A RT

Artist Dale Livezey, shown
here in his Helena studio, says
he prefers to paint pictures
of the beginning and the end
of the day. It’s a time to shift
gears, he says, a time between
awake and asleep.

54
Welcoming
with Paint
Dale Livezey is an alchemist
of the Montana landscape
BY ADAM BOEHLER

PHOTOGRAPHY BY THOMAS LEE

D
ale Livezey led the way up the
wide staircase to the second floor of
Montana’s state capitol, saying quiet
hellos to a few familiar passersby.
The rotunda was crowded with bodies, most
of which were hurrying through to somewhere
important, heels clacking on the cold marble
floor. Others were posted behind display tables
offering information on various Native issues. We
stopped for a moment amongst it all and craned
our necks up at the capitol dome. Eventually
Livezey nodded in the direction of a hallway and
I followed him toward the governor’s office.
On the far wall straight ahead hung three
black-and-white photographs: Joseph K. Toole,
John E. Richards and Robert Smith—the first
three governors of Montana.
“It should be hanging there where those
men are,” he said. “So you can see it from the
rotunda. I talked to the governor about it, but
what do you do?”
I couldn’t help but agree.
Instead, his painting hung on the sidewall
immediately to the right as we entered the gover-
nor’s sprawling offices.
We backed up as far as we could in the
narrow entrance to take in the 8-foot-by-6-foot
piece, being careful not to knock any files off the
front desk.
The majority of the image is composed of that

M O N TA N A Q U A R T E R LY 55
famous Montana sky, bleeding from turquoise at the top
to a dusty pale orange at the horizon line. The lower third
is immediately recognizable as a scene near Three Forks.
Distant snow-capped peaks rise faintly above tablelands
and rumpled hills burnished with the day’s last minutes
of light. In the foreground two of the three rivers in that
valley meander towards one another, causing the viewer,
naturally, to wonder where they merge.
“It’s called Confluence,” he said. “Headwaters of the
Missouri.”
The urge to step into the image is strong. You want to
walk those rivers upstream through the willows to those
Confluence, 72”x96”
distant hills before that fleeting light is gone.
And that fleeting light is another of Livezey’s hall-
marks. Almost all of his pieces are of a crepuscular
nature, capturing those brief, deeply affecting moments
at dawn and dusk when colors are almost supernatural
and shadows pull long across the landscape. At their best
these scenes of growing or fading light evoke a question
about our own mortality.
Standing there, staring into that landscape half expect-
ing it to dim like actual dusk, I was reminded of the story
he told earlier that day about his first trip out West and a
memory of fading light.

U
pon arriving at Livesey’s studio that morning
one of the first things I noticed, after the
5-by-10-foot piece on an easel, was a little
wooden sign painted white and mounted high
on the wall. It read: Livezey Fruit Farm, Barnseville,
Ohio.
His grandfather had started the farm, he told me, even-
tually giving it to his father who sold it after two years
because, as Dale says, his father “didn’t want the endless
Canyon Creek Hills, 30”x40”
work and low pay” common among farmers. So his father
took a job at a federal land bank 80 miles away, where
the family settled on a smaller farm with some corn and a
He was 12 years old the first time he creek running through it.
was captivated by the fading light out “We grew up in the outdoors, there,” he told me. “But I
dreamed of bigger spaces from an early age.”
West. He was 20 when he moved away So did his father.
“That was another reason he didn’t want to be a
from Ohio for good, to Helena, and he’s farmer. He wanted to explore.”
And they did, he told me. That’s when he told me the
been capturing that fading light in his story.
“The first western experience I remember was …
paintings ever since. pulling into Dubois, Wyoming. The sagebrush and the

56
nighthawks—it was spring. And it was so magical. The
smells and the dry air. The sunlight—it was the end of the
day so the sunlight was fading. I knew I wanted to come
out here then.”
He was 12 years old the first time he was captivated by
the fading light out West. He was 20 when he moved away
from Ohio for good, to Helena, and he’s been capturing
that fading light in his paintings ever since.
As is the case for nearly every artist, success and
exposure weren’t quick to arrive.
He took an interest in painting around the time of
that trip to Wyoming. However, he avoided art classes in
Nightfall on the Bighole, 30”x40”
school as well as the strictures of the one private tutor his
parents wanted to hire for him. Instead he painted on his
own time, according to his own instincts, starting with
recreating pictures of paintings he’d find in magazines or
art books.
“I just messed around with it,” he told me over a paint-
ing he’d made of raccoons when he was a high school
sophomore. “I didn’t consider it a career path.”
But that changed when he arrived in Montana in 1978.
He attended the Western Rendezvous, then an annual
gathering of western artists in Helena, and saw something
he’d never seen before.
“I’d never seen professional artists show [their work] in
my life, I mean … contemporary people selling art. And
there were western images, and there were these unbeliev-
able price tags on them. Like, what?! They get away with
that? So I started taking it seriously then.”
That show sparked the realization of a possibility—
that he could sustain himself through his art. So take it
seriously he did.
It was around that time that he signed on for one of the
few art classes of his life—a weekend workshop led by a
30-something Clyde Aspevig in Helena. He and 20 or so
Simms Bench Morning, 48”x60”
others spent two days painting outside under Aspevig’s
light tutelage.
“That (was) the first time I painted on location,” he the western and central parts of the state—to a new
said. “It was just a two-day deal, shared with a bunch of job at a sawmill in Augusta or on a ranch over near
other people. But it definitely influenced me.” Grass Range. All the while he studied the landscape
and painted one scene after another. And like anyone
who’s spent any time in Montana, the more he saw of it,

