EAGLE, Colo. (AP) - Vail Valley artist Mark Lemon often packs up his paint, canvases and brushes and goes west, and sometimes south, during mud season, visiting Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, his “usual stomping grounds,” he says. He’s drawn to the arid desert landscape, punctuated by craggy canyons and small, rugged mountain ranges.
While he almost always maps a route ahead of time, Lemon is also happy to deviate from it.
“If there’s a side road that looks interesting, I take it,” said Lemon, who is a landscape and portrait painter. “I pretty much go by sight. I’ve been through Utah and Arizona a lot before and there’s a few favorite spots I go back to year after year and then I look for new spots each year.”
In the old days, Lemon used to sleep in his car on such offseason trips. Now he has a fiberglass camper. He paints classic western landscape scenes, and he does portraits of the people he meets along the way. If they’ll sit for him, that is.
He loves to paint folks he meets near Canyon de Chelly, a national monument in northeastern Arizona.
“It borders the Hopi and Navajo nations,” Lemon said. “I’m particularly interested in Native Americans. Especially female Native Americans, mostly because they’re more willing to pose for me.”
One time while he was at the monument painting he met a Hopi medicine man who was searching along the canyon rim for herbs to use in his ceremonies.
“We stumbled into each other and I asked if I could paint him and he said yes,” Lemon said.
He did a portrait, which he gave to the Indian, and took some photographs, which he referenced for paintings later on, though generally Lemon dislikes painting from photos: “I find it to be increasingly less useful,” he said.
“My latest work is based on large plein air studies that are intended to capture more a feeling of the scene rather than a recording of superfluous things,” he said.
Locally, you can see Lemon’s work on display at Art of the Valley Gallery in Avon. Gallery Director Mason Torry has admired and followed Lemon’s work for years, he said.
“Mark’s style shows an experienced hand and eye that conveys what he is painting with the feeling and emotion of the western landscape. His work has a mix of detailed and impressionistic brush strokes, inviting the viewer in for an enjoyable trip in and around the painting.”
Recently Lemon painted well-known local skier Sarah Schleper de Gaxiola.
“I painted her from life, and I took a bunch of photos too, for a concept painting,” Lemon said.
“Painting from life,” as Lemon calls it, is the best way to learn to paint, he said. Later you apply what you learn to your studio work.
“The hope is you get to the point where you can make your studio paintings look spontaneous,” he said. “Painting from life naturally has more life to it, more feeling and more soul.”
As such, people tend to respond more passionately to his live paintings than his studio pieces.
While he’s been painting since he was a child - Lemon was 11 when he finished his first painting - he’s pursued it seriously for the last 25 years, since his mid-30s. He stopped doing woodwork design, and, for the last six years, has painted full time in a studio he rents near the Justice Center in Eagle.
“There’s a motorcycle mechanic, a boat builder, an excavator and an art studio. It’s kind of an eclectic mix,” he said.
For years, Lemon studied under a series of mentors, taking art classes at Colorado Mountain College in Vail before it closed down and then in Glenwood Springs.
“I was fortunate enough to study under Daniel Sprick,” he said. “He just had a one-man show at the Denver Art Museum. He’s a world-famous artist, and I just bummed into him by accident.”
Lemon met his wife, Alease, at the Glenwood Springs Fall Art Festival more than a decade ago. The two have been married for nine years now.
“She’s not an artist, but her mom is. She’s an art sympathizer,” he said. “And she makes it possible for me to paint full time. I’m deeply indebted to her for that.”
Lemon’s two sons, Luke and Brady, are both artists and musicians.
“I told them to follow their hearts. I don’t know if that was good advice or not,” he said. “I think if you follow your passions in life, the money follows. Maybe not always, but usually.”
Information from: Vail Daily, https://www.vaildaily.com/
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