Peer through A Window Into Your Imagination, the new exhibition of two Colorado artists at SmithKlein Gallery, and you’ll glimpse a vibrant world rife with beauty. The surreal dreamscapes of Tammi Otis hang across from Bryce Widom’s impressionistic meadows and open skies, sandwiching the viewer between ephemeral realms and whimsical images.
For those who know Widom as the chalkboard artist for Mountain Sun and Southern Sun, Window offers a more comprehensive perspective into the talent and vision of this Boulder-based painter. He took a circuitous route to becoming a professional artist, working as a children’s bus driver, ice cream scooper, telephone psychic and a cook and waiter at Mountain Sun before landing the chalkboard gig. Shortly after, Widom’s work gained him enough attention and commissions that he quit his job to become a full-time artist. He has since started working with oil paintings.
“I’m learning who I am as a painter and what exactly my style is,” Widom says. “For the show, I focused on the feeling I would get if I were to walk outside and look up above the line of traffic to the tree tops and the sky. Through my day, it’s very easy for me to contract my awareness and focus my attention on discrete objects or points in time and lose that space in which it’s all arising. The paintings are primarily holding that space, evoking a quality of vastness. There’s no escaping the fact that the figures are so small and the sky is so big. As a viewer you just kind of focus in and forget the rest.”
Widom often uses his wife and children as models for his paintings, placing them in sunlit fields beneath soft white clouds and expansive cerulean skies. While his landscapes evoke a loveliness reminiscent of Monet’s famed water lilies, perhaps what is most impressive about his work is his understanding of the play of light and shadow, which flit across his work, bringing a sense of transience and adding an enchanting visual depth.
Juxtaposed with the soft haze of Widom’s impressionism, Otis’ crisp lines and bold figures offer a visual yang to his yin. The mostly self-taught Wheat Ridge-based artist uses a process of applying 20 to 30 coats of glaze to her paintings, creating an eye-catching rich luminosity. Her pop-surrealistic style sets female figures, often partially nude, against stormy gold skies and looming turbulent clouds. Floating cupcakes, bright celestial orbs and crows wearing striped party hats often inhabit her paintings.
“Usually the birds in my paintings symbolize bringers of truth. If there’s a crow or a sparrow it’s often because there’s some subtle truth that somebody doesn’t want to look at,” Otis says. “It seems like a lot of art with crows or ravens is really dark, but I want mine to be a little more user-friendly. I like a contrast of darkness and light in my paintings. It’s more interesting for the viewer that way, and it’s more interesting for me to paint.”
Though Otis usually uses models for her female figures, she notes that they often end up looking a bit like her once they’re on the canvas, which gives her work an autobiographical tilt.
“I wouldn’t say I necessarily paint happy paintings, but some of them definitely have a note of whimsy or cheer,” Otis says. “For this show, I wanted to paint something a little more uplifting. With the economy being down and people not being in a good space, I wanted to bring a bit more light into things than I had previously.”
Widom echoed this sentiment, saying that he too was motivated to create paintings that expressed a buoyant, inspiring message.
“So many of us, individually and collectively, are struggling. Not just in this Boulder culture or this American culture, but in this global culture,” Widom says. “The paintings are speaking to that, though not in a direct way. They’re speaking to the fact that everything is fundamentally not only OK, but good. I feel that deeply. All the beautiful, the sublime, the ugly and the most atrocious acts of humanity all arose in a spaciousness [that] is fundamentally good. I feel like that’s what my work is about, regardless of what I’m doing — whether I’m waiting tables, scooping ice cream or making art.”
On the Bill
A Window Into Your Imagination shows at SmithKlein Gallery until Nov. 30. 1116 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-444-7200.