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Dudley Dana likes to throw big shows at his downtown gallery. There's the Paint Out, where artists head afield for a weekend and then show the results of their labors.

There's Icons of the West, where artists contribute works that often poke through stereotypes and stereotypical themes of Western art.

But he says "The Young and the Restless" is his favorite exhibition of the year. It's been going on for five years now, previously under different names, such as "Young Guns," but the point has always been the same: to show work by younger artists alongside a few of the gallery's represented artists.

The difficulty in finding places to show work was one reason Dana opened the gallery in 1996.

"Cafes often had inadequate lighting," said Dana, himself a photographer.

The gallery's origins as a photography gallery aren't obvious these days, as the Dana is best known for expressionist landscape painting.

This year, the show includes flagship Dana artists like painters Robert Moore of Idaho and R. David Wilson of Missoula, plus digital paintings by Dana himself.

The "Young" half of the equation comprises eight artists, three of whom are recent graduates of the University of Montana.

Samantha French, who was a co-director of the UC Gallery for four years as an undergraduate, contributed two mixed media pieces, both inspired by photos from the Mars Rover's mission.

"The world has been entranced by Mars for such a long time," she said.

She thinks it serves as a metaphor for "our curiosity beyond the scope of our own planet," she said, perhaps seeking self-justification for our existence by seeking signs of intelligent life on other planets.

Clay Pape, a Dana artist who recently moved to Portland, Oregon, contributed both small and large multi-media works.

The abstract landscapes, usually consisting of as little as a sky and horizon line, emphasize color and texture. The colors are vibrant, while the surfaces use asphalt and tar to stark effect.

The other artists in the "young category" include Dana regulars, such as landscape painter Francis Switzer and Anna Moore, daughter of Robert Moore. A new addition is Trey McCarley, who like fellow Dana artist Caleb Meyer offered up an urban Missoula landscape.

Brea deMontingny, who graduated from the University of Montana a year ago, contributed several small surrealist paintings, including a scene of lushly rendered figures in suits with balloons for heads and cigars (titled "Politics.")

The opening reception on Friday is billed as a family event and includes live music by Adin Kloetzel. Meyer will be painting faces, and Wilson and Thompson will be doing caricatures, with donations going to Watson Children's Shelter.

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Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment editor for the Missoulian.