Cowboy Classic

Western Art Collector Magazine

Nearly three years ago Arizona painter Ed Mell found himself listening to a proposition he had never heard before. Arizona Opera was reworking Zane Grey’s classic Western Riders of the Purple Sage, and they wanted the famous Arizona painter to create original backgrounds for the stage. Mell jumped on board immediately, and over the course of several years created original works for the stage production, as well as the poster image and a number of other pieces.

“I’d never done anything like it before, so it was the one and only time I could do it,” Mell says from his Phoenix studio. “I don’t plan on doing it again, but it was a really great experience.”

Arizona Opera is still configuring the works he created for the show – which includes segments of rocky outcropping, a variety of trees and a number of cloudy skies, all done in Mell’s recognizable form of abstraction – so not even the artist knows how everything will look.

“I’ve been working with them closely, but I don’t think even I’ll know until opening night,” he says.

Some of the works will be enlarged reproductions, while others will be projected onto elements of the stage. Mell estimates he did 15 different works for the show, which runs February 25 and 26 in Tucson, Arizona, and then moves to Phoenix for three shows on March 3 through 5. Arizona Opera is raffling off Mell’s lansdscape Chinle Mesa, which will be given away at the last performance on March 5.