Google Crater Lake, Colorado and a myriad of beautiful photos pop up. And theoretically landscape painter John Taft could pull up those images and paint without ever leaving his home in Longmont. But then he wouldn't get a chance to trek 16 miles round trip to marvel at the high mountain lake in person.
"It's invigorating if you're in condition for it," said Taft, who lives in Longmont.
Originally Taft planned to hike to the scenic vista with a friend, spend the night, and then hike out.
Crunched for time, the two men ended up doing the trip in one day, which was exhausting but worthwhile, Taft said.
"If you have to hike to a destination, it does prepare you," he said. "I'm kind of painting in my head as I go. You engage personally as a human with the scene rather than looking at a flat photograph. It's a dramatically different thing," Taft said, likening it to seeing a Rapids Game live versus on television.
"And I think it's important (to go in person)," he said. "As I've gained experience working with photographic reference which I use, in addition to sketches, I see more in the photograph because of my experience than I did a few years ago."
Taft opens his third one man show at the Vail International Gallery on Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m.
Regarded as one of the best Western landscape artists working today, Taft recently won the 2012 Oil Painters of America "Award of Excellence" at the most recent national show. He has been featured in Southwest Art magazine and exhibited his paintings at the American Masters exhibition at the Salmagundi Club in New York City, the Coors Western Art Auction and Exhibition in Denver, and the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Okla.
And for Taft, to paint scenes that he hasn't visited, using other people's photos would be, well blasphemous.
"The variety of terrain, seasons and light offers an endless source of subject matter for a landscape painter," said Taft, who has been painting professionally since 2004.
'John's paintings have soul'
Taft likens his painting career, and its evolution, to a love interest.
"It's a relationship that starts out with infatuation and excitment and matures in a way that gets deeper," Taft said. "It seems to get richer the more I paint."
And speaking of relationships, Taft said he's more aware these days of the opposing forces in the landscapes he chooses to paint.
"I'm more aware of the wind and the rain. Of erosion and of rebirth in the sense of trees dying and grasses and vegetation growing. Of runoff taking soil with it and water smashing against rocks. Everything is in transition," he said.
Vail International Gallery has represented Taft since 2009.
"Ever since we opened our doors in 2005, we had been looking for a western landscape painter who wasn't too established in their career so that we could grow along with them, but whose work was at a very high level of quality, and well priced. That is a very hard combination to find actually," said Patrick Cassidy, who owns the gallery with Marc LeVarn.
After seeing Taft's work, Cassidy "knew instantly that he was the painter we had been looking for."
People who buy Taft's paintings usually end up collecting more than one, Cassidy said.
"(Gallery visitors) usually respond to the fact that John's paintings come from the heart and are done with a tremendous respect for the landscape," Cassidy said. "John's paintings have soul; they present the landscape as a living, breathing thing with a unique personality and that is what makes people respond to his work with great enthusiasm."