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Observation, Memory and Invention: Western Art and Imagery Reconsidered
Rob Akey

On Exhibit
September 6 - November 3, 2012

Opening Reception
Thursday, September 13, 2012
5:00 - 7:00 PM
Admission: Free/Open to the Public

The Happy Hunting Ground
(Detail of Panel #2 of a 60" x 144" Triptych)

When the land belonged to a global foodservice retailer
with 33,000 locations serving 68 million customers in
119 countries each day


Rob Akey creating "The Happy Hunting Ground"
triptych in his Whitefish studio, May 2012.

About the Exhibit
The genre of Western Art has had from its beginning a penchant for the romantic and theatrical. As we distance ourselves from the tumultuous and tragic time period that defines the “settling of the West” mainstream western art seems to sink further into a collective state of repressed memory.  Artists continue to re-invent the golden era of the West that in some ways never was and never will be. Many traditional western artists, and I include myself in the number, happily succumb to the siren song of the market that allow us to “make a livin”. I would like to think that many artists also yearn to express western subjects of a more serious and thought provoking nature.

Observation, Memory and Invention: Western Art and Imagery Reconsidered is my attempt to look at traditional western iconography in a current, honest and unblinking way that is both poignant and sometimes sardonically humorous. The subjects of this body of work range from an expired-horse-as-lunch, a stucco tipi as abandoned espresso stand, and traditional portraiture along side a famous scene of annihilation. The visual commentary pokes fun at the increasingly circus-like promotion of western art marketing. It is a reminder of the “dark side” of the west that was and that still exists today just in a different form.

Akey, a Montana native was born in Whitefish in 1956. Rob displayed an early propensity for drawing and painting. Much childhood idle time was spent doodling comic book characters, the family pet, real and imagined scenery, and whatever presented itself for a kid with a pencil and an itch to draw. 

Akey’s family lived briefly in California and relocated to Great Falls, Montana in 1965. They resided in neighborhood just east of Charlie Russell's home and studio. Rob explains, "That kind of proximity to Russell and his work afforded me a convenient exposure that I have come to value greatly as my work has matured. I am a huge fan of Russell's work, but it's not the cowboys and Indians that interest me. I always find myself looking past the 'subject' of his work and further into the landscapes. I can feel the love of the country that he had and as a fellow Montanan, I can appreciate that. I've always felt that Russell's ability as a superb colorist and his knack for capturing the atmosphere has been overshadowed by the distracting theater of his western subjects."

As a high school senior, Akey, received top honors in a state art competition. Rob decided to attend Montana State University and study foreign languages, but after his first year of college he returned to Whitefish. Bob McKinney, a contemporary impressionist landscapist took Akey on a as apprentice for 2 years. "Bob believed in the basics, color theory and drawing, and was a great teacher and a real task master - you learned by doing." McKinney encouraged Rob to go back to college and complete his formal art education.

Akey earned a degree in design and illustration from Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and accepted a position as a designer with Tonka Toys where he eventually became Director of Creative Services.  He left nine years later for a similar job in Colorado Toy and Hobby Company.  Rob was homesick and could not resist the call of his native Montana. He and his family returned in 1993, where divided his time between painting and an entrepreneurial business venture. In the fall of 2005, after a many years of study and hard work, Rob achieved his lifelong dream of becoming a full-time artist. "I've been studying the American Impressionists, a genre curiously absent from most art history curriculum. The influence and benefit to my work has been significant. I'm attracted to their use of a tonalist palette, combined with a painterly technique that is neither contrived nor clever”. Akey continues to paint full-time and exhibits his work in local, regional and national shows. He is represented by several galleries throughout the northwest. Complete information on Rob Akey can be found on the web at


Sponsored in part by

Kurt and Carol Larson

National Parks Realty

The Towne Printer



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