Montyne was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. Little did anyone know that on the day this artist entered into the world it marked the beginning of one of the most colorful and adventurous careers ever to exist in the history of the arts. Montyne flashed across the world of art like a brilliant comet, and his wonderful work secretly continues to blaze a spectacular trail of accomplishments that are truly all his own.
His rare talent was recognized early at the age of nine. As other children were enjoying the fruits of a carefree and spontaneous life, this child prodigy was being tutored privately. Only a few years later he was studying anatomy with medical students. At the age of twelve, because of a frail and sickly physique, he suddenly developed a consuming desire for physical strength. He became a devoted physical culturist and started training by way of a Charles Atlas weight-lifting course. Young Montyne received a medal from Mr. Atlas for “Physical Perfection” and continued to practice this way of living throughout his entire life. This passion to build strength into his undersized body led him into weight-lifting, yoga, martial arts, dance, and gymnastics, where he established many early records.
His willpower was enormous. His ability to overcome obstacles eventually led him into championship athletics wherein he established many weight-lifting records and won numerous trophies in fencing, wrestling and gymnastics. At this time in his early life Montyne was one of the few men in the world ever to have “pressed” double his body weight over his head. Nevertheless, he continued to study relentlessly throughout his youth, attending the University of Utah and graduating with top honors from the A. B. Wrights Academy of Fine Arts. He then went to study in Mexico City (where he studied the art of bull-fighting), Spain and Italy. Throughout his studies and physical training, young Montyne laid the unique foundation for his genius in art.
In 1940 he was to enter the Olympics for fencing and weightlifting, but the world had another challenge to concern itself with: World War II. The lost opportunity to compete in the famous games was heartbreaking, but he turned his attention to a number of artistic endeavors. One example was the popular “Lose-a-minute, Save-a-life” series of black and white illustrations on driving safety. This was considered the first national campaign to inform the public about the dangers of driving an automobile while under the influence of alcohol. He also worked on book illustrations, cartoons, and advertising. His growing notoriety afforded him the opportunity to paint a series of “cheesecake” or “pin-up” art for calendars to raise money for the war effort. Montyne’s pin-ups displayed the “girl next door” coyness, coupled with a palpable yet innocent sexuality. His work was in great demand by servicemen everywhere. Montyne was not admitted into the armed forces because of a previously broken back that had left him bedridden for eight months. The large red X that a military doctor painted on his chest while examining him was a blessing in disguise. The young and somewhat discouraged artist watched from the sidelines as his friends entered into the war. The ship on which Montyne would have traveled to go fight the tyranny was sunk by a German U-boat, killing all aboard.
This situation led him in a direction that would affect his art and his life forever. Montyne was motivated to turn his athletic prowess to a professional use. He became a world-renowned theatrical entertainer, performing a dangerous hand balancing act. During this time he appeared with Bob Hope and did many shows for the servicemen in the war. Later in his life he would be acclaimed as the “World’s Foremost Hazard Balancer,” appearing in theaters and nightclubs throughout the world as well as in over thirty television programs. Montyne met many stars, politicians and public personalities while performing. Many times he created works of art for these people as well as producing a number of canvas works of art throughout the world while traveling.
This combination of performer and artist allowed him to gain additional exposure to world cultures. This gave him a broad background from which to draw, adding the exciting vitality and moving spirit that became The Montyne Experience. The opportunity to observe the body in action under stress and in motion by closely watching athletes in training year after year afforded him invaluable supplementary knowledge. His early studies in the dissection laboratory, on the posing platform, and in athletics can be clearly seen in his work.
Montyne was destined to become the creative anatomist known for duplicating the living spirit in his figures as never before seen. From the beginning he was devoted to the companion arts of painting and sculpture. After many years of hard work and experimenting he fused the two into an art-form he called “Dimensional Painting.” Montyne would be recognized as the “Sculptor-Painter” and his contributions to the art world are revolutionary. He added a third dimension of depth to the art of painting, using his ideas to create depth within a two-dimensional medium. The most popular was the “Tarzan of the Apes” work for View-Master. “Cyrano,” “Samson,” and “The Bullfighter in Blue” are just a few subjects he created in this unique style that is all his own and is The Montyne Experience.
During the end of the forties and into the fifties, Montyne created a tremendous amount of work. It is considered by many to be a period in his life that was uninterrupted by the normal responsibilities of living. This made his work very free, passionate and inspired, the kind of inspiration and passion that comes from God and is channeled through the artist. His creativity exploded with fantastic works on canvas and in stone. His ability to take any subject and give it a spiritual reality was nearly unbelievable.
