A new public art exhibit that features the works of Vail Valley Art Guild painter Margaret Thomas and photographer Raymond Bleesz has just been installed at the Gypsum Public Library for the month of November.
The guild works closely with the public libraries throughout the year to bring exposure to art that is being produced by members of our community up and down the valley. Both Thomas and Bleesz are longtime residents of Eagle County, and their new joint exhibit features works that reflect the history and emotional experiences that are central to life in the valley.
A close look at Gypsum
Bleesz is a trained historian who aims to capture accurate depictions of reality – or as he says, facts – through his camera lens.
“I view things as a social scientist – people, places, events and things,” Bleesz said. “I’m interested in our locality, and photography is based upon history, it always has been. It’s a statement of truth. All of these photos are split seconds of time, a fact captured on film or on a digital camera.”
In a written review by art curator Lyle Rexer, Rexer describes Bleesz as “an American original”, and identifies a common tie between him and the American originals who have come before.
“They tend to be attached to places, patches of land, and their work has a strongly regional flavor,” Rexer writes. “At the same time, no matter how local their interests are, they always seem to seek qualities that are universal, that could be understood and appreciated by anyone.”
This connection between the local and the universal is an apt summary of the photo collection that Bleesz has on display at the Gypsum Library right now. Each of the nine images is taken in Gypsum, a region that Bleesz has formed deep attachments to in the past few decades, and represents different elements of life that are both very specific to the area yet universal in feel.
The images show the architecture of Gypsum, including an image of a church that is located on the grounds of a shooting range, the geography and geology of the land formations, and the people and businesses who populate the town.
“I have a tendency to be a vagabond, so I get into my truck, camera gear on hand, and I look for subject matter,” Bleesz said. “I’m always looking for subjects that pertain to mankind – man and the environment, man at work, man at pleasure – all those factors are what I look for when I go out in my vehicle with my camera in hand.”
The wide variety of subjects reflect Bleesz’ ability to see this place he calls home from many perspectives. The bright colors of a “Spice of Life” food truck on a concrete sidewalk is juxtaposed against the quiet, black and white ruggedness of a beat up old automobile stuck in the brush of the countryside. The raw emotion of a young boy crying in a cowboy hat, taken when Bleesz first arrived in Eagle County in the late nineties, stands out against the quiet landscapes and structures that have been the foundation of the community for generations.
Each photograph has its own feel and sense of place, and yet it all comes together to form the town of Gypsum.
The emotion of the mountains
On the wall immediately adjacent to Bleesz’ photography is a vibrant collection of paintings that represent Margaret Thomas’ emotional relationship to the mountains. Nearly all of the works in this collection are depictions of the Gore Range, one of the most prominent and beloved mountain ranges in the valley.
“The reason that that is a subject for me is because of the emotional benefit that I’ve experienced hiking up to it,” Thomas said. “The feeling that everyone gets, and the reason they live here, is because of the beauty and the peacefulness that we can get just a few steps away from our houses.”
A number of the paintings use bright yellows, oranges and greens that give the image a strong sense of energy and vitality, which Thomas channels from her personal experiences in the valley.
“I try to express the emotional benefit of being somewhere in this valley and feeling the love and the passion for the outdoors,” Thomas said. “The color patterns in many of these are pretty brilliant, and to me that is the emotion of joy and sun and clean air.”
For four of the paintings in the series, Thomas uses a paint pouring technique for the skies and some of the mountains to simulate the ever-changing nature of the sun and skies against the constant foundation of the mountain landscape. It gives the images a whimsical and almost psychedelic feel without straying far from the lived experience of standing at the base of a mountain while the sunset goes off all around you in bursting, moving color.
While most of her mountainscapes express joyful experiences, the largest painting in the collection is a darker, midnight tone that Thomas painted while battling a chronic illness. The energy is distinct from the flowing rainbow peaks around it, but the message of finding salvation in the mountains remains the same.
“I did that during a difficult chapter in my life,” Thomas said. “I remember painting that and being so frustrated with illness – what am I going to do, how am I going to get out of this – and the bright mountain emerged from the dark. And I said to myself, ‘Ah, I see the light’.”
Through the eyes of local artists
All of the works of art that are on display at the Gypsum Public Library are available for purchase, which underscores the Vail Valley Art Guild’s mission to bring awareness, appreciation and patronage to the many talented local artists that live in our community.
Both Thomas and Bleesz are honored to have the opportunity to share their work with the public, and hope that it will help bring attention to the local art market at large. Particularly with the recent influx of new homeowners and residents to the valley, purchasing art produced by locals is an avenue for connecting to the experience of the area as it is captured through the eyes of those who love it.
“Sometimes guests only know about the really high-end galleries, and only see the artists that are there, but that’s not our only presence here,” Thomas said. “There are hundreds and hundreds of brilliant artists in this valley, so to have an opportunity to make that statement and communicate that to the community at large is one of the purposes of the guild.”
Bleesz also emphasized the importance of exposure and support for artists in the valley.
“The guild has exceptional artisans, and the community needs to be exposed to the art that the locals are doing,” Bleesz said. “Art is a mental challenge and a physical challenge. It is meant to be appreciated by the public and purchased by the public.”
The exhibit will be on display at the Gypsum Public Library from now through the end of November.