In an exclusive discussion with Cassens Fine Art, Rob Akey, Artist and President-Elect of the Montana Painter's Alliance, highlighted the group's formation and primary goals. He hopes that viewers of this exhibition can appreciate the passion the group has for what they do, the value association and fellowship with one another, and the spectacular landscape that is Montana.



The exhibit will be on display at Cassens Fine Art from May 3rd to May 31st, 2024 with an artist reception on May 3rd from 5-7 pm.


The Montana Painters Alliance was formed about 20 years ago by artist Thomas English and a small group of fellow painters. Because most painting happens in solitude, the goal behind the Montana Painters Alliance was to create community around painting outdoors while providing an opportunity for artists to learn from one another and hone their plein air painting skills in new and unfamiliar locations.


Hosting two paint outs a year, the Montana Painters Alliance organizes shows in museums and galleries across the state. This year, the group gathered in the Bitterroot Valley for one of their paint outs, and their annual exhibition will be hosted at Cassens Fine Art in Hamilton, Montana. The works of 17 artists will adorn the gallery’s walls beginning on May 3rd, 2024 through the end of the month. Additionally, an opening reception will be held on May 3rd from 5-7pm at Cassens Fine Art, where the community will have an opportunity to be the first to view the paintings and meet the artists behind each canvas.


Cassens Fine Art sat down with artist and President-Elect of the Montana Painter’s Alliance, Rob Akey, for an exclusive interview to shed light on the inspiration, goals, and artistic ethos that drive this esteemed collective forward, as well as his hopes for what viewers will glean from experiencing the exhibition, both on an individual artwork level and in understanding the collective vision of the Alliance as a whole.


What inspired the formation of the Montana Painter's Alliance, and what are its primary goals and objectives today within the local artistic community?

About twenty years ago artist Tom English and a small cadre of like minded painters who regularly got together and painted outdoors began to discuss the formation of a larger group of artists that could get together a couple of times a year and paint. With the goals of pursuing the further development of their outdoor painting skills a new location each "paint out", share their insights, socialize and use their organization to broaden the knowledge and appreciation of plein air painting in the public sphere.


How does the Montana Painter's Alliance nurture collaboration and skill-sharing among its members, and how does this sense of community impact the overall artistic output?


The cross pollination of artistic insights, styles and techniques is pretty much inevitable when working artists gather. At the paint outs we often paint side by side and gather in the evenings sharing the experiences (both good and bad) of the day. The structure of our group is such that, while emphasizing excellence in our work, we have a fairly wide range of skill levels among the members. We feel strongly about the inclusion of members that are still developing. However, there is a strong emphasis on commitment. I know from personal experience that close association with artists of highly developed skill has a tendency to prompt one to want to improve and grow. 


Can you discuss the significance of hosting this exhibition at Cassens Fine Art?


The MPA is very grateful to Cassens Fine Art for hosting our Bitterroot Valley Paint Out exhibition. Not all of our locations afford an opportunity to show the fruits of our efforts in a formal gallery setting. Indeed some of our showings are done in what we refer to as "tailgate salons" in whatever wide spot in the road is available. Cassens, of course, is the opposite end of the spectrum from that and we are thrilled that they are making room in their busy exhibition schedule to allow us to bring our impressions of the Bitterroot to the community.


In what ways do you believe the exhibition at Cassens Fine Art will contribute to the cultural landscape of Hamilton and beyond, particularly in showcasing the talent within the Montana Painter's Alliance?


It is always enlightening to see how a group of artists with varying media, style and vision can portray a given subject. We are oil painters, pastel painters, water colorists and mixed media artists with an even wider range of ways of seeing the landscape. It is a treat to see how your surroundings can be portrayed on a specific weekend in time.


As president-elect of the Alliance, what do you hope viewers will take away from experiencing the exhibition at Cassens Fine Art, both in terms of appreciating individual artworks and understanding the collective vision of the Alliance as a whole?


As president-elect of the MPA my hopes are that viewers can appreciate that we as a group feel strongly about what we do, about the value of association and fellowship with each other and about the spectacular landscape that is Montana.



The works of Rob Akey will be on display in addition to the works of Marcia Ballowe, Diana Brady, Nate Closson, Thomas English, Chuck Fulcher, Laurie Stevens, Jake Gaedtke, Diana Mysse, Terry Nybo, Steve Oiestad, Robert Spannring, David Swanson, Ron Ukrainetz, Shirle Wempner, and Ken Yarus, with official guest, Karl Oehrtman. 


David Swanson shared a bit about the inspiration behind each of his works, including his piece “Ranch Scene in Morning Shadow.” It was painted from a photo he took on his winding drive south along the river after the Montana Painters Alliance paint out in the Bitterroot Valley. “I took the southern route over Wisdom and back up to Butte, for my return trip home to Livingston. I’d seen the ranch a day or two before while looking around for a subject to paint, but it had not appealed to me as it did that morning. It was cloaked in shadow from the nearside valley hills, with its burst of sunlit fields behind. In that moment, it became a beautiful contrast, and a likely candidate to paint.” 


This is just one of the many stories behind this collection. The community is invited to experience its beloved Bitterroot Valley from a multitude of perspectives, all honoring its beauty.


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