Over the years, the Vail Valley has become not only a local hub for art and artists, but a national one as well.
In both Vail and Beaver Creek, a plethora of fine art and contemporary galleries are only a few feet from one another, each boasting a collection rivaling those in the bigger cities. There is always an array of art on display year-round, but this summer is a local art aficionado’s dream, with two top-notch art festivals and exhibits featuring both master painters and those doing something new in their chosen medium. Here’s a look at just a few of the artists to view and events to attend this season, when you want to set your eyes on something that might be more beautiful than our own local landscape. The mountain sky is hard to replicate on canvas, but that doesn’t stop many artists from trying, or instead creating a new way to view the horizon altogether. It’s like modernist painter Chagall said, “Great art picks up where nature ends.”
Custom designs from creative craftsmen
Held in Edwards, Art on the Rockies kicked off Friday, and continues today through Sunday. Art on the Rockies started four years ago and now includes more than 100 artists selected from a pool of over 10,000. The festival is designed to be for both the art buyer and admirer, and unlike at galleries, the artists will be on hand to talk about their work. The festival features not only painters but also sculptors, ceramicists, jewelers and furniture makers like Lara Moore, known for her one-of-a-kind designs. Moore began making furniture 17 years ago and has her own studio in Indiana. When looking at her designs, many people first think it’s fabric or paint, but Moore actually uses layers of tissue paper to create her patterns.
“Essentially it was an accident,” Moore said. “I was an art history major (taking) a studio work class. I wasn’t very talented. I wasn’t a very good drawer but I had a good design form. I found what I was suited for was cutting. With cutting paper, you get line, shape and color instantly.”
Moore often does custom work and uses art festivals to meet new clients who want her to make a piece just for them.
“Most customers want something special, something unique,” Moore said. “But sometimes I meet people who say, ‘Just do your thing,’ and that’s the best.”
This will be Moore’s first showing at Art on the Rockies. Moore said while people in some areas of the country tend to be bargain-hunters more concerned with price than the product, in places like Colorado, there’s a better understanding of the craft and hard work put into each design.
“On the West Coast, people have more of an appreciation and better manners about not saying, ‘I need a better deal on this,’” Moore said. “It’s really great when people get it. They want (my work) and they want it enough that they pay for it. It is a business, it’s how I make my living.”
Iconic American art
Another artist who knows the struggle of pursing his passion while trying to get by is Santiago Michalek, a painter from Utah who’s this year’s Art on the Rockies poster artist. Michalek is known for his playful paintings of Volkswagen buses and bugs, each of which have their own personality, just like the cars themselves. Shortly after getting married a few years ago, Michalek and his wife needed a car, but they were low on cash. He did a little research and found that VW bugs were affordable and easily fixable. Michalek then started buying the classic cars and tinkering with them, which turned into a full-time restoration business.
“It was a hobby that turned into a business that I was supposed to make a couple of bucks on while I painted,” Michalek said. “Eventually I realized I was straying from my goals and my path, which was to be an artist. (I needed) to turn the wheel back toward art. (I thought), ‘What if I painted a Volkswagen?’ I don’t think I’ve seen a classical painting of a Volkswagen. I started painting Volkswagens and it took off that way.”
Michalek’s Volkswagen paintings often spark road trips down memory lane for those who see them for the first time.
“Particularly the buses, there is such a deep love and kind of cult following for (them),” Michalek said. “I think it has to be the nostalgia and the history involved. … They’ve become an iconic part of who we are.”
Michalek has been painting Volkswagens for eight years, but this will be his first trip to Art on the Rockies.
“I love the fact that you get to meet one on one with people and see how they respond to the work firsthand,” Michalek said.
Bright canvases for sunny days
One artist who is always mixing new colors into her canvases is local painter Britten. Britten debuted her new collection at C. Anthony gallery at the beginning of July, which is called “Alive with Freedom.”
“I did not set out to paint a collection around the idea of ‘Freedom,’” Britten said. “When I looked at all the pieces drying in the studio, I realized how diverse they all are. Each one is an individual with a unique personality; each one stands alone independently. There is a sense of freedom in their diverse expressions.”
Well-known for the way she plays with illumination and texture, Britten’s work is best viewed in the flesh, as her paintings often evoke a visceral experience. The artist said she does not have a preconceived idea before she begins painting.