Montyne’s work was ahead of its time. Like a man with a pencil in the Stone Age, Montyne dared to challenge common doctrine. His idea of a greater God was manifested in his love of the human body. “This machine,” he said, “exemplifies the most fantastic work ever created.” The subject matter in which he placed this creation of God was what would challenge him in this period of life and later. Many people were hypocritical towards the unclothed human body, seeing it as a sin against the ubiquitous spirit that created it.
Because it is understood and shared by everyone, the element of danger has always been a basic ingredient of the theater. Montyne accomplished this by performing his entire show above a bed of razor-sharp blades and devoid of any safety device. Like a slash of red on one of his paintings, he gave a certain accent to his performance that was truly attainable in no other way. The climax to this beautiful act was the climb of death, which no one to this day has tried to duplicate, not even his son. And yet, while performing this act, sometimes five times a day, he found time to paint and sculpt. Like his act, which was an example of incredible control defying the thrust of a score of blades, his artwork became a thrust of human experiences, all of which defy the challenges of nature.
Montyne takes us into places we only dream about, as in “Indian Fantasy.” When you look into the face of his famous painting of death, it reminds you of where you are going after you die. “The Reaper,” named after one of the five incarnations of immortality, dares to challenge our perceptions of our life after death. It also reminds you of the way in which you live. Montyne was able to create the illusion of life and death within one painting. Once your mortal eyes have viewed this painting, you will walk away mesmerized by the artistry of this great painter. Hundreds of works were created during this period of his life. Many of his paintings were stolen and some have yet to be rediscovered, while others are fixed on display for us to enjoy every day.
The last chapter in Montyne’s life is filled with love, miracles, and pain. Montyne fell in love and married the woman of his dreams while in Portland Oregon. He never thought while doing a tour in Oregon that he would stop, settle down, and begin a family. At this time in his life he had already lived three lives. He had mastered his body and looked like a man half his age. He had traveled the world, was intelligent, and it looked as if there was no end to his free spirit. “Indian Fantasy” was the grand female portrait of his imagination. When he first looked at his wife to be, the resemblance was so startling that, as history can prove, it stopped the artist in his tracks. After his marriage he added his wife China to his act. The beautiful China gave the standing pageantry of suspense and performance artistry a new luster of beauty. Not only did his wife add a refreshing zip to his act, she gave Montyne a family. For the rest of his life, Montyne painted and sculpted his beautiful wife. “Gallatia” was Montyne’s Mona Lisa, a fantastic combination of color, anatomy and fantasy that is the hallmark of a Montyne.
Montyne moved into a large home in Portland and began to concentrate on his visual art more than ever. He gave lectures at the university and was enjoying some moderate fame as a classical artist. In 1963 he created what was at that time the world’s largest float, The Roman Fiesta. This float was entered into the Portland Rose Parade and was viewed by 330,000 people and millions on television. Montyne took all top honors in Portland, then he entered the float into the Pasadena Rose Parade where he again won first place.
This work of art would change his life because it gave one of the viewers the seed for an idea in the middle of the desert. Jay Sarno built Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. The main theme was borrowed from the Montyne float that had captured the attention of millions. Sarno and Montyne became fast friends and their relationship led Montyne and his family to the city in the desert in 1968. Montyne was commissioned by Sarno to create twelve heroic sized statues for the front of his new hotel, Circus Circus. Not only did Montyne do this commission, but he performed his act with his wife nightly under the permanent big top that was to become one of the most successful operations in the history of Las Vegas gaming. At this time Montyne’s work was in demand by every hotel in the city and the rewards were good both financially and personally.
Montyne after their artist on contract had failed to complete a series of murals for what was then the world’s largest hotel. Montyne took on the monumental commission and did what no other artist could have done. The first artist was given twenty-four months to do the work. In twenty-one months she had finsihed only two murals. Montyne completed all of the 36 heroic sized murals in three months. At the end of the three months Montyne collapsed for more than fourteen hours, the result of staying up for sometimes five to six days without sleep. He returned to decorate MGM’s “China” restaurant with a series of grand murals that were created in a 10th and 16th century Chinese style, even using bamboo brushes.
