Park, to see the sites that had such a dramatic effect on Moran’s life as a painter. I explained about the connection to Bolton and the “Green River” painting, suddenly her eyes lit up, we both realised it could be a very unique project.

So in June 2013 I will be travelling to Wyoming, retracing some of Moran’s sketching trails, then producing a body of work based on the experience, which will be displayed alongside the works of Moran in the public gallery at Bolton Museum and Library Services. In this blog I would like to communicate as much of the substance of this project as I can. I will touch on the process of planning the project, relate the story of Moran and his effect on my paintings in more detail.

I will also use the blog as a diary to chart the events of the research trip leading to the main working period, culminating in the ambitious Exhibition and finally reflecting on the whole experience. I am looking forward to hearing your comments as the project and blog progress and hope you enjoy the adventure too.