|Like his close friend, fellow California artist Maynard Dixon, Conrad Buff understood and painted the immensity of the American West with bold outlines and vibrant color. His dazzling landscapes chronicle the monumental rock formations and endless vistas of the Southwest, reflecting an inherent love of the wild land and its people. While painting in the golden era of the California Impressionists, Buff was an eccentric modernist. He was interested in abstraction and revolutionary theories, yet he shared an innate love of the landscape with the Impressionists. His constant trips to the Southwest, particularly the California Sierras and Utah, formed the leitmotif for powerful compositions. His work in murals and architectural painting gave his landscape work an underlying sensitivity to structure and geometric form that lent formal logic to his brilliantly colored mountains and vividly rendered skies.
Light and dark contrast form the core of Barn and Silo, where deep purple outbuildings create a cathedral-like silhouette against the vast panoramic backdrop of lavender mountains touched with snow. Buff's dynamic version of pointillism creates a myriad spectrum of textures on the barn buildings, all encased in heavy outlines. In Southwest Landscape bold planes of color form the basis of rugged canyons and plateaus that sit like vast ancient monuments against a sparkling blue sky. Deep violet shadows delineate the mountains and create an impression of spatial infinity.
Geometric forms provide the catalyst for Landscape, in which jagged mountains march across a cerulean blue sky in a momentous natural progression. His pointillist technique interweaves vivid colors of orange, crimson and yellow to create shimmering canyons enhanced by deep burgundy shadows. The warmth of the colors is in contrast to the deep green surrounding the pathway to the mountains. The contrast is both startling and effective.
In a more traditional composition, Mule Train Thru the Minarets, the influence of his lifelong friend and fellow California artist Edgar Payne can be seen in the vast sweep of the mountain range and the use of more realistic colors. In 1917 Buff was introduced to the drama of the High Sierras by Payne on a long, leisurely back country trip that sparked a long-term fascination with the landscape.
Another noteworthy painting, Canyon Depths, is a superb rendition of the dramatic layered spaces of the Southwest. A plateau of jumbled mountains tops a deep, reddish black canyon that dives into a pool of deep, green water. Complementing this painting is Jagged Peaks, a curious mixture of architectural rocks sliding down the side of an intense red mountain, and framed by the severe Southwest landscape of white sand and brilliant green scrub. Showy crimson and black streaks of pigment form the mountain, while a gold horizon line adds a shimmering line of color between the glowing peaks and the luminous desert floor.
Painting in an elusive and atypical style for his era, Buff's works are startlingly modern and fresh. Strong panoramas such as Monumental Rocks suggest the underlying structure of the mountains and their prehistoric origins from fire and water. His sparkling, jewel-like colors capture the crystal clear air of the desert, while his loose pointillist technique aptly describes the faceted planes and innumerable textures of the deep canyons and wide plateaus of the American West.