At the top of his profession Montyne was to experience the darker side of the city in the desert. He had spent years creating a series of murals that depicted hell, “Montyne’s Inferno.” The work was done to help people make a decision on what path in life to take, and hoping that after viewing hell they would choose goodness. The message was successful and Montyne set out to place the exhibit in shows throughout the United States. While Montyne was performing in Japan with his wife, a certain group of unscrupulous members of Las Vegas hijacked the art work and held it for ransom. The work was not found until seven years later, buried in the desert and destroyed by the elements. At the same time, Jay Sarno’s prize statue of Montyne’s “Rape of the Sabine” was stolen. This statue is considered one of Montyne’s finest sculptures. It is rumored that the statue lies in some warehouse at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and that Sarno collected the insurance money from its disappearance, unable to find it within himself to destroy the work of art.
This was a dark time for the artist. The same men who sought to profit from his art, descendants of the Bugsy Siegal era, sought to extort money from the artist. After being driven out into the desert by the thugs, Montyne challenged them and left them in the wasteland, driving their limo back into Vegas alone. After this incident Montyne found it harder to get work with the hotels and changed direction. He independently started to create a series of paintings and sculptures that were to be sold in galleries. All of these works are priceless, once again demonstrating the artist’s ability to overcome the forces of evil that can sometimes influence our lives.
Montyne hung on to his dignity as rejection sometimes dominated this time in his unique life. The men who built Las Vegas wanted more than his art, and what they lost was the opportunity to fill their houses with more history. The MGM in Reno, Nevada was one of the last hotels to have his brush touch their walls. In 1980 a fire destroyed the murals in the old MGM.
The University of Nevada Las Vegas commissioned the artist to create a statue for its campus. What Montyne designed was a twenty-five foot statue of a Rebel made of a material he had invented called Poly-Marble. This statue did more than encompass the theme of the college, it truly signified the underlining thought of its founders. The tiny art department rebelled, saying the statue should come from within the department. Montyne refused to give his talent to an institution that was full of so much controversy. What was lost due to the vanity of an immature institution was a great work of art. All that remains is the rendering the artist painted in two days.
continued to create statues and began to fuse more of his sculpture with his paintings. He reintroduced a series of greeting cards he had created in the late fifties. At that time they were considered outrageous, but by today’s standards they are considered entertaining, as they were meant to be. The Montyne Violent Cards© sold moderately well in some of the hotel gift shops in Las Vegas and Reno. From pen and ink to sculpturing, Montyne was an American artist who had truly mastered his profession. During this period Montyne’s work was sold all over the world through many galleries, including the Marcus Gallery, the Gross Galleries, the Jamari Gallery, the Minator Galleries, and many others. He created a series of western art, then some religious paintings and statues, but always returned to his sculpture-paintings.
“The Bull Fighter,” “The Mexican Bandit” and portaits of the human body are all examples of his mastery in color and sculpture. The cigarette in “The Mexican Bandit” looks as if it is really on fire, and the hand of “The Bull-Fighter” looks as if you can reach out and touch it. Montyne’s art is full of strength. It compels you to appreciate life and yet it makes you humble because it makes you wonder who or what is responsible for our lives and the world around us. At this time he set out to create a statue of three rampant horses on an elaborate base that would take him eight years to complete, and to his wife and family it still remains unfinished.
In 1981 a man entered into Montyne’s life from his past. Montyne needed the work this man was proposing. The outcome of a series of meetings with this man was to be the last commission in Montyne’s long and historical career. Montyne went to Beverly Hills, California and spent fourteen months painting a series of murals. This work included many subject matters. In the Grand Stairway was a scene of Napoleon and his troops struggling with a cannon. In the dining area was a mural of a medieval feast at a banquet table. On other walls the artist painted Neptune, a fight between two gladiators, and Moses. In one area Montyne chose to create a softer atmosphere by depicting an oriental landscape. In the master bedroom Montyne created a ceiling mural of the Almighty God. It captured both the power of God and his kindness. The end of this commission is a story in itself. The man who commissioned him never paid in full for his work. This marked the end of Montyne’s creativeness. He completed a few paintings and dreamed of the Montyne Museum, something he would never see in his lifetime. He never sculpted or painted again.
Montyne’s work, his teachings and his philosophy are beginning to appear in many places. His work is an example of a passion that we can only express as he did in a 1979 documentary on his work by The Carson Broadcasting Company:
“The work of art first starts in the mind. Whether it is in stone, on canvas, or an actor in a movie, to make a work of art tangible for others to see takes a lot of guts and hard work.”
In this short film biography, the memory of one of America’s great artists is recorded. His influence on the development of Las Vegas into a theme hotel resort destination, and his early works in pin-up and romantic type art are only a small example of what was created by the popular artist.
Montyne died in his son’s arms March 17, 1989. What remains is The Montyne Experience, a wonderful trail of art that lights up a dark sky in the heat of the night.
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