A new public art exhibit featuring the works of painter Margaret Thomas of the Vail Valley Art Guild and photographer Raymond Bleesz has just been installed at the Gypsum Public Library for the month of November.
The guild works closely with public libraries throughout the year to spread awareness of the art produced by our community members from top to bottom of the valley. Thomas and Bleesz are both 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 the gypsum
Bleesz is a trained historian who aims to capture precise representations of reality – or as he puts it, facts – through the lens of his camera.
âI look at things as a social scientist – people, places, events and things,â Bleesz said. âI’m interested in our community, and photography is based on history, it always has been. It is a statement of truth. All of these photos are fractions of a second 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 link between him and the American originals that came before him.
âThey tend to be attached to places, plots of land, and their work has a strongly regional flavor,â Rexer writes. “At the same time, no matter how local their interests are, they always seem to seek out universal qualities, which could be understood and appreciated by anyone.”
This link between the local and the universal is an apt summary of the collection of photos that Bleesz has currently exhibited at the Gypsum Library. Each of the nine images is taken in Gypsum, an area to which Bleesz has formed deep attachments over the past decades, and represents different elements of life that are both very region-specific but universal in feel.
The images show the architecture of Gypsum, including an image of a church on the grounds of a shooting range, the geography and geology of land formations, and the people and businesses that inhabit the city.
âI tend to be a wanderer, so I get in my truck, my camera handy, and look for a subject,â Bleesz said. âI am always looking for subjects which concern the man – the man and the environment, the man at work, the man with pleasure – all these factors are what I look for when I go out in my vehicle with my camera in my hand.
The wide variety of subjects reflects Bleesz’s ability to see this place he calls home from many angles. The vivid colors of a âSpice of Lifeâ food truck on a concrete sidewalk are juxtaposed with the silent, black and white ruggedness of a battered 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 ’90s, stands out against the calm 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 city of Gypsum.
The emotion of the mountains
On the wall immediately adjacent to Bleesz’s photograph is a vibrant collection of paintings that depict Margaret Thomas’ emotional relationship with the mountains. Almost all of the works in this collection are depictions of the Gore Range, one of the most important and beloved mountain ranges in the valley.
âThe reason he’s a topic for me is because of the emotional benefit I felt coming up to him,â Thomas said. âThe feeling that everyone gets, and the reason they live here, is due to the beauty and tranquility that we can get just steps from our homes. “
A number of paintings use bright yellows, oranges and greens which give the image a strong sense of energy and vitality, which Thomas channels from his personal experiences in the valley.
âI’m trying to express the emotional benefit of being somewhere in this valley and feeling the love and passion for the outdoors,â Thomas said. “The color patterns in a lot of them are pretty bright, and for me it’s the thrill of joy, sunshine and clean air.”
For four of the paintings in the series, Thomas uses a paint pouring technique for the sky and some mountains to simulate the ever-changing nature of the sun and sky on the constant basis of the mountainous landscape. It gives the footage a whimsical, almost psychedelic feel without straying from the lived experience of standing at the foot of a mountain as the sunset sets all around you in vibrant, shifting colors.
While most of his mountain landscapes express joyful experiences, the largest painting in the collection is a darker midnight tone that Thomas painted while battling chronic illness. The energy is distinct from the rainbow peaks surrounding it, but the message of finding salvation in the mountains remains the same.
âI did this during a difficult chapter in my life,â Thomas said. âI remember painting this and being so frustrated with the disease – what am I going to do, how am I going to get out of it – and the luminous mountain came out of the darkness. And I was like, ‘Ah, I see the light’.
Through the eyes of local artists
All of the artwork on display at the Gypsum Public Library is available for purchase, highlighting the mission of the Vail Valley Art Guild to educate, appreciate and sponsor the many talented local artists who live in our community. .
Thomas and Bleesz are both honored to have the opportunity to share their work with the public and hope this will help bring attention to the local art market as a whole. Particularly with the recent influx of new owners and residents to the valley, purchasing locally produced artwork is a way to connect with the experience of the region as captured through the eyes of those who love him.
âSometimes guests only know the really high-end galleries and only see the artists who are there, but that’s not our only presence here,â Thomas said. “There are hundreds and hundreds of brilliant artists in this valley, so having the opportunity to make this statement and communicate it to the community at large is one of the goals of the guild.”
Bleesz also stressed the importance of visibility and support for artists in the valley.
âThe guild has exceptional artisans and the community needs to be exposed to the art of the locals,â Bleesz said. âArt is a mental challenge and a physical challenge. It is meant to be enjoyed by the public and purchased by the public.
The exhibit will be on display at the Gypsum Public Library by the end of November.