“I start with splashes of color or pigment and each layer builds on itself,” Britten said. “I actually clear my mind so that I can go with whatever emerges. It’s intuitive or natural to know when a piece is finished. It has a sense of balance that I can feel. At that point I can actually see the painting for itself.”
Local color from Colorado artists
If you’re looking for local art, look no further than Vail’s Art on a Whim, which focuses on contemporary Colorado artists. Art on a Whim’s Falling for Summer group show runs through July 27 and features brand new pieces with a summertime theme. Ross Raitman, co-owner of the gallery, said one artist to watch during the Falling for Summer show will be Kris Lee, who takes handblown glass, embeds it through her canvas paintings and then runs an LED light behind the canvas to make use of the negative space.
“When the lights are off in a room it literally glows so you see a completely different scene,” Raitman said.
Art on a Whim opened their Vail location last November. Raitman said what he likes about local art lovers here is their knowledge and ability to know quality art when they see it.
“Vail art collectors are intelligent when it comes to the art world,” Raitman said. “It’s nice to hang out with people who understand and appreciate fine art. People appreciate that we have a Colorado-centered focus of our artists, who are capturing the beauty of the state.”
A window to the world through art
The second large art event this season will be the Beaver Creek Arts Festival, held Aug. 2-3. The festival features more than 200 artists of all kinds representing their work in person. Howard Alan, promoter of the festival, said his goal is to bring interesting and diverse artists to Colorado and Beaver Creek for the first time.
Alan said visitors to the festival should “plan on being impressed.”
“It’s one of the top art shows in the country,” Alan said. “There are other shows that are bigger, but where do you have an art show with the mountains in the background, great restaurants, a great venue and great art? It’s the venue that makes all the difference.”
The festival offers an annual giveaway prize, and this year it will be photographer Andrew Butler’s “Watchful Eye,” which he shot in Morocco. Butler spent 30 years as a mailman before a fateful trip to Bali two decades ago. There he met a fellow traveler who had run out of funds to get home, so he sold his camera equipment to Butler. With no formal training, Butler began taking photos of his travels, inspired by the bright colors and landscapes of foreign lands. After showing some of his work locally in Santa Cruz, California, Butler turned his eye on the art market and has been a full-time photographer ever since. Butler said he tries to stay far away from the average vacation slideshow.
“For me it’s about trying to tell a story,” Butler said. “I’ve always been fascinated with National Geographic, the kind of images you can look at and immediately get (your) attention … I always wanted to be able to duplicate that — tell a story with one image.”
Butler frames his photographs in antique window frames, which adds to the visual voyeurism of the images.
“(It’s like) if you were sitting in your living room, looking out into a different part of the world through your window,” Butler said.
Butler said each of his photographs is an original, which is ultimately what people are looking for.
“You want (to create) something where people say, ‘Oh my gosh, where did you get that? I’ve never seen anything like it,’” Butler said.
Exclusive exhibits of master works
C. Anthony’s Master’s Exhibit Aug. 15-16 will feature many classic artists from the past. Rare works from Pablo Picasso, Miro, Salvador Dali, Rembrandt and others will be on display at the gallery, many for the first time. C. Anthony will also have original oils from Stokely Webster, an American impressionist influenced by Claude Monet. Gallery director Josephine de Lucinges said C. Anthony is the only gallery in the U.S. to have these works from Webster. C. Anthony will also be exhibiting pieces from more than one Pissarro, a family of painters who are descendants of French impressionist Camille Pissarro. De Lucinges said you often only see Camille’s work in museums these days, and for C. Anthony to have an original watercolor of his is “very prestigious.”
As for what makes an artist a “master,” that’s open to interpretation.
“Master status is (often) determined by art history,” de Lucinges said. “Art history appreciates something new, something different, innovative, a new outlook, a new angle, a new perspective or a new vision. Their work speaks for itself, so when you see it you recognize the master.”
For artists, summertime can be a ripening of inspiration, giving them warmer hues to work with. Britten said summer is her favorite season, and not just because she’s free from the “constraint of socks.”
“The beauty of summer influences me,” Britten said. “The options for fun are endless as are the possibilities in art. There is no separation between my life and my art, it’s all just an experience. How the experience is interpreted is up to the viewer.”
In the summer, most want to be outside, soaking up the rays. But take a few days and bask yourself in inspiration from an artist like Britten, or any of the others shown locally this season. The sun may light up your face, but only art can enlighten your mind.