Capturing Montana’s ‘Big Sky’ in Oil

By Beacon Staff

As a burgeoning landscape artist, East Glacier’s Roger Rink found the perfect complement to his artistic ambitions: construction work.

For years, Rink worked in the building industry, moving around the country from West Virginia to North Carolina to New York. The often-variable construction schedule, two months of hard labor followed by two months off, allowed plenty of time to immerse himself fully in painting.

“The construction was actually a nice break,” he said. “I enjoy the physical labor and I felt like I was able to relax mentally. In construction, the choices are limited by how you’re going to set up a building; in painting, instead of three choices, you’ve got 25.”

There have been other perks to his construction training as well. When Rink made the move to working as a full-time artist and returned to his hometown of East Glacier, he built his own studio. Next up on his project list: building a new home. “I’ve actually been told that I’m extremely lucky by other artists who don’t have that skill,” Rink said.

It’s been nine years since Rink made the move to East Glacier – a homecoming that’s allowed him the freedom to pursue art full-time surrounded by landscapes he loves.

“I’ve lived all over the place, but in the back of my mind, there’s always been a fantasy of having a studio here and this being home base,” he said.

In other places, Rink said he’d end up painting from his car for fear of encountering angry landowners when trespassing on their property. In Montana, though, where public lands are in abundance, especially in the Flathead area, Rink has free reign to chronicle gorgeous views.

“There’s a freedom here, because there’s very few people and you go undisturbed,” he said. “When Glacier’s your backyard, you pretty much own it.”

And when it comes to inspirational vistas, Montana is hard to beat, Rink adds. On Thursday, July 2, he will open a new show at Whitefish’s Jest Gallery with an artist’s reception at 6 p.m. The show, titled “Big Sky,” focuses on the landscapes of Glacier National Park and Montana’s open skies.

Since January, Rink has been preparing for the show, traveling the state for inspiration from prairies near Hardin, Mont., to vistas near Augusta, Cut Bank and, of course, Glacier. In addition to painting on location, Rink said he often uses photographs or pencil-sketch thumbnails for guidelines.

In the end, though, the finished oil landscapes are their own unique product.

“They transform as they develop,” he said. “The outcome is not always predetermined; there are happy accidents.”

The result is work that’s both true to the vistas that inspire it, but also interesting in its ability to convey mood through some contemporary styling. For Jest Gallery owner Monica Pastor, Rink’s ability “to use the same subject matter as other landscape artists in the area, but read a little differently” made him a good choice for the gallery.

“It’s a bit of a departure for us because it’s a little more traditional – we haven’t had a lot of straight landscapes in here,” she said. “He’s an interesting artist because on many levels he falls into that Montana landscape genre, but is still really aware of the contemporary art world.”

“He factors that all in, but still maintains an effort to be true to himself,” Pastor added.

In a nod to the scale of his favorite subjects, Rink’s paintings at Jest will also be enormous in size. “This is the first time I’ve hung that many large-scale paintings at one time; I’ve never hung 11 50-by-60s in my life,” he said. “To get the impact of these landscapes, I figured the scale just had to be that big.”

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