Seeing “The Inner Light” in AZ

In January, my son and I were invited by a family member to attend the opening of Tom Gilleon’s retrospective: “Inner Light: the Art of Tom Gilleon.” The exhibit runs January 16-August 16, 2024 at the Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. It will be moving to the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, MT from November 15, 2024-March 31, 2025.

My dad’s first cousin, Ted Griffith and his wife Joyce are Montana residents and close friends with Tom Gilleon. They have been collecting his work for years, especially from the C.M. Russell Art Auction. Ted generously hosted us during this special weekend in Arizona.


In case you haven’t heard of Tom Gilleon, let me give you a quick bio, as seen on the Wikipedia website:

“Ralph Thomas Gilleon (born March 14, 1942) is an American artist who is best known for his paintings of Tipis, Plains Indians, and Old West imagery. His work is unusual within the Western art genre for its modernist style, taking inspiration from artists such as Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, and Edward Hopper.”

From his website, it states, “Tom learned to draw by watching his immigrant grandfather draw, a gifted artist and cabinetmaker from Scotland. Tom’s grandmother was full-blood Cherokee. Also an artist, she strongly aligned herself with Native American culture.” After serving in the Navy, Gilleon pursued his artistic skills and eventually worked in both illustration and computer technology. His radiant yet simple work caught the attention of Disney, and he has spent many decades as a concept artist, working on the Imagineers team.

In the 1990’s, he discovered the beauty of Montana and has since established a home at the horse ranch of C.M. Russell, himself. Gilleon has found great success in the Western Art world. His strong sense of design and contemporary style is an inspiration to me.

Gilleon’s experience in the realm of imagination has led him into the world of digital painting. He has worked with Marshall Monroe of the MMMagic where they collaborate in “Applied Imagination, the intersection of technology and creativity,” according to Monroe.  The opening night celebration featured an exciting unveiling of Gilleon’s newest piece, a digital triptych painting that moved from one image to another, layered with his work created with PixOils, a software program developed by Monroe and Gilleon.

Gilleon’s “Spirit Catcher” 66″x124″ 22-minute digital painting was unveiled to a packed house

Gilleon delivered a simple speech to a big crowd

The potential and beauty of PixOils was revealed to me in Gilleon’s piece, “Fort Mountain.” This piece spoke to me for two reasons. First, my lens as a landscape painter makes it so that I appreciate each of the 100+ paintings he created of this one mountain. Second, living in the mountains and observing the change of seasons, I understand the compulsion to create one piece that captures this passage of time. This digital painting had the beauty of a work of art and the wonder of technology to encapsulate an entire year.

The most striking part of this painting is that it takes about 18 minutes. When I glanced at it, the changes were imperceptible, just as the changing seasons are rarely witnessed. But when I slowed down, I noticed the small changes that amounted to major seasonal shifts.

Many artists will have opinions about this new wave of creative expression. I am curious to hear yours. One thing is certain to me: Tom Gilleon is unafraid of change and exploration. It is a thrill to see that sort of curiosity matched with such solid painting skills. I am so grateful to have seen this exhibit, and I hope you can too.

Here’s a quote from the museum:

“The Tom Gilleon Retrospective will be a major exhibit by one of the greatest living American artists today.”   

        – Tim Peterson, co-curator of Inner Light |  Scottsdale Museum of The West Trustee



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