Itinerant artist |

Itinerant artist

Stew Mosberg
Special to the Daily/Ian Clark Artist Don Sahli will be carousing the trails of Vail Mountain with his art sherpa Friday through Sunday, from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Afterwards, he'll be at Vail Fine Art in Crossroads.

While skiing Vail’s vast terrain it’s not unusual to see a skier with a camera pointed toward the beautiful vistas, creating a snapshot memory to take home.

On the other hand, it might be a surprise to come upon a painter dressed in Carhardt overalls, fleece jacket and ski hat, setting up an easel on the side of the trail or applying paint to canvas, capturing shadows, spruce trees, and skiers making tracks in new fallen snow.

Friday through Saturday, skiers and snowboarders on Vail Mountain will have just such a chance. During that time, well known plein air painter Don Sahli will be back in Vail working his magic on the trails in the mornings and later in the afternoon at Vail Fine Art Gallery, where, as artist in residence, he will continue to develop the day’s painting.

Skiing around the mountain, Sahli might seem to be enjoying making turns like the rest of the down-hillers, which he no doubt will be. But while doing so, he’s also looking for a spot that intrigues him, one that makes a statement about light and shadow, and appears to be a challenge for his prodigious talents.

Once the spirit moves him, he will set the easel in the snow, lock a canvas in place, focus for a few minutes on the scene before him and then, moving his brush around the blank surface, begin sketching out the panorama.

“I found it difficult at first to ski and to look for location,” he says. “When I put all my focus into skiing I did well. But after stopping, taking off ski boots looking for the right view, it was almost dangerous to begin skiing again. Like using different parts of your brain.”

To help with the maneuvering, the carrying of materials – tubes of paint weigh a lot – and the juggling of equipment, Sahli employed the services of Ian Clark, a Vail resident and a student of his, to act as “art sherpa.” The arrangement has been ideal for both of them.

When describing the difficulties he encounters while painting the outdoors in winter, Sahli talked about the special problems with temperature, falling snow and wind.

“Oil and water don’t mix, so snow doesn’t affect the work, but, freezing temperature affects paint, causing a sponge effect. My white got so thick it took muscle to load the brush and apply it to canvas… (but) because of the thickness it took on a whole new dimension… the brushwork was exciting. Wind is a problem too, because the canvas can become a sail.”

To the untrained eye, snow appears basically white, perhaps with a few dark shadows. But to Sahli it is full of color: purple, blue, green, all are reflected onto the ground cover by the natural surroundings. Schooled in Russian Impressionism, Sahli’s uncanny eye easily finds a wide variety of color in the most mundane of objects. Watching him paint, and looking at his body of work on display at the gallery, is a lesson in how to see.

Sahli describes the feeling he wants to awaken in himself as well as others who view the result:

“I want to convey the drama that first captured my attention, the atmosphere and the soul of the place… to go past just the image to touch the viewer in a way that evokes emotion.”

Those familiar with the techniques of Russian artists Peter Kotov and Sergei Bongart, Sahli’s teacher, will see the unique relationship of color, form and design that Sahli’s work possesses. They are the direct result of truly seeing and finding what is in front of you.

Most people never have the chance to watch the creative process or talk to the artist about his or her work. Consider this an opportunity. Look for him on the mountain – he may start out near the Two Elks restaurant. Or go the gallery later in the day, and watch him transfer his outdoor sketches to a larger canvas and witness the creative process firsthand.

Sahli will be on the mountain from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. and at Vail Fine Art Gallery from 3-7 p.m.

Stew Mosberg is a writer and journalist working out of Blue River, Colorado. He holds a Bachelor of Design degree from the University of Florida, College of Fine Arts and Architecture, is author of two books on design and is the recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

“I want to convey the drama that first captured my attention, the atmosphere and the soul of the place… to go past just the image to touch the viewer in a way that evokes emotion.”

Don Sahli, plein air painter

Painter in residence

Don Sahli

Vail Fine Art Gallery

141 E. Meadow Drive, Crossroads

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