Vail Valley artist James Van Fossan sells masterpiece ‘Drama Magnifico’
Longtime local artist James Van Fossan’s “Drama Magnifico” has sold to a private collector in Chicago. True to Van Fossan’s vision, the collector has planned a full public display of “Drama Magnifico,” complete with sketches and photographs from the creative process, as well as original music Van Fossan wrote to accompany the piece.
“A lot of people want to see how it was made, the process of it,” Van Fossan said.
“A painting such as this commands a presence and invites discussion,” said Bradbury Ketelhut of Bradbury Art and Antiques, with whom Van Fossan and his wife work closely.
“Drama Magnifico” is 8-and-a-half feet tall and 6-and-a-half feet wide. Van Fossan spent more than 4,000 hours over three years, painting more than 150 human figures. Finished in 2015, the piece went on to show at Great Jones Gallery in New York City.
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With every piece he creates, Van Fossan strives to achieve modern aesthetics while paying homage to Renaissance Masters. He’s always loved painters like Rembrandt, and he and his wife Leigh Ann, also an artist, talk about similarities between then and now. To them, the answer to that question is human: the way we love, the way we act. “Drama Magnifico” hopes to capture a slice of that.
One way Van Fossan played with time and timelessness in the painting was through clothing choices. The women wear simple wrap dresses that don’t immediately tell viewers what era the painting is in.
“Except the jeans. I don’t think they had jeans back then. One guy has cargo shorts on,” Van Fossan said.
And that choice was meant to show that this human experience can and has happened throughout civilizations and history. The theme continues into his more recent cloud paintings, which use classic techniques with modern touches: white clouds on a gold sky, for example.
“It could be anywhere in the world. When you look up at the sky, it brings you home,” he said. “We all have that common of the sky.”
Though Van Fossan is excited to see “Drama Magnifico” fulfill its purpose, it’s also a bit weird to be sending off this thing that represents three years of his life out into the world.
“I’ve gone through ups and downs,” he said. “When I finished that piece, I had so much to say about it, but I also knew it might be a while before I sell it. I’ve said about as much as I can about that painting. Maybe someday, someone else can write about it.”
But he’s all for it.
“It’s open to interpretation, and I know what my interpretation was when I painted it, but I wanted it to be subjected to the public’s interpretation,” he said.
What’s next for Van Fossan is ultimately taking him out of the valley. He and Leigh Ann are moving to Maine with Ketelhut to help open a gallery in Wiscasset, just under an hour north of Portland. They will both show work there.
Though the art world, like many industries, looks very different during the COVID-19 pandemic, Van Fossan said, “it’s a good time for artists to work.”
Bigger than that, Van Fossan believes art is important to remind people of the beauty in the world when times aren’t looking so beautiful.
“I think art should always be a relief for people, or an escape. There’s truth everywhere, and art should reflect that and a sense of aesthetic beauty. But gosh, there’s so many people who don’t understand the importance of it until it’s gone,” he said. “I think it really helps and changes people when they’re down or sad. Whether they do it themselves or they learn to appreciate it.”
And with a sense of humor, Van Fossan rounds out the discussion of “Drama Magnifico,” art and pandemic with a fitting joke.
“Maybe I should just paint masks on all the people,” he said.