Aspen Times Weekly: Art in Transit
Through June 6
R2 Gallery, Third Street Center
Ask most Roaring ForK Valley bus commuters what they achieved on their morning RFTA rides this winter and you’ll most often hear that they read the local papers, listened to podcasts, napped, or maybe moved up a few levels playing Candy Crush Saga.
Glenwood Springs-based artist Annette Roberts-Gray used six months’ worth of morning bus rides to paint the daily view from her seat. The resulting collection of work, “Commuter Watercolors,” is now on display at the R2 Gallery in Carbondale’s Third Street Center.
From November through April, Roberts-Gray brought a small kit bag on her morning ride from West Glenwood, packing six or seven brushes, a pencil, a selection of paints, a few 6-inch square blocks of paper, a small palate and a little bottle of water.
Using her bus-eye-view, she’d pencil in the landscape, then fill in its color, and then add the sky or clouds above.
Arriving at the Carbondale park-and-ride stop at the conclusion of her 20-minute ride, she’d pack her brushes, dump out the water, and call her work done.
The aim of the project, says Roberts-Gray, was to condense her work with a simple, powerful aesthetic.
“The most important thing, and I don’t think I’ve fully learned it yet, was being able to do a lone brush stroke and make it mean something,” she says. “That’s what I’m aiming for.”
The immediacy and permanence of working in watercolor was instructive on that front, she explains. She’s worked in other mediums — ranging from painting to ceramics to junk-mail sculpture — but went back to watercolor on the bus to give herself a set time limit.
“It seemed like I had more of a problem of overworking the piece, and with watercolors you don’t really have another chance,” she says. “It’s not like with oils when you can go back and erase and redo everything.”
The show features nearly 40 of her watercolors, including a handful that fall outside the parameters of the bus painting project featuring Florida beach scenes.
Spending her time on the bus intently studying the view, Roberts-Gray says, made her see the local landscape with new eyes, taking in the changing hues of sky from day to day, the morphing colors on canyon walls between periods of snowfall, and the lost and gauzy feel of a whiteout.
“It was just a personal goal I set for myself, to address the issue of condensing the moment and getting that little scene done,” she explains.
Walking through Roberts-Gray’s exhibit and taking in these small, impressionistic watercolors, you gain an appreciation for the incremental daily transformations of the local wintertime landscape — the hints of color that peak through the snow one day and fade back to white the next.
Her first attempt (titled “First Commuter Watercolor,” painted Nov. 26) shows the reds and browns of the lower valley’s canyon walls in early winter. “Snowing Lightly” offers glimpses of distant mountains, bathed in white, with houses and pines in the foreground. “Snow is Melting, 23 Degrees” shows just that, with greens emerging from a shroud of white. “Sopris from Red Canyon,” from mid-winter, displays a snowcapped Mt. Sopris majestically framed by the greens and reds of the canyon.
One of the last pieces in the series, “Spring is on the Way,” from April 16, gives us the valley unthawing itself, with the green grass and red rock emerging again in the sun.
She rarely received questions from fellow bus passengers about what she was up to, Roberts-Gray says, as most keep their eyes on their newspapers and phones.
The show is on display alongside a retrospective of Robert Johnson’s furniture at the R2. Roberts-Gray and others will hold a panel discussion there on Thursday, May 22 at 5:30 p.m.
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Artist and ARTMentors founder Nancy Lovendahl was among the 16 honorees at the 2021 Pitkin County Cares Awards.