W
hen Rick Newby met Dale Livezey in the the more river bottoms he smelled, the more coulees he
late ’70s, he was pursuing his own art, mostly walked, the more of its air he drank, the more it perme-
in the form of the written word. In the inter- ated his spirit.
vening years they’ve remained in touch as Eventually that emotional transfusion began coming
they developed their respective careers. through in his work and he started finding success.
They were years that saw Livezey bouncing around Newby, now a respected poet, critic and editor who

M O N TA N A Q U A R T E R LY 57
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58
focuses on artists of the American West, has watched that progression for
nearly four decades.
“He made [Montana] his own,” Newby told me. “His paintings are very
distinctive. You can almost always tell it’s a Dale Livezey painting when you
encounter one. It’s a very powerful style.”
In 2007 Newby published an essay for a catalog of Livezey’s work aptly MONTANA’S BEST MAGAZINE
titled “Beckoned Into Landscape.” He opens the piece by referring to
AND MONTANA’S LEADING
Livezey as “a poet of dusk and of daybreak.”
His landscapes, he continues, “speak of place, but even more of percep- INDEPENDENT RETAILERS
tion—and of perception attached to feeling. They are, in the best sense,
Get your copy at these fine stores!
emotional landscapes; they call up—through an alchemy of pigment,
compositional rightness, and painterly skill—emotions that reside in every AUGUSTA
beholder.” Latigo and Lace, 122 Main St.
After days of poring over images of Livezey’s work and speaking to him BILLINGS
Good Earth Market, 3024 2nd Ave. N.
about his process, I found that Newby’s assessment rang true. Dale Livezey MoAv Coffee House, 2501 Montana Ave.
is absolutely an alchemist of the Montana landscape. He finds that fine line Smoker Friendly, 251 Main St.
between abstraction and representation. The images he offers us aren’t merely Stogies, 2717 1st Ave. N.
This House of Books, 224 N. Broadway
a reproduction of an actual scene. He starts with a real place but maybe BOZEMAN
condenses the horizon, moves out-of-frame mountains into the frame for a fuller Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 2820 W. College St.
texture. He’ll raise the face of a bluff or include a shallow draw that coaxes the Bozeman Food Co-op, 908 W. Main St.
Country Bookshelf, 28 W. Main St.
viewer into the scene, forcing them to wonder what’s around that corner. Heeb’s East Main Grocery, 544 E. Main St.
So that while it’s fully a rendering of a familiar Montana vista, if you tried Museum of the Rockies Bookstore, 600 W. Kagy Blvd.
to stand in the place he stood to capture it, you’d never find it. Because what Poor Richards, 16 N. Grand Ave.
Montana Gift Corral, Bozeman Airport
you’re looking at more closely resembles your memory of a well-loved place,
BUTTE
or perhaps the way you may have seen it in a dream, Books and Books, 206 W. Park St.
Dale Livezey paints pictures of how Montana makes us feel. Stokes Fresh Food Market, 1301 Harrison Ave.
GREAT FALLS
Cassiopea Books, 721 Central Ave.

S
tanding there in the Governor’s office, literally in the way of HAMILTON
Chapter One Bookstore, 252 Main St.
democracy in action, I stared at those rivers wishing I could step HELENA
into them, wishing it was summer again. Montana Historical Society Museum Store, 225 N. Roberts St.
But all I could do was dodge a passing staffer and step forward KALISPELL
for a closer look. When I did, the helpful young lady behind the front desk Montana Gift and Art (airport), 4170 U.S. Highway 2 E.
Norm’s News, 37 Main St.
came around with a smile and a postcard version of the painting, saying
LIVINGSTON
there was more information about the artist on the back. Conley’s Books and Music, 415 E. Lewis St.
I took the postcard, hooked a thumb over my shoulder and said, “You Elk River Books, 120 N. Main St.
mean that guy?” Sax and Fryer, 109 W. Callender St.
She blushed and apologized. Dale Livezey, pleasant and soft-spoken, said MISSOULA
Book Exchange, 2335 Brooks St.
not to worry. It was day two of the 2017 Montana legislative session, and she Fact and Fiction, 220 N. Higgins Ave.
no doubt was busy. Rockin’ Rudy’s, 237 Blaine St.
After I scribbled a few notes we turned to leave. Just then a very sharply UM Bookstore, 5 Campus Dr.
SEELEY LAKE
dressed man came alongside us and said hello to Dale, who introduced me Grizzly Claw, 3187 Highway 83
to Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney. They made small talk in the manner of STEVENSVILLE
long-time acquaintances as we walked back down the hallway, through the Burnt Fork Market, 601 Main St.
bustling rotunda toward the stairway and our waiting ride. Valley Drug, 301 Main St.
It was frigid out there, single digits. And there was almost no color in the WEST YELLOWSTONE
Book Peddler, 106 N. Canyon St.
January day. I wanted to go back to Confluence, live in all that warm color.
WHITEFISH
Dale Livezey will do that to you. Alpine Village Market, 721 Wisconsin Ave.
Bookworks, 244 Spokane Ave.

M O N TA N A Q U A R T E R LY 59

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