Magazine article Southwest Art

Called to Painting

Magazine article Southwest Art

Called to Painting

Article excerpt

WHEN COLORADO painter John Taft received a drawing in the mail from his mother last year, he was puzzled and amazed. Taft had no memory of creating this third-grade "masterpiece," and the rendering was an incredible foreshadowing of things to come. "The drawing is of an artist wearing a beret, and he is painting on location in the West with a dark-blue car behind him," he explains. "On the back of the drawing it says, 'What I want to do when I grow up.'"

Here's the curious thing: Taft grew up near Buffalo, NY, and had not been farther west than Ohio at the time. And years later, when he actually did move westward to Colorado, he bought a dark-blue Honda CRV. "But I don't wear a beret," he jokes.

On this particular day, Taft is settling into his studio and recounting the circuitous journey that led to his life as a landscape painter in Longmont, CO, about 40 minutes from Rocky Mountain National Park. Behind him and leaning against the wall is a painting titled TOP LIGHT that depicts the snowcovered Rockies and which is headed for the prestigious Oil Painters of America show at Evergreen Fine Art in Evergreen, CO. Another painting, CHANGES, sits next to it and captures a Colorado field and irrigation ditch on a rainy, overcast day. The painting is one of 20 works that Taft has earmarked for his solo show at Vail International Gallery in Vail, CO, in July. "CHANGES stemmed from a cool, wet, breezy autumn day that was holding its own against the first signs of winter," Taft says. "I found it very refreshing and invigorating and a nice contrast to the more usual sunny days of Colorado. The tonal quality and close color harmonies reinforced that feel."

Taft's studio is in a converted garage warmed by oriental rugs on the cement floor and with a spacious window that reveals a lush lilac bush in full bloom. As he unravels his path to landscape painting, the family dog, Sydney, an Australian shepherd and border-collie mix, barges into the room, looks around, and then sinks quickly to the floor to sack out. Taft's love of the landscape harks back to his youth, he says, when he worked at his father's wholesale nursery in upstate New York. "I think it was that experience working for many years in all kinds of weather that connects me so strongly to the land," he says.

ALTHOUGH TAFT showed a talent for drawing in his early years, he didn't entertain thoughts about a fine-art career because he didn't believe people actually made a living at the pursuit. Instead, when it came time for college in 1981, he enrolled in the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, and followed a practical course curriculum in illustration. The first seeds for a career in fine art were planted during a painting class with artist Dan McCaw. "Dan was inspiring, and I think 1 realized back then that I was more interested in being a gallery artist someday than pursuing a career as an illustrator," Taft says.

But it would take many years and many jobs in the television industry before he took such musings seriously. His art career, he recalls, began rather humorously when he took a brief break from art school to earn money. He was hired by an eccentric Frenchman living in Beverly Hills to paint an 8-foot-tall replica of JacquesLouis David's famous painting NAPOLEON CROSSING THE ALPS. The client demanded that Taft replace Napoleon's face with his own. "And it turned out he wanted me to do the work for free," Taft says.

Things got better after that, though. For the next 18 years Taft enjoyed a successful career in the high-end computer graphics field as a designer and art director in the television industry, sometimes in Los Angeles but mainly in New York City. He created animation packages for network news and entertainment shows, among other things. But by 2001, when Taft was the design director for a cable network, he had begun painting on the weekends and also began to take workshops with artists Jim Wilcox and Scott Christensen in Jackson, WY. …

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