When Ian Clark headed to East Vail last week to paint, he didn't know if he'd end up focusing on the changing aspen leaves, the jagged Gore Range peaks, or something else entirely. When a few bikers rode by, he snapped a couple of reference photos with his camera and then picked up his paintbrush.
"There might not have been any bikers and it could have been a completely different painting," he said.
Clark is a plein air oil painter who lives in Gypsum but paints around the Vail Valley and beyond - in Carbondale, Leadville and Paonia to name a few. He paints en plein aire - outdoors - about 80 percent of the time, he estimates.
"There's a certain expression of life that can't be duplicated in the studio; what you see in nature is obviously much more profound than a photograph," he said.
This past summer, Clark found himself painting a lot of bicycle scenes, in part because there's a prevalent "bike culture" here, which means there's plenty of subject matter, and also because they've sold well.
"I work from Carbondale part time and that place is amazing, full of old cruisers and people who like to bike all the time," he said. "They have these full moon parties where they dress up their bikes and do a parade around town."
This summer at Boom Days in Leadville, Clark saw a man pedaling an old timey bike with a huge front wheel and small back wheel, called a penny-farthing.
"A guy came by my tent (at the farmeer's market in Leadville) and said 'hey, that's my brother,'" pointing at the painting, Clark said. "He kept coming by and the last day of the farmer's market he bought it."
This week, Clark installed a dozen or so paintings at the Alpine Arts Center in Edwards, where they'll be on display through November. The exhibit is called "Impressions." A few bike-themed paintings are on display, along with a selection of landscape and still-life paintings. The Alpine Arts Center will host a reception for the exhibit on Friday from 5 to 7 p.m.
"He has loose brushstrokes, and has that impressionist style," said Lauren Merrill, the owner of the Alpine Arts Center. "I like that his work has a freshness to it. He captures really interesting scenes. He has one piece that is called 'Hanging out in Paonia': it has a really nice scene of flowers in a yard, a clothes line hanging off of a house - something you don't see everyday in Vail."
Clark has lived in Eagle County for two decades, and been painting full time for 12 years. He sells his work at Walt Horton Fine Art in Beaver Creek, as well as at the Vail and Leadville farmer's markets during the summers.
Clark taught skiing when he first moved out here, and did his stint as a ski bum.
"I realized I needed something more year round, something I was passionate about," he said. "Life is timing. We're not necessarily in control all the time of where our destiny lies. I came to one of those bridges in life where you have to do what you like to do, and for me, that was the reason to pick up a paintbrush and do art full time."
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.