For thousands of years, the power, peace, and movement of the epic Missouri River has inspired artists.
In his recent series inspired by the river, Kansas City artist Carlos Setien has painted his own vision of the Missouri’s sweeping, sprawling life. Created on canvases of black roofing tar paper with industrial and household enamel and acrylic, Setien’s dynamic work echoes the essence and nuances of the river in its kaleidoscopic flow.
Setien’s series, which includes more than two dozen 9 by 10-foot triptychs, interpret the breadth and scope of the river’s many visages, reflecting its life and light at locations that span all seasons and times of day.
Fields of color provide the framework for Setien’s river’s stories, while also setting them in a specific moment in space and time. Balance and symmetry are threads of continuity in the compositions, as the river’s dance is woven through these fields of color. Layers of expressive, lyrical lines invite us to step into the piece and into the story Setien would like us to know.
Setien began the Missouri River series in fall, 2016, after returning from a trip to Panama.
“In Panama, I became so aware of light and how the sun evolves through the day. All life is subject to light. Light has an extraordinary capacity to change our lives and environment.”
Setien found this profound power in the Missouri. Flowing more than 2,300 miles, the Missouri River is the longest river in the United States. For tens of thousands of years, it has been a vital source of sustenance and transportation for millions of people.
Traveling the iconic river, Setien discovered many places that inspired his vision and the stories he wanted to tell.
“The historical, economic, and social importance of the river is not well recognized and people take it for granted. The Missouri River is a source of life. It introduces and supports life on so many levels in our region. Yet, people can look at the river and see it as dark, with no life, color or light,” Setien noted.
In his process, Setien discovered the Missouri’s life, light, and color — regardless of the season or time of day. In “Midnight at the Mouth of the Missouri at the Mississippi,” Satien illuminates the river’s inherent force and beauty, which flourishes even during that late-night hour.
From a serene waltz of fall leaves on the river’s bank in Atchison, Kansas, to a crescendo of rapids in South Dakota, our senses are awakened through the play of light, the movement of water, the rush of the wind, and the scents of the season created by Setien’s use of line and color.
Against the backdrop of a summer morning farmer’s market, “River Bank in Downtown Parkville” evokes the vitality of human interaction not only between individuals, but also with the river — an integral element of the city’s life and people. Expressive black and red lines frame the water’s edge, depicting not only the visitors’ presence near the river but their oneness with it.
In his journey as an artist, Setien has moved from sculptor to printmaker to painter. In the river paintings, Setien has taken a striking turn from his previous work, which had been typically bold, architectural, structural, and controlled.
The lyricism of the river paintings, which Setien refers to as “field paintings with poetry,” adds a fresh dimension to his work.
“This work has changed my life, Setien said. “I’m very surprised about it. I discovered another world in my creativity; a new vocabulary for life and light. Each piece is a poem reflecting the light and life of the location.”
In the quiet, yet expressive, visual poem, “River at Atchison, Kansas: Looking North at Dawn,” we sit by the grassy bank and commune with the river’s serene life force during the fall.
Setien’s “Missouri River” paintings are on exhibit in the same space in which they were created. The warehouse space, which Setien has called his studio home for the past three years, was recently leased to another tenant by the building’s owner.
At the conclusion of the “Missouri River” exhibit, Setien will be moving to a new space. Though the space is yet to be determined, Setien’s work, and his commitment to his work, will continue.
“Dale Eldred said, “Don’t fall in love with work; fall in love with working,”” Setien recalls of his former Art Institute instructor.
“Carlos Setien: 2016-2018 Large Scale Missouri River Landscape Paintings” opens with a viewing and studio wine tasting party from 4 to 9 p.m. Feb 10 and continues through the end of February at 5899 Raytown Rd (first building to the left of Raytown City Hall – going East / on the North side of Raytown Rd). Hours by appointment, 816-935-6717 or 816-353-3171.