Local Appreciation, weekly drawing

As a thank you for your support and a way of showing our appreciation for the people of Pagosa Springs, the Co-op is having a weekly drawing. The winner for the week of Feb. 21 was Rose Barta. Each week, we start a new drawing, so be sure to stop by at 150 Pagosa St. and drop your name in the bowl.

Middle school artists: the Pagosa Artisans’ Co-op will hosta reception for you on March 15, from 1-4 p.m. Winners will be announced then. The reception will be held at the Pagosa Artisans’ Co-op, 150 Pagosa St..

There will be prizes from the following sponsors: DSP Pizza, Shang Hai Restaurant, Springs Resort, Ramon’s Mexican Restaurant, La Tazza, Chato’s Restaurant, Tequilas Restaurant, JJ’s Riverwalk Restaurant, Bear Creek Saloon, Junction Restaurant, Moonlight Books and Gallery, The Malt Shop, Artemesia Botanicals Company and Liberty Theatre.

We just added a new member to the Co-op. Welcome Carol Theiss — a jeweler who works in dichroic glass. This glass was invented by NASA. She cuts and layers the glass, then fires it melting the glass together. Come by and meet Carol on Monday mornings and see her beautiful artwork.

Artists in the Spotlight

Rick and Jody Unger are a team. They moved from Tyler, Texas, to Pagosa Springs in 1998 to pursue Rick’s art. Twenty-nine years of marriage and they feel that they have found the secret for a lifestyle that fits them.

Rick is the artist and Jody is the photographer. Even though you will not see Jody’s work in the Co-op, they are the subjects and main source for Rick’s paintings. Rick files through hundreds of Jody’s photos to find that one cowboy or horse that he knows will make the perfect painting. They have also bought rights from Claude Steelman, a great photographer of wild horses.

Born in York, Penn., in 1951, Rick showed talent even as a toddler with his unusually detailed drawings. As a pre-teen, his skill as a portrait painter led to commissioned work. After high school, he created work of such quality as an art student at York Vocational School that some pieces remain on display in museums in Pennsylvania. Upon graduation, Rick moved to Texas. “I found that the life of the cowboy is a stress reliever,” he recalls. “And painting that kind of life is also an escape from a fast paced life.” Rick also found that his experience in portraiture was good training for painting horses and cowboys.

“Just as people have personalities, so do animals,” said Rick. “And it can be seen in their faces and mannerisms. I am moved by color. My ultimate goal is tell a colorful story on each canvas.”

In the ’80s Rick traveled the U.S. and Canada demonstrating his technique. He has been featured in TV shows and magazines. His graphic designs and fine art has been sold from small shops to major chain stores.

Jody calls herself a “Colorado Mountain Girl,” ever since her grandfather instilled the love of the mountains in her. She owns two mares and loves to ride everywhere alone or with others who love to ride.

“It is nothing to ride all day with very little talk. We love our horses and enjoy seeing everything around. I love Pagosa and hopefully will never move from here.”

Rick’s paintings hang in the Co-op and Jody is the active participating member, sharing the duties of Co-op. While Rick’s roots are in Pennsylvania, Jody is from western Kansas; they met in Texas and have found Pagosa a perfect merging place for their lives. Their children in Texas are enticed, one by one, to the great Rocky Mountains.

Rick’s art hangs in galleries and homes throughout the United States. He is currently a Leanin’ Tree Artist. His talent is taking him to Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Park City, Utah, but only for short trips as their hearts belong to Pagosa.

Life in the Artist’s Lane

The Essence of a painting.

Many times in an artist’s career, there comes a point when dissatisfaction will make him demand more of himself and he will not rest until he finds the answer. “The little dissatisfaction which every artist feels at the completion of a work forms the germ of a new work,” said Berthold Auerbach.

That germ has been rumbling in my spirit and has made me seek answers from other artists who have comes into the same dissatisfying awareness. What is it in a painting that moves others in a way that they can’t quite explain? Have I painted in a way that makes my paintings jump off the wall and call for attention, or has anyone stood before a piece of my art and cried? What is it in a piece of art that communicates and evokes these kinds of emotions?

There are many ways of saying it — it could be called the essence, the spirit or the life of a painting, or even the breath of God. Spiritual enlightenment reveals what is real beneath what is apparent. Art can take you to a deeper place in a simple way, to a place where the apparent is stripped away and the viewer sees the real in the painting, and thereby catches a glimpse of who they are. The viewer must be ready to see and be sensitive to what is stirring in, or coming through the artist.

