"Theodore Waddell has successfully coupled fundamentals of the abstract expressionist movement with real subjects," said Thomas Smith, director of the Petrie Institute of Western American Art at the Denver Art Museum, in a statement. "Waddell's works are a stark contrast to the common notion that all western American art is grounded in the straightforward realism of everyday life in the western states and cowboy themes."
Waddell's rural roots were nourished in the wide open spaces of Montana. He was born in Billings in 1941, and studied art at Eastern Montana College. He then received a scholarship to study at the Brooklyn Museum School of Art in New York City, where he was exposed to abstract expressionism.
Waddell credits Western artists such as Charles M. Russell and Frederic Remington for inspiration, as well as abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock. Waddell's grandfather knew Russell personally, as both men were from Montana.
"From the time I was 17... I never wanted to do anything but make art," Waddell said. However, he taught as a professor of painting and sculpture at the University of Montana before embarking on a career as a rancher. "I went from being a tenured professor to running a ranch," he said.
During his tenure at the University of Montana, Waddell participated in a group sculpture show at the Denver Art Museum in 1972. Almost four decades later, Smith asked Waddell to create a site-specific artwork for the museum. Waddell started the process of painting the mural in October 2011.
"This is the biggest painting I've ever done," Wadell said. "I've learned a ton by doing it." The painting is the centerpiece of the exhibit, which is titled "Theodore Waddell's Abstract Angus." The exhibit will be on display from May 20 - Dec. 2, 2012 at the Denver Art Museum. The exhibit also includes lithographs, etchings and other paintings from throughout Waddell's career.
Although the definition of Western art has changed over the years, Waddell said he is proud to be part of the tradition. "Sometimes, some people think because of my subject matter, I am a Western artist, and others think that I am not," he said.
The Denver Art Museum is open Tuesday - Sunday, and is located at 100 W. 14th Ave. Pkwy. in Denver. "Theodore Waddell's Abstract Angus" is included in regular museum admission.