Back to the drawing board | AspenTimes.com

Back to the drawing board

Stewart Oksenhorn

The walls are filled with Notor’s pastel and watercolor landscapes, as well as a handful of his black-and-white photographs. There are books on painters and painting techniques stacked here and there.

One end of a small bedroom has been made into a studio, with pastel, easels and various works-in-progress: sketches, landscapes and even Notor’s first attempt at a self-portrait. Another bedroom is devoted to the part-time occupation of Notor’s wife’s, Carolee Murray ” matting and framing her husband’s work.

It gives the impression of an entrenched artist and, indeed, the 48-year-old Notor is devoted to his painting. Ask him if he paints every day, and he gives an assured “Oh yeah!” Notor describes himself as being on a mission to create, and his output backs the claim. Notor has completed some 30 to 40 paintings over the last five months, and he is making certain the work is getting out in the world. Notor is part of a three-person show, with fellow local painters Mike Farmer and Claire Richelme, at the Red Brick Center for the Arts that has an opening reception Tuesday, Nov. 25, from 5-7 p.m. He has a piece in the Aspen Art Museum’s current Roaring Fork Open exhibit. And beginning this week, his work will be at the Aspen Artists Co-op at Aspen Highlands Village.

But while it is true that Notor’s artistic tendencies have been present for a long time, Notor’s current state of productivity is deceptive. Go back a year and a half, and there were no painting books or easels or canvases evident in the Notor-Murray household. Notor, who had studied mostly commercial art at the Colorado Institute of Art in the late ’70s, had long ago given up art, frustrated at the commercial direction in which he was heading. For more than two decades, Notor limited his artistic ambition to the occasional sketch and pen-and-ink Christmas card, as he jumped from such jobs as Kansas oil field worker to Carbondale meat-cutter to his current position as owner of Notoriety Hot Tub Service.

When Murray began seeing Notor six years ago, she knew he had been an artist, but had scarcely seen him paint. But she had seen hints of talent in his past work. Wanting to nudge his creativity, Murray brought Notor to Santa Fe in June 2002, hoping something would click. It did.

“I dragged him to Santa Fe,” said Murray, a real estate agent when not matting and framing her husband’s art. “We started at the bottom of Canyon Road” ” Santa Fe’s famous stretch of art galleries ” “got one-third of the way up one side of the road and he sees Albert Handell’s landscape work. And he went berserk: ‘Oh, I want to do this. I can do this.'”

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The Canyon Road tour ended there. After surveying Handell’s landscapes, Notor went across the street to an art supply store, spent a few hundred dollars and hurried back to his hotel room. He started painting immediately, and hasn’t stopped. Back home in Aspen, Notor set up a studio in his garage, and worked his way to the sun-filled end of a bedroom where he now spends most every morning, when the light is most intense. Since his Santa Fe epiphany, Notor has completed some 100 paintings.

“I’m on a mission to paint ’til I’m blue in the face,” said Notor.

The move to the mandolin

Growing up in Cleveland, Notor showed early talent as a visual artist. As a high school student, a teacher recognized his abilities and set him up in a college intern program.

But, perhaps because he got little encouragement from his parents, something wasn’t quite clicking. “I wasn’t finding it,” said Notor. He moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1975 to be a ski bum, and didn’t enroll in the Colorado Institute of Art, on the Front Range, until 1978. There he studied business-oriented art ” illustration, logos, design. Uninspired, he left school without a degree.

“It burned me out,” said Notor. “It was all commercial, to get a foot in the door of a job. So I quit; I really quit. Everyone knew I was an artist. I knew I was an artist. But I didn’t pursue art at all, or very little.”

Notor did, however, cultivate his creative side. A guitar strummer dating back to his teens, Notor decided to get serious about music. Figuring he had already had enough bad training as a guitarist, Notor switched instruments and picked up mandolin and concentrated on bluegrass.

“The guitar was always my instrument, but not my passion. I just plunked on it,” he said. “I didn’t learn it the way you’re supposed to learn it. I started studying mandolin with Sandy Munro. Sandy made me study it and taught me how to play bluegrass the way it’s supposed to be played.”

Notor has made a local name for himself as a mandolinist. He played with Munro in the Burnt Mountain Boys, then played with Dan Forde and in the Frying Pan Bluegrass Band and the Deeners. Notor’s current band, the Lone Pine Bluegrass Band, has opened for Tim O’Brien at the Wheeler Opera House, and plays Main Street Bakery on Dec. 10.

But painting has eclipsed mandolin in Notor’s world. And while he clearly is painting for the pleasure of it, he states his preference in business terms. “Painting is more viable,” he said. “Playing music is a fun thing ” unless you’re a great musician. I know I’m not going to make any extra money playing bluegrass. I can find both passion and stability in art.”

Landscapes and life

Notor’s approach to painting is still inspired by that visit to Santa Fe. Most of his work is landscapes, vaguely in the style of Albert Handell. Most of the rest of his paintings are of Santa Fe-style adobe buildings.

Of the landscapes, Notor says he is taken by “the light, how it changes, how it emphasizes. And the colors ” you can see colors in a landscape that you’ve never seen before. You see them deeper, brighter. The colors of Mother Nature are spectacular.

“And living in Aspen, there’s quite a lot of it. It’s there, it’s in your face all the time.”

Notor took a course with Handell this past summer. The experience only encouraged him further.

“He told me to quit my day job. He said I should be spending all my time painting,” said Notor. “I said, ‘But the mortgage.'”

Notor has a five-year goal: to allow his art to pay the mortgage. His aim is to be represented by galleries in Santa Fe and Aspen. But even if he falls short of that goal, painting has changed Notor’s life.

“This is really like a birth for me,” he said. “It’s brand-spanking-new. I want to see what comes out of this.”

Red Brick exhibit

Also in the Red Brick exhibit is work by local painters Mike Farmer and Claire Richelme.

Farmer, a native of upstate New York, moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1989, and lives near Carbondale. His paintings ” oils on canvas, paper and wood panel ” embrace the West, with colorful images of horses, covered wagons and landscapes. Other work features dreamy, surrealistic interior landscapes, and there are two pieces of baseball equipment.

Richelme is a native of Provence and lives part time in Aspen. She has also lived in the Caribbean, and her acrylic paintings reflect those island years, with sun-drenched depictions of beach and ocean, flowers and women in warm-weather skirts.

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