By Bonnie Gangelhoff
Colorado painter Ann Gargotto paints a variety of subjects, but she is mainly known for her colorful, expressive still-life works. Her inspiration often comes from beautiful objects close to her home in suburban Denver. “I might see a flower arrangement in my kitchen, and the afternoon light is hitting it in such a stunning way that I have to paint it,” Gargotto says. “Luckily, Colorado has so much beautiful light. It’s brilliant, and we can count on it for most of the year. I am always seeing light-and-shadow situations, and they are hugely exciting to me.”
On a recent shopping trip to Whole Foods Market, for example, a bunch of radishes in the produce department caught her eye. “They were just sitting there with his beautiful blue tie. I also loved the crinkles and shapes of the leaves at the top,” she recalls. “I knew the radishes would be my models for the day.”
Indeed, from the market she headed back to her studio immediately and began doing what she relishes—setting up her “models,” sketching, snapping photos, and looking for a strong composition for her radish tableau. Part of the appeal of painting still lifes, Gargotto says, is that creating a good composition comes naturally to her.
Like many artists, Gargotto says she knew as a child that someday she wanted to pursue painting and drawing. Growing up in the Chicago area, she watched her godmother, Sylvia Thompson, a successful artist. The young Gargotto would then spend hours trying to copy what Thompson had created on canvas. But the seminal moment in solidifying her budding interest in art came when she was about 10 and her mother took her to an Andrew Wyeth exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute. “I remember I was holding my mother’s hand as I looked up at one of Wyeth’s paintings, and I remember thinking it was the most magnificent thing I had ever seen. It felt spiritual,” Gargotto says.
Later the family moved to the San Francisco area, and her father signed her up for art lessons at the now-defunct Sausalito Art Center, where she ended up studying for two years while in high school. When it came time for college, she considered studying art but eventually decided to major in business at the University of Colorado. “We had six kids in our family, and my father encouraged me to find something else besides art so that I could make a living. I took his advice,” she recalls.
After graduation she pursued a career in marketing, married, and raised two children. In her free time, she painted and drew. Then in 2007, she took a “life-changing” workshop with Denver painter Quang Ho, in which she learned the fundamentals of what makes a good painting, among other things.
These days, along with painting still lifes, she also participates in plein-air events. For last year’s Denver Plein-Air Arts Festival, Gargotto chose an artistic path less traveled. Rather than portraying busy bistros, lonely alleys, and downtown buildings, Gargotto cast her eye on another big-city fixture—the homeless population. “I asked a homeless man if I could paint him, and he agreed,” she recalls. “I really got to know him. Phillip came to the same corner, sat in the same chair, and wore the same clothes every day.”
Her idea paid off; the painting won a top award and sold soon after the show opened. Gargotto gave half of her earnings to her model, who told her he once worked on a riverboat before falling on hard times. “The fun of plein-air painting is that something interesting will always happen to you when you paint in public,” she says.
Gargotto feels grateful to live in the Denver area, where she says the art scene is thriving and blessed with master artists like Ho, Ron Hicks, and Kevin Weckbach, who share their knowledge generously with other painters. Her goals include becoming more prolific and creating more figurative work in the year ahead. “I hope all of my paintings convey a lot of expression, even though they are realistic,” Gargotto says. “I want them to have a unique painterly quality as well as be exciting to look at.”
Abend Gallery, Denver, CO; www.anngargotto.com.
Denver Plein-Air Arts Festival, November 2011.
Featured as an “Artist to Watch” in March 2011.