I am reminded of a story about Ezekiel. He was drawn into the Valley of Chaldea by the Spirit where he was given a vision. He saw dry scattered bones, insensitive to everything around, lying hopelessly and lifeless, and Ezekiel was asked, “Can these bones live?” We look at our own art and ask “Can these paintings live?” I believe it is fair to say that there are many pieces of art scattered in one gallery after another, they are like dry bones which only speak to the wall and hang in pretty frames.

We all know the story, Ezekiel was told to talk to dead bones and they came together, but there was no life in them. We have all painted the pretty pictures that are dead. Then he was told to talk to the breath. When He did the winds came and the bones came alive.

I asked the question of a gentleman who came into the Co-op, “What gives a painting life to you?” He was enjoying looking, but I noticed that he was experiencing certain paintings and photographs as if to have a relationship with them and the artist who photographed them.

His first comment was, “It’s got to be a decisive moment when your emotions are evoked. The painting must show vulnerability. It will be one you will never forget. I remember a black and white photograph by a French artist Cartier-Bresson and how it spoke to me. It was of a boy leaving a concentration camp, with fear on his face but also a certain hope in his eyes. Another piece of art called ‘The Scream’ by Edward Munch, artist, painted on a piece of cardboard. It is priceless. I have never forgotten it.”

Then I asked an abstract artist from Arizona, a master in his field, to comment on the essence of a painting and how an artist gets there. He said, “To begin with, it is obvious that no two people will have the same approach, or for that matter, goal when they begin a painting. Many young students are concerned about developing skill and being able to represent something as accurately as they can. For most artists, that desire is soon overcome by the need to express something within themselves that makes paintings more abstract. That doesn’t mean that they want to stop painting representational scenes, it only means they want to develop atmospheric nuances that help to express how they feel about the subject they are painting. Many artists never go beyond that stage, because they find comfort and satisfaction in this mode.

“However, there are a great many artists who feel this is only the beginning of their search for a meaningful way of expressing themselves and want to utilize their imagination to a greater extent to express how they feel about the world around them. I, personally, find myself in that category. For years, I spent my time as an artist creating watercolors and drawings trying to express my wonder of the world in a realistic way. Eventually, I found that I was dissatisfied with the results. I went back to school and earned a masters degree in painting from the University of Hawaii. In my early days in Hawaii, I belonged to a yacht club and spent weekends sailing and racing on the sea around Oahu.  As I tried to express the exhilaration of those experiences, I found that the sea was getting bigger and more abstract and the boats were beginning to disappear. I found that I was more interested in the use of color and line and texture to express emotion than to paint pictures of what I saw around me. The ‘what I saw’ was the inspiration for those colors, lines, shapes and textures, but not in a realistic way. I found that I could excite other people’s emotions and imagination better this new way.

“When I taught painting, I used to tell students that in order to come to grips with their feelings and respond to the world around them, they had to look at that world in a different way. Most people look at the world around them as a means of identifying things. What they had to do was to begin to look at things the way the artist does. The artist is not interested in identifying the things he sees. When he looks at a car, for instance, he does not see an automobile, he sees lines, shapes and colors, patterns and textures and what happens when sun strikes a surface or when a shadow is cast on it, the shape that is created by it. Those are the things that stir the imagination of the artist. To bring an artist and viewer as one there must be vulnerability. Not only do the viewers need to be open and vulnerable, but also a painting must have vulnerability,” he concluded.

Scott L. Christensen, an artist, states this, and I believe he sums up the heart of the artist and the essence of a painting: “There will always be a barrier between what I see and what I am able to portray. This barrier keeps bringing me back to the canvas, carrying on a never-ending desire to express, in paint, what moves me inside.”

The final brushstroke> “One cannot be taught the spirit of art; it must be caught. It is an ongoing pursuit.”

Comments from a reader

“As artists we must never be afraid to use our words or our brushes to communicate deep feelings. Let the truth shine through.”


Tehachapi, Calif.

Quote for the Week:

“Just as our eyes need light in order to see, our minds need ideas in order to create.” — Nicole Malebranche.

Photo courtesy Betty Slade
Rick and Jody Unger are an artistic team. Rick is a painter and Jody is a photographer. Jody’s photos are the subjects and main source for Rick’s paintings. Rick files through hundreds of Jody’s photos to find that one cowboy or horse that he knows will make the perfect painting.