Figurative sculptor Star Liana York is just as comfortable in a foundry as she is in a stable saddling up for a ride through the rural countryside surrounding her ranch near Abiquiu, New Mexico. Rambling trips like these have long influenced York’s artworks. While diverse in scale and subject matter, her bronze depictions of wild animals and livestock, cowboys and ranchers, and traditional Native culture are all rooted in her ongoing exploration — often on horseback — of the land she loves.
Raised in rural Prince George’s County, Maryland, York identified as an artist “from the time I was a little kid, as soon as I could hold a pencil,” she recalls. Her affinity for horses — and, consequently, the West — came later. As a teen, York babysat for a young mother who had once competed as a barrel racer; tales of her buckskin mustang mare, Texas Lady, inspired York and her sister to pool their earnings and purchase a horse of their own. York, who landed a job at a local stable to cover boarding costs, soon became a fixture on the local summer rodeo scene. From that point on, “I always had a fantasy about going out West,” York says.
The West would have to wait: York had college to consider, horses to ride, and — thanks to an influential high school art teacher — a budding career to focus on. The teacher had taught York to make miniature metal sculptures using centrifugal casting; these works began winning her acclaim in contests and commissions from interested galleries. Even before York began studying studio art at the University of Maryland, she was already a professional artist, earning tuition money by selling tiny works through local galleries.
As York’s reputation grew, so did her sculptures. Wanting to cast larger metal subjects, she fruitlessly searched for a local foundry. Those available on the East Coast “were so backed up it would take more than a year to get a sculpture cast,” York remembers. Serendipitously she found an alternative while visiting a Smithsonian art museum in Washington, D.C. On view were works by Frederic Remington that had been cast at a foundry in Santa Fe. York ultimately made the jump from East to West in 1985, a business decision that conveniently also fulfilled a personal dream.
The relocation to Santa Fe proved transformative, York says, giving her “so much firsthand knowledge of a whole world I didn’t even know existed.” The New Mexico landscape heightened her creative senses — “I find that I’m really addicted to being able to see space, to see great distances, to see mountains off in the distance,” she says — as did the people. Gradually, the visages of local ranchers and Natives crept into her work. “Meeting and getting to know these people was inspiring, because they were so in touch with the Earth and the rhythms of nature — something I felt like we were really losing in our modern society.”
One of York’s earliest Western sculpture series features Native women, a subject she landed on after attending a four-day Navajo coming-of-age ceremony. Others, both large and small, have included cowboy ranchers, wild animals imbued with sly personalities, and horses — perhaps York’s favorite subject — in various artistic styles, including as 3D interpretations of ancient desert and European rock art. All of these works reflect York’s endless fascination with her adopted state and her similarly endless quest to capture its unique facets.
Perhaps best representative of York’s work is Home at Last (2018), a bronze sculpture of a tired cowboy returning to familiar pastures after many days spent mending fences. His smile stretches cheek to cheek; his hat is held aloft. The horse under him is modeled after one of York’s own equines. The cowboy is subtly emblematic of artist as well. “The joy of returning home after being away for a long time — I so identify with that,” she says. “I love where I live.”
Star Liana York and Kevin Red Star are featured artists at the Sorrel Sky Gallery, which is hosting a reception for them 5 – 7:30 p.m. on August 7 in Santa Fe. York is represented by Sorrel Sky Gallery (Santa Fe and Durango, Colorado); K. Newby Gallery & Sculpture Garden in Tubac, Arizona; Medicine Man Gallery in Tucson, Arizona; and the Signature Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Photography: Images courtesy Under Exposed Photography, Wendy McEachern Photography
From our August/September 2020 issue.