In living color |

In living color

Susan Crawford
Ian ClarkDon Sahli painting above China Bowl in Vail.

Don’t be surprised if you ride up Beaver Creek’s Centennial lift this weekend next to an artist carrying an easel, canvas, oil paints and other assorted art supplies. Don Sahli, the American artist on skis, will be in residence at the Beaver Creek Fine Art Gallery at St. James Place from Feb. 17-19. During the day he will be out painting on the mountain or in the village, and will be exhibiting his work in the gallery each evening from 4:30 – 8 p.m.

Sahli is a veteran on the mountain, having painted at both Beaver Creek and Vail in 2003. “I was quite a sight on the ski slopes,” he said. “At the end of the day, I skied down with a painting on my back. It was a 24-inch by 30-inch canvas and it would catch air and throw me from one side of the run to the other.”

Although Sahli does begin many of his landscape paintings outdoors, and in all seasons, he completes most of his pieces in an Evergreen barn that he converted into an office and studio. Sahli moved to Evergreen in 1991 and lives there with his wife, Cindy, and their 10- and 12-year-old boys, Sam and Jeff.

Seated in his studio at a red wooden table with pots of geraniums on a nearby window ledge, Sahli recently discussed the opportunity to explore Beaver Creek and some old homestead sites. “It is interesting to see what can happen out there. Imagine all of the colors of skiwear and skis,” he said.

Indeed, color is a distinguishing element in Sahli’s paintings. A three-year apprenticeship with Sergei Bongart, the Russian colorist who followed the modern Russian painting tradition founded by painter Ilya Repin, strongly influenced Sahli’s use of color.

Bongart taught Sahli how to see in terms of color, color relationships and harmony. “For example, the sky is not necessarily blue and apples are not necessarily red. If you put an apple next to something purple, it will pick up shades of purple,” Sahli explained.

“I don’t think about the actual object that I am painting, I focus instead on painting the color of an object related to the object next to it,” he said.

Sahli also adopted Bongart’s spontaneity, which he said works well while painting in cold and windy conditions, or when capturing a sunset’s fleeting beauty. In these situations, Sahli paints only those elements that are truly necessary to convey the scene. “It is not how much detail you include in a painting, but what you leave out that really matters,” the artist said.

By focusing on the memorable aspects of a scene, Sahli is able to communicate a temperature or an atmosphere through his paintings. “It is a wonderful compliment,” he said, “when a viewer says that a painting communicates a feeling.”

Sahli’s goal as an artist is to convey a positive feeling through his work. “Our society is running at full-speed and the pace of life is becoming ridiculous,” he said. “If I can give someone an image that calms and soothes, they may think more about how to be a better person. That is what art is for, to give humanity time to pause and ponder.”

The artist strives to portray the essence of each scene that he paints, whether it is the beauty of Vail’s Piney Lake or the tranquility of a South Carolina island. “Some of my clients are unable to get to these places, but through my work I can transport them there,” Sahli said.

Sahli describes himself as an American landscape artist trained in the Russian school of art. In 1995, he founded his own art school, the Sahli School of Art. Its purpose is to continue the Russian heritage of painting that has so influenced his own style.

“I paint where I live and what I know,” he said. Sahli envisions preparing an exhibition to convey his interpretation of the American landscape. “It will cover the scope and scale of the U.S. and include paintings from the South, Southwest and Alaska, for example. It will include something for everyone to identify with,” he said.

In April, Sahli will travel to the East Coast where he will capture scenes from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River. He will end his journey in Washington D.C. at the Cherry Blossom Festival.

For more information about Don Sahli’s work and the Sahli School of Art, log onto View additional pieces of Sahli’s art on

Support Local Journalism

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User