A painter, lithographer, and writer of the American West, Russell Chatham had several hundred solo exhibitions of his paintings and prints and is "considered one of the world's foremost lithographers." His work has been exhibited at most of the major museums in the west, at various colleges and universities, and is in at least three thousand public and private collections throughout the world. He has written numerous essays and short stories on hunting, fishing and conservation as well as on food and wine and had his work published in Outside, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, The Atlantic, and Outdoor Life.
Chatham's paintings focus on the landscape of his surroundings and include Missouri River headwater scenes and Yellowstone National Park. He was fascinated by changing seasons and changing light and the silent, spiritual aspects of landscape. Of his work, he said: "Creating art is an attempt to search for something beyond ourselves."
Chatham was raised in Carmel Valley, California, and there developed a love for the landscape. An inspiration for his painting was his grandfather, Gottardo Piazzoni, one of the foremost California painters in the early 20th century. Chatham inherited and used his painting tools, easel, and sketch box.
As an artist, Chatham is mostly self-taught with a stated intent of remaining distanced from the contemporary art world. He was not prolific and would sometimes finishes only six or seven large paintings a year.
"A Russell Chatham painting speaks of necessity. When we see it we know it had to be. We know that this vision could not have been left to languish without being given form.
There is no intrustion of the artist, no self-declaration.
When I see a Chatham painting I feel my own mind expounded in the natural world.
It works the way a good poem works, not to blind or startle or amaze—or as is frequently the case, to bore—but to make us say, "Ah! Yes. That's right! I had forgotten. Thank you."
- Dan Gerber
There is an intimacy between Russell Chatham and land he depicts. He walks that earth, wades in its streams, experiences the wind and snow and sun that daily alter its reality. Because of that linkage, his art seizes the spiritual essence of the land, and magnifies our primeval yearning to be part of it.
- Van Gordon Sauter, The Los Angeles Times
"As though waking from a deep and silent sleep, that wonderful state of calm and muted color, his work wears well."
- Robert Redford