Local Tracks: Artist James Van Fossan approaches art as an expression, regardless of medium | VailDaily.com

Local Tracks: Artist James Van Fossan approaches art as an expression, regardless of medium

John O’Neill
Special to the Daily

To paraphrase James Van Fossan's simplification of creating art: one only needs something to say and a means to say it.

Within that, Van Fossan continues, must be a focus on that deep thing that needs to be communicated, be it an idea, a story, an image or a sound. Then there is the technical ability to actually do it. For painting, it is a grasp of colors and strokes; for music, the notes and structure; for writing, the syntax and grammar.

Only once you have an idea and a sufficient grasp of the means, can the message be communicated without constraint, with full honesty and with every intended connection.

"When you have something to say and you have the medium in control, you are going to be a good artist," Van Fossan said. "You are going to say what you are excited to share, and that's the reward in it."

Only once you have an idea and a sufficient grasp of the means, can the message be communicated without constraint, with full honesty and with every intended connection.

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Some might say this is easier said than done, but what is perhaps most special about Van Fossan is his ability to draw this connection out of two completely separate mediums, that of canvas for the eye and of sounds for the year. The Eagle resident is a lifelong artist with success in painting and adventures into music.

Sight and sound

Van Fossan is best known for his painting. His works have been featured in publications such as

American Art Collector, International Artist Magazine, Western Art Collector and LUXE Magazine. His 2012 piece "Magnum Opus" won the Chairman's Choice Award in the 2012-13 International Art Renewal Center Salon and Best of Show for The Collection Beaux-Arts Realiste International Competition in Montreal.

The 51-year-old is self-taught. He grew up drawing with pencil but didn't start painting until he was 40. When he created his most exhaustive work to date, "Drama Magnifico" — an 8-foot-by-6-foot oil painting depicting some 150 characters — in 2015, it had taken him three years and nearly 4,000 hours to complete.

"The parallel I first drew with music and painting was that I wanted to express deeper parts of me that I couldn't through just talking," Van Fossan said. "Painting is a very hard craft. With music, it is not as much of the craft but the communication of it that connects with people."

musical refreshment

It would make sense that following such a colossal time commitment and achievement with Drama Magnifico, which included an instrumental score that can be viewed online, Van Fossan would refresh his creative passion with music.

"I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted it to be very simple," Van Fossan said. "Everything I had been doing up to its ('Drama Magnifico') finish was very complicated and intense. I found that the cool thing about music is it is something meaningful that connects with people and can spill out of you in 30 minutes."

Thus far, Van Fossan's recent adventures into music are very simplistic, "guy and a guitar type." His music, though, seems more unique than this. Oddly unrestrained by the medium, his songs are a refreshing injection of art into sound.

This isn't to say you need to be a connoisseur of music and "get it" in order to enjoy it. It's mostly easy listening. But if you do indeed have the ambition and goggles for looking below the surface, what you'll probably find is pure in every way that art can be; that is to say, a person with a message and a beautiful way to communicate it.

Growing up on music

"I was probably three or four when I got a record player," Van Fossan said. "Growing up, it seemed so high tech but beautiful. I fell in love with it. I was playing 45s all the time. I got my own acoustic guitar when I was 13. Even when I couldn't figure it out, I would just play around or play air guitar. I had a passion for it."

In high school, Van Fossan took lessons and then joined a few bands in Arizona. Even though he was trying to write music, the bands would mostly play covers. This left him unsatisfied. He even tried, briefly, to move to California as a musician but lasted only six months.

"People can get together and play music, but using the tools of music to do something no one else has done before is art," Van Fossan said. "I gave up on it basically. I was getting older and thought if things were going to happen for me, they would have happened by then. I sold most of my stuff. I kept one guitar."

For the next 15 years, Van Fossan would play that guitar only for recreation after his job working construction in Arizona.

"I had to stop for a while to just grow up," Van Fossan said. "It wasn't exciting. It was hard emotionally. I couldn't share with anyone my music when I was younger. My heart would pound showing a picture to someone or singing in front of someone."

The creative process that underscores most of his success, though, could be touched into at anytime. Over those 15 years, Van Fossan recalls buying a keychain harmonica at a gas station. He wrote six songs on that harmonica but never shared them.

"Writing music is something that is a lifelong thing," Van Fossan said. "You learn the rules of it early. But there is this whole process of making it your own. The challenge was to learn a craft really well so that I could express myself on the levels that art can reach."

It would be that process that would bring it full circle. A process learned in music applied to painting, a success in painting applied right back to music to position Van Fossan right where he is — somewhere, probably making something.

Local Tracks is a monthly series highlighting Eagle County musicians and bands. Want to see your band featured in the High Life section? Email arts and entertainment editor Krista Driscoll at kdriscoll@vaildaily.com for more information.

Hear it

You can listen to James Van Fossan’s music, including his instrumental work composed for his paintings, on iTunes and on his YouTube Channel.