Fantasy botanicals: Longtime local Suzan Obermeyer debuts new work at McHugh Antiques

Katherine Roberts Special to The Aspen Times

While the name “Obermeyer” has been synonymous with skiing, and Aspen, for decades, another Obermeyer in town channels her love of nature off the slopes.

“Fantasy Botanicals” is now open at McHugh Gallery on Cooper Avenue, in Aspen’s downtown core. The 15 paintings in the exhibition are all brightly colored, original works by Klaus Obermeyer’s daughter, Suzan.

“I’m very honored to have my work next to Hunt Slonem’s work, along with other highly collected artworks,” she said during an interview following the opening reception for the exhibition over the Food & Wine Classic weekend. “The collection at McHugh is sophisticated; Ricki and John McHugh’s works on display have bold color, and they celebrate ocular discovery. There is so much to see in the gallery.”

McHugh Gallery is unique in that it offers a mix of fine contemporary art from the likes of painter Slonem, as well as a robust collection of antique collectibles dating as far back as the 1700s. The interesting juxtaposition of the ornate antique objects alongside Obermeyer’s bold pink, green, orange and yellow paintings is the perfect foil for a body of work that was something of a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Obermeyer began the “Fantasy Botanicals” at the beginning of COVID while she visited her brother in Malibu, California, during the first lockdown.

“The news cycle kept showing images of the coronavirus,” she said, but despite the news of sickness and death, “I was determined to have an inspirational relationship with nature.”

The lockdown and isolation of COVID also affected her process.

“I experimented initially, as all the stores were closed. I used everything I could scavenge, from ink (to) all kinds of paints, paper and fabric,” she said.

The process continued when Obermeyer returned home to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado from California.

“Later on in my home studio, here in the valley, I made solvent transfers, using a process which is similar to Robert Rauschenberg’s process. In the fall of 2020, I was able to spend eight weeks up at Anderson Ranch Arts Center doing a facilitated studio practice,” which is dedicated private studio time, with the help of Anderson Ranch on-site staff, she said. “I played with screened elements and delved deeply into pushing mixed media painting.”

The results are vibrant and explorational, a mix of floral and nature scenes, which are both experimental and representational. They’re something of a departure from her other bodies of work, which mostly feature darker colors and scenes of equines, heads and hands.

Obermeyer also spent time in French Polynesia during the pandemic isolation period and said she was taken by “the power of life force, of nature. (Nature’s) resiliency and awe inspired the diversity on the canvas for me.”

In addition, Obermeyer drew inspiration from her mother, who grew up in a floral shop. This motivated her to create the unique look of painted flowers in atmospheres.

She was also influenced by the artistic talent of her father’s side of the family — an aspect she thinks even longtime locals might not know about.

“I’ve been passionate about art since I was a kid in the Roaring Fork Valley. My father, Klaus, is known for his ski-world legacy,” she said, but her paternal grandfather was a painter in Germany. “Our family home is full of these paintings. My dad played a drawing game every evening after dinner with us kids.”

Obermeyer’s interest in art continued into adulthood, where she studied art and art history at The Evergreen State College, then continued her education at The San Francisco Art Institute. In 2015, Obermeyer earned a master’s in fine arts through Plymouth University in the United Kingdom.

“Being a professional artist is my life’s dream,” she said. “I feel I’ve found my voice.”

If you go …
What: “Fantasy Botanicals”
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, showcased through the summer
Where: McHugh Gallery, 607 E. Cooper Ave., Aspen