EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – An entire century has passed since the artist Audley Dean Nicols moved his family permanently from the suburbs of Pittsburgh to El Paso.
Nicols, a portrait artist turned landscape painter, would go on to revolutionize his field, winning acclaim for his desert-based paintings that brought the vibrant colors of the American Southwest to people back East who had otherwise only seen black and white photos of the desert.
Though he was celebrated and admired in his day, that fame and appreciation diminished with time.
However, the authors of a new book aim to change that and hope to introduce the work of Nicols to a new audience and a different generation.
The book, entitled Everything But Gray, is a product of the efforts of author Gayle Boss and art collector Thomas Duke, who owns, by his estimation, about 20 pieces by Nicols.
“When people started seeing these paintings in galleries in either Chicago, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., this was an amazing introduction to the West,” said Duke.
Nicols left Pennsylvania for the desert air of El Paso in part for health reasons – he suffered from a form of tuberculosis – but also because he had a great appreciation for the local landscape. In time, he would paint scenes not just in El Paso but in Arizona, New Mexico, and other parts of Texas.
“He really initiated that genre of the desert that a lot of El Paso artists then followed in,” said Boss. “There were the ‘Purple Mountain Painters’ with Nicols as the dean, the self-appointed dean of the ‘Purple Mountain Painters.’ And people bought up the paintings as a way of giving them a picture of what the Southwest Desert was like.”
The book is available at thelifeofaudleydeannicols.com as well as on Amazon. The authors say they hope readers will truly come to understand how important Nicols was in early 20th Century American art and how beautifully he captured the brilliance and majesty of desert landscapes.
“He was just, I think, taken over by the beauty,” said Boss. “He was a man who had an immense depth of seeing color, and he’d never seen color like that.”
The title phrase, “Everything But Gray,” was how Nicols described the colors he witnessed on his journeys into the desert, refuting the notion some had at the time that deserts were simply gray, dusty places with few redeeming qualities.
“Here’s an artist who was at the top of the game for doing landscapes before anyone else was really doing serious landscapes of West Texas,” said Duke. “And these paintings are 100 years old. Most are in excellent condition, and they deserve to be seen if you love West Texas, you love the mountains, and you love the desert.”