The natural flow of the paintbrush |

The natural flow of the paintbrush

An acrylic on canvas piece titled Pyramid Peak Mirrors Maroon Bells by artist Michael Tullio. Aspen Times photo.

Hair-styling is an art to Michael Tullio. “Hair-styling is like a live medium for me. I get to create in 3-D,” said the 47-year-old Tullio, a resident of the Roaring Fork Valley for 28 years and the owner and operator of Salon Tullio for 12.But the three-dimensional medium of hair doesn’t hold the same appeal as the two-dimensional plane of paint on canvas. In fact, nothing comes quite as smoothly for Tullio as putting paint on canvas.”Painting for me is the most natural thing I do. More than cutting hair,” said Tullio in the Red Brick Center for the Arts, where an exhibit of his works – focusing on his latest series, Contemporary Mountains – opens with a reception today, Thursday, March 3, from 6-8 p.m. “Nothing comes more naturally to my hand and eye. Not my job, not my skiing. It just flows.”

Tullio got the urge to paint some 15 years ago. The purchased lithographs he had on his walls were looking stale. On a trip to the Moab desert, Tullio got inspired by the American Indian culture and artifacts there. With no training or experience, Tullio in 1991 took brush in hand and made his American Spirits series, primarily portraits of native Americans based either on old black-and-white photographs or his imagination. From the first, he recognized he had something to say with paint.”Those pieces I feel are very strong,” said Tullio, whose current exhibit includes several of those early works. (Through a quirk of scheduling, the American Spirits series also landed in a one-person show at the Aspen Art Museum in 1991. An artist who had purchased at auction the opportunity to show at the museum backed out at the last minute, and Tullio stepped in.) “I saw the power in the free people who lived in America at one time, who had been forgotten. I saw I could paint these for future generations to remember there was a different culture here at one time.”In 1996, Tullio was inspired in a far different way, and created a vastly different series of works. His Hearts paintings began when his daughter was conceived, and the pieces – several of which are also in the current show – radiate with an emotional directness and Tullio’s eye for color.After looking at ancient culture and the love of family, Tullio has most recently found inspiration in the natural world. His Contemporary Mountains, begun in 2002, offer a loose, flowing take on such iconic landscapes as Aspen Mountain, Highland Bowl and the Maroon Bells. Tullio says the series starts with the obvious beauty of such spots. But the images get filtered through the artist’s desire to put his own stylistic stamp on the landscape. Several pieces lean toward the abstract; the eye-catching “Pyramid Peak Mirrors Maroon Bells” has an element of surrealism, with three pyramid figures floating in front of the Bells and reflected in Maroon Lake.

“There’s an individual expression to it,” Tullio said. “I’ve never been much for paintings that are so realistic that they look like a photograph.”Most striking about Tullio’s work is the sophistication of the colors. Though he is self-taught, the paintings demonstrate an intuitive knowledge of color theory, with Tullio using just a small handful of related colors in each piece. The result is a sense of rich monochromatism.Tullio is well into planning his next set of works. Once again, he will draw from a completely different source of inspiration. The Family Ties series will combine portraits of Tullio’s Italian ancestors and well-known Mafiosi, like Al Capone.Also showing in the current exhibit are contemporary, functional sculptural works by Gold Hill artist Michael Petrillo.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is

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