Four walls of his own paintings surround him, creating a tapestry of luminous colors and larger-than-life images that appear to engulf the painter as he descends the ladder into the center of the room.
They are his most powerful and also his most difficult pieces, he says of the selection currently on display at the Ah Haa. Standing amid the creative noise of his own making – a fusion of introspective still lifes and commanding scenes – Weatherford is both humbled and uplifted.
“These are my most message-heavy paintings; really talking about… what makes life significant,” he says, glancing up at the dozens of oil-on-canvas paintings hung around the gallery. “This is the most naked me,” he says.
As an artist, Weatherford is not one to shy away from laying himself bare. In his most recent work “Demon Tree,” an implausibly twisted and knarled tree trunk bursts from the chaos of a deep, smothering forest. “To me, the significance of painting is that it’s saying something – even to the point that there’s nothing more important than having an intent when starting a painting. To paint with intention… you must let it call up everything inside of you,” he says, explaining that in “Demon Tree” his intent was to empower all of his greatest terrors and “let this demon carry them.”
A graduate of seminary school, Weatherford’s philosophical reflections weave their way throughout his paintings, from his floral still lifes to his series of 50s-era boxers, and from very tangible, Telluride-centric landscapes to paintings whose grasp is highly symbolic. In “Circus Poster & Statue of Liberty,” a snarling lion’s gaping mouth is splashed across a wall behind a souvenir-size Statue of Liberty and two stems in a vase. In “Adam and Eve Cast Out of Heaven,” a kachina doll and a funky, ball gown-shaped vase stand surrounded by rabbit figurines.
Questions of powerlessness and possibility, the real and the substitute, present themselves within the pretext of visually interesting art in these paintings, which are just a few of the dozens of Weatherford paintings currently on display at the Ah Haa. Never before has such an extensive selection of the artist’s work been shown in one place, he says, and so the Ah Haa exhibition represents a coming out of sorts for this longtime Telluride painter.
Weatherford has been paining in Telluride since 1977, and although he has lived abroad and in various locales across the country for periods of time since then, Telluride has always called him back. He currently serves as vice president of Ah Haa’s board of directors, and he has taught painting classes at the school for the last ten years.
The depth and range of the paintings currently on exhibit at the school represent Weatherford’s more than three decades of exploring the great questions of humanity through art; a show that is, in Ah Haa Director Rachel Lee’s words, “unlike anything anyone has ever seen in Telluride.”
“This could have only happened here,” Weatherford says, and the exhibition includes some of his more challenging and provocative art. More of his collection is also on display at Telluride Gallery of Fine Art and Franz Klammer Lodge.
The Robert Weatherford show opens today, during Art Walk, in the Daniel Tucker Gallery at the Ah Haa School for the Arts, at the bottom of Townsend Ave.