Jenness Cortez, WAA, August-September 2016

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Setting an artist’s world record during the 2015 Jackson Hole Art Auction, Jenness Cortez returns with new work celebrating history’s famed Western artists Written by

Laura Zuckerman

“By depicting artworks in her compositions, Cortez underscores a classic paradox of painting: the painting as a ‘window’ into an imagined space and as a physical object — both a metaphysical presence and a material entity. Cortez chooses to utilize her talent for realism to illuminate the ordinary.” — Trailside Galleries


a quiet corner of upstate New York, Jenness Cortez is creating paintings

that require as much classically trained talent as they do thought and research about the historical Western figures, events and artistic works at hand. A signature of her work is a painting within a painting, and Cortez often chooses historic pieces that evoke what she terms the cinematic quality of the American West. The works are always evocative of her layered reading and rendering of subjects that range from a Yosemite scene produced by Albert Bierstadt to famed bronzes by Frederic Remington. Such items are included in Four American Visionaries, the expansive acrylic-on-

mahogany panel featuring the interior of a Western home in which two Bierstadts, Remington’s Bronc Buster, a Charles Russell sculpture and one of Thomas Moran’s sweeping depictions of the Grand Canyon are subtly arranged in a sitting room tableau. The work exhibits remarkable attention to detail and consistency of theme. Left: Tools of the Trade | Acrylic on Mahogany Panel | 8 x 24 inches 148 WA


Home on the Range | Acrylic on Mahogany Panel | 34 x 41 inches 2016 Jackson Hole Art Auction Entry


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Four American Visionaries fetched $128,700 at the Jackson Hole Art Auction last September, setting a world record for

Four American Visionaries Acrylic on Mahogany Panel | 33 x 40 inches

the artist and introducing to a general audience what was already well known to gallerists and collectors: Cortez is an

age by Cortez. She is among artists selected for Top Tier, the

established star in the Western art constellation.

premier competition that boosts anticipation surrounding

Her rise in that genre has been relatively recent, but

the Jackson Hole Art Auction. Chosen by invitation only,

Cortez’s visual narratives had already gained a following and

the contemporary artists in this select group hold exemplary

critical acclaim before she was urged several years ago to sub-

auction records. This year’s contest, which awards a $10,000

mit a painting to The Russell, the annual extravaganza that

cash prize to the artist whose work is of significant merit,

benefits the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana.

will be judged by the curators of such august institutions as

The invitation was tied to petitions by Joe Masterson,

the Gilcrease Museum, the Eiteljorg Museum of American

longtime member of the museum’s board. Masterson first

Indians and Western Art, and the Crystal Bridges Museum

encountered Cortez’s pieces at a gallery in Naples, Florida,

of American Art.

and he recognized excellence when he saw it. “I was very impressed with the quality of her work and

including Z.S. Liang, Mian Situ and Tucker Smith — is titled

how she articulates the different items in the story she is

Home on the Range and features an interior scene with a natu-

trying to tell,” Masterson says, adding that the technique

ral stone fireplace. Over the mantel hangs a completed version

employed by Cortez of placing paintings by celebrated artists

of a painting that was left unfinished because of the untimely

within paintings is equivalent to a paean.

death of illustrator-turned-artist Frank Tenney Johnson. His

“What she’s trying to do with her masterful renderings and her in-depth research is honor the artist,” he says. And there is much to honor in an original and in an hom-

150 WA


Cortez’s entry for the competition — which taps talents

painting, Somewhere on the Range, a nocturne featuring a cowboy on horseback, strongly appealed to Cortez. “I like the poetry of this image. The painting was seven-

eighths finished before he became ill and died rather suddenly [of spinal meningitis in 1939],” says Cortez. “I am finishing it as I believe he would have finished it, so he and I are collaborating.” The 2016 auction, brought to the upscale northwest Wyoming town by Trailside Galleries and Gerald Peters Gallery on September 16 and 17, includes a dreamy N.C. Wyeth, He Rode Away Following a Dim Trail Among the Sage, and a mist-drenched scene of a hunting bear by Robert Bateman, Above the Rapids — Gulls and Grizzly. Maryvonne Leshe, Jackson Hole Art Auction and Trailside Galleries partner, successfully sought to represent Cortez at Trailside in a relationship that has fostered mutual delight. She considers Cortez an inspired artist who is also a serious-minded person and businesswoman. And Leshe has been gratified by collectors’ enthusiasm for Cortez’s work, an admiration that led Four American Visionaries to break through the $100,000 ceiling at last year’s sale. It is rare for a female Western artist to command such sums, but Cortez is that woman and artist, says Leshe. “She’s filling an important niche in the gallery. Trailside tries to bring forward the best quality work, and she’s been a

Window on the West Acrylic on Mahogany Panel | 42 x 60 inches

An Autumn Romance Acrylic on Mahogany Panel | 24 x 20 inches


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terrific addition to the roster,� she says.

Alluring Acrylic on Mahogany Panel | 40 x 30 inches

Collectors never tire of gazing at a Cortez, as it nearly

152 WA


always results in perceiving a new dimension in the work.

ists and her partner in life and work, husband Leonard

For example, tomes are artfully placed throughout the

Perlmutter — the other half of Perlmutter Gallery in Averill,

interior and refer to historical Western events or figures,

New York — have pointed to the path she ultimately fol-

adding meaning.

lowed in her career, and yet, set her free to choose.

Cortez has worked in concert with muses and mentors

When Cortez was a teenager, a neighbor in the woods

for much of her life. Her parents, teachers, artists, galler-

of southern Indiana agreed to give her art lessons. That

neighbor, Dutch painter Antonius Raemaekers, was among

“I have a different way of telling a story than just illus-

mentors, including her parents, who were enamored with

trating an episode from history or relying on a generic motif

the visual world and aided Cortez in seeing people and her

about the West. I’m really trying to say something more than

surroundings in the full yet intimate fashion that informs the

what the observer already knows. It is not something that can

eye of an artist.

be captured in words; it is seen. There are people out there

Cortez is a graduate of the Herron School of Art and

who respond to this and they are like souls.”

Design in Indianapolis, Indiana, and furthered her formal

Collector Rusty Henderson is one of them. He has been

studies under Arnold Blanch at the Art Students League of

acquiring art for 45 years and he abides by the advice once

New York. She sold her first painting as an adolescent to

handed down by an expert.

an admiring Indiana teacher, and it is not an exaggeration

“There are 10 rules to buying art. The first nine are,

to say her work has been selling steadily, and sometimes

you need to like it. The tenth rule is, the artist needs to

spectacularly, ever since. For two decades, the artist was

have earned it,” he says. “When I saw Jenness’s work, all 10

known mostly for her sporting and horse paintings. In the

requirements were met. I love what I’m seeing, and there’s no

mid-1990s, Cortez turned to landscapes and, more recently,

question she’s earned her ability.

made Western themes her primary focus. The essence beneath the image is what empowers Cortez’s paintings, and that degree of insight has served as a

“It’s no easy task for her to produce what she’s producing,” Henderson adds. “She has to be enormously passionate about doing it.”

kind of calling for the artist. “The idea of craft as a spiritual work is very important to

Laura Zuckerman lives and writes in Salmon, Idaho. Her

me,” she says. “I find it builds contact with a reality that is not

work has appeared in such publications as The New York

often visible and it is important to communicate that.

Times Magazine and Chicago Tribune.


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