To live in the San Juans is to be besotted by beauty, no matter where you turn.
To be an artist in the San Juans is to want to — nay, have to — do something about that.
Some people pick up a camera; others employ paint.
A pair of receptions this weekend is a chance to see how artists not so much depict, as pay homage to, nature’s great spaces. The receptions are, alas, not only on the same day, but at the same time.
Naturally, they’re in different towns.
But given that the locales — Ouray and Ridgway — are just 10 minutes from each other, it is entirely possible to take in both.
Both shows are group exhibits. “Southwest Views” is a display of fine-art landscape photography by Denise Bush, Natalie Heller, Rod Martinez and Angela Moyer. The show has been up awhile at the Wright Opera House, and will hang just a little bit longer, through next Friday, Sept. 20. Its artists are well-known in this region: Denise Bush, for example, took second place at the Artist’s Alpine Holiday art show last year for one of her photos, and one of Natalie Heller’s works took top honors at the same show. There is something about seeing landscapes with fresh eyes that compels creatives: Heller, who grew up in the Midwest, has said the “dramatic vistas and wide-open spaces” of the Western Slope are what inspired her to take up photography. As she puts it on the Ouray County Arts Association’s website, “The change in seasons, weather, and light provided unlimited opportunities to record the beauty of this place I now call home.”
Similarly, the Day family — Kellie Day and her parents, Karen Day and Floyd Day — has been inspired by Western vistas to create in different ways.
None of them is originally from Colorado. “I grew up in the Midwest. We moved every two years,” Kellie Day said. Eventually Floyd and Karen retired to South Carolina, and Kellie moved to Ridgway. “My parents would come stay in our house and watch our dog while I was in Europe every summer,” she recalled. “My mom was always an artist.” But on the Western Slope, Karen Keene Day was compelled by the plight of wild mustangs, and began to paint them. “She goes out to a herd by Dove Creek,” Kellie related. “She’s so moved by these creatures — they’re so wild and strong, it just absolutely breaks her heart when they get rounded up.”
Indeed, Day has been moved not only to depict wild horses but to donate a portion of the profits from her paintings to protecting them. Her depictions of mustangs will be on display Saturday in an exhibit that also features mixed-media pieces by Kellie Day and pastels by Floyd Day.
“I think I wasn’t satisfied with just one medium,” Kellie said of her motivation to employ more than paint in her creations. “It was like that with climbing. I used to climb a lot, and I always wanted to combine snow and ice with rock-climbing. It’s the same with art: When I can combine all these media and get really wild and funky, it excites me. It’s fun when you’be been doing it long enough that you’ve hit your stride … found your artistic voice. The exciting part is knowing you can do it for the rest of your life.”
Floyd Day was not an artist originally, yet today “he’s the most avid one of all of us” Kellie said. Even as his wife was artistically compelled by mustangs, Floyd Day was drawn to a domesticated animal: the cow. And not just any cows, but those you find on local ranches in the San Juans. (His artistic statement is a single sentence: “I like to paint the cows of the west in their natural setting.”) “My dad grew up in Ohio, and watched a lot of western movies and fell in love with the West,” Kellie said (photographer Natalie Heller was also inspired by Westerns when she was growing up). Floyd Day wields pastels — a notoriously difficult medium to master — in his depiction of bovines on regional properties: Fisher Ranch, Potter Ranch and Heath Ranch. So intensely does he study these ungulates, “He knows every cow” he depicts, “and which ranch it came from,” his daughter said. “He spends his summer days driving country roads and taking photos of cows.”
The show at the Wright Opera House starts and stops with photographs. Floyd Day uses them as jumping off points for his soulful depictions of the animal at the economic heart of this region.
The opening reception for the Day Family Art Exhibit is Saturday at the Ridgway Public Library from 4-7 p.m.