Defiance exemplifies John Clymer's true love for the West and his ability to capture the heroism of a bygone era. He pays tribute by including many of the remembered specifics and vivid narratives of the life of the frontiersmen. His superior draftsmanship allowed him to render the many details of the figures' forms and dress, while his tight brushwork provides the composition with its dynamic sense of movement and dramatic tension. Clymer's sensitive use of color not only improves the accuracy of the image, but his broad use of softer washes contributes to the overall effect of the Western landscape.
Born in Wallensburg, Washington in 1907, Clymer showed great proclivity as an artist from an early age and sold his first two drawings to Colt Firearms Company when he was just sixteen years old. The young artist began earning a reputation as an illustrator for several publications including Cosmopolitan and American Magazine and continued his education under the direction of prominent western illustrators N.C. Wyeth and Harvey Dunn. A trip along the Yukon River in 1927 inspired Clymer with its wealth of imagery--including the disappearing way of life of the American Indian and the mining camps; these themes would become constant sources of inspiration for the rest of his career.
Although he forged a style completely his own, Clymer's subjects and desire to capture the dramatic narrative of the West harkens back to the famed 'cowboy artist,' Charles Marion Russell. Discussing the history that inspired similar scenes that have become iconic images of the West, Russell biographer Frederick Renner comments: "The welcome that the Indians extended to early explorers and traders eventually wore thin as more whites invaded the Indians' land. The first big influx followed the creation of the great fur companies, whose employees and the free trappers who traded with them, sought a fortune in beaver and other valuable furs. Even a heavily armed party of these resolute characters found it hazardous to get caught in the dreaded Blackfeet country." (Charles M. Russell: Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture in the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, 1974, p. 136) Defiance captures in exquisite detail a suspenseful moment of action as the Indian warriors on horseback brandishing their weapons encircle the frontiersmen, cowering behind a fallen tree. With a cloud of dust raised by the attackers, Clymer captures the speed of the horses and riders as well as evoking the sound of the drama, further heightening the action-packed narrative.
By the early twentieth century, the open frontier was no longer, but Clymer's art embodies the much loved vision of the Old West. Defiance captures with great energy and drama the suspense of fur trappers desperately trying to escape the dangerous foe and creates a reminiscent glimpse into the Old West.