If you walk into the George and Jane Dennison Theatre on the University of Montana campus, you’ll find two paintings donning the wall of the foyer. The oil paintings by George Gogas are part of his 50-plus piece series titled “Judith Basin Encounter,” and these two in particular are part of the Montana Museum of Art and Culture’s permanent collection.
The titles of the brightly colored, abstract paintings are brilliant: "When Charlie and Pablo Went Stone Broke in the Stock Market," and "When Charlie and Pablo had Breakfast at McDonald's." Charlie is, of course, Charlie Russell, and Pablo, Pablo Picasso, and the influence of both of them is strikingly apparent.
In a past interview of Gogas by this paper he was quoted as saying, "Since Picasso and Russell were contemporaries from very different artistic worlds, but both were household names, I thought they could symbolize the two extremes of contemporary art in Montana," he said. "It seemed to me that there were the wildlife painters and the abstract painters and never the twain did they meet, so I wanted to try and bridge that gap – to create those encounters in my paintings."
Gogas took famous Russell paintings as his inspiration and applied the abstract style of Picasso. "When Charlie and Pablo had Breakfast at McDonald's," for example, was inspired by Russell’s "Bronc to Breakfast," and "When Charlie and Pablo Went Stone Broke in the Stock Market" is a reference to "The Cinch Ring," both famous Russell paintings. A play on words, a play on art. He does both exceptionally.
Gogas taught in the Missoula County high schools for over 30 years, but retired in 1985 to pursue his artwork full time. Since then, he has become one of the most prolific and well-known western Montana artists and will be the honored artist of the 2016 Odyssey of the Stars presented by the UM College of Visual and Performing Arts.
The paintings are part of UM’s public art collection, two of over 60 artworks throughout campus. A campus artwork map is available through the MMAC that takes you on a self-guided, multi-faceted tour, from Terrence Murphy’s life-size cast bronze of Maureen and Mike Mansfield, to David Pledge’s trio of ceramic vessels reminiscent of giant pawns in a whimsical chess set, to Theodore Waddell’s minimalist brushed stainless steel sculpture, "Persistence." It's a tour of ceramics, metal work, tile murals, oil paintings, and concrete sculptures, representative of the many artists and art faculty who have graced the University of Montana over the years.