As the official 2015 artist, acclaimed Western painter Carrie Fell brings slopeside fans into the wild, slightly unhinged world of downhill skiing
Downhill skiing is inherently insane. Carrie Fell knows this.
No, really, set aside the adrenaline and artistry and Aksel Lund Svindal’s jaw line to think on it: Skiers of every age and ability — not just globe-trotting Olympians like Svindal — are a touch crazy. They’re crazy for choosing craggy peaks over sun-drenched beaches. They’re crazy for tempting life and limb to notch a few exhilarating turns. They’re crazy for simply shoving their toes inside a bulky, rigid, Inquisition-style ski boot.
Carrie Fell knows all this. It’s in her blood, so to speak: Like a good Colorado native, she spent her childhood on the slopes. Her first taste of Vail powder came in the ‘70s, some two decades before a vibrant, almost dreamlike take on Western art made her something of a local celebrity.
Now Fell turns that eye for rustic Americana on the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships. Her official series of downhill-inspired pieces, titled “The Competitive Edge,” is wildly removed from a frontier milieu of cowboys and chuck wagons.
“I have such a hard time wrapping my head around the physical aspect of skiing,” Fell said from her Denver studio, the Front Range counterpart to her flagship gallery in Solaris Plaza. “Yes, I am a skier, but no matter how many videos I watch and how many photos I see, I can’t understand the desire to stand at the top of the gate and get ready to ski a sheet of ice.”
Yet Fell still watches in awe. Despite the palpable insanity of plummeting headlong down a steep, tree-lined alley covered in bulletproof snow, she can hardly turn away. It’s the mystifying mentality shared by sports fans the world over: We look on as top athletes tempt the near-impossible and, when drive and talent and downright chutzpah align, it touches a sort of collective nerve.
“I wanted to capture the attention of the fan, the bystander, the people who see these very disciplined and intense athletes,” Fell said. “I think most people really admire that, but they’re seeing it from such a far distance. With these pieces, I wanted them to be brought directly into that world. They can almost imagine being that person.”
The wish fulfillment isn’t all rippling quads and airbrushed cheekbones. (Leave that for Svindal’s inevitable “Outside” cover shoot.) Like most of her work, each skier in the 2015 series is faceless. There’s a method to the artistic madness: By melding dozens of top-tier pros on the same canvas — Lindsey Vonn’s powerful tuck here, Ted Ligety’s surgical edging there — pieces like “Effective Edge” showcase the connection between humans and nature, speed and tranquility, insanity and inspiration. Skiers don’t shy away from the sport’s visceral dangers: They embrace them with the same cool confidence and playful rebellion found in Fell’s romanticized West.
“Athletes should prove to us that with a strong desire, we can have anything we want; we can achieve anything we want to achieve,” Fell says. “They can become symbols of that, and through my art, I want to reflect that back to the bystander, make them ask, ‘What is in me?’”
And if that’s insane, well, the world could use a taste of insanity. Carrie Fell knows this.