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Stuart Andrews of Buena Vista: Reality & Surreality

Article by Ed Quillen

Local Artists – October 1995 – Colorado Central Magazine

Reality takes some odd turns when you glance at one of Stuart Andrews’s paintings. All the components look realistic, and you’re tempted to nod and think, “Hmm, another landscape,” or “interesting still life,” when something out of place catches your eye. Then you notice a lot of juxtapositions, and finally you realize that you’re looking at an exquisite visual pun.

His “Water Table” is just that — a kitchen table in a waterfall, not some subterranean hydrology. “Octo-Pie” is a slice of blueberry pie that transforms into a suckered tentacle. “The Nature of Preserves” is a twist on “preservation of nature,” with the Grand Canyon bottled inside a Mason jar, sitting on a pantry shelf with the canned peaches.

Andrews, who is 40, has lived in Buena Vista for nearly a dozen years. He grew up in Fort Collins and took up painting in high school, where his talent got him an art scholarship to the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

But he had another talent, skiing, and so, after a year of college, “I dropped out so I could take advantage of the touring opportunities you get as a free-style skier,” which gave him a base in Aspen in the late 1970s.

Aerial and trick skiing got to the point where “I needed to do things my body didn’t want to do any more,” and so he returned to art. Aspen offers a prosperous art market, “but your overhead is so high there that you’ve got to focus on what you know will sell. You’re so busy with that that you don’t have time to develop your own visions.”

Further, during his last four years in Aspen, the town “went from mindless decadence to mindless money. I needed a change if I was going to develop my art.”

He moved to Buena Vista in 1984, hiring on at a private fish hatchery, “which eliminated the social distractions I had in Aspen, and gave me time to develop my own style.”

Another attraction of Buena Vista: “When I was 15, I made a list of what I’d have to have wherever I lived, and the first thing was a 14er in my back yard. Whether that mountain is Long’s Peak, the Maroon Bells, or Mount Princeton, is irrelevant in that respect. It’s just something I need to feel comfortable.”

Buena Vista offers “an inspiring landscape, and an uncommon atmosphere — clear, with Southwestern light. Art, no matter how surreal, needs to be rooted in a real landscape.”

Given that surreal approach, the local landscape might not spring to mind when you look at Andrews’s work. It’s more akin to Salvador Dal!, or maybe Hieronymus Bosch. Like Bosch, a 15th-century Dutch painter, Andrews sometimes creates triptychs — the painting hangs as two panels that can open to reveal three panels inside, distinct but related.

Among the Andrews paintings on display in his gallery, The View at 105 North Railroad in Buena Vista, are two that were more or less banned in Castle Rock.

Last summer, the Art Center of Douglas County planned a show called “Sur-Real Estate.” Andrews was invited to submit works and sent in four slides. They liked his work, and asked for more. He brought in eleven pieces, “and all seemed fine, and then about four days later, they called and said four of my pieces were inappropriate and couldn’t be displayed because they had too much `sexual imagery.””

Never has he heard any such complaints in Buena Vista, which indicates that small towns in the mountains are more open-minded than upscale Front Range suburbs.

The biggest menace to art in Buena Vista, he notes, is climatic. Last spring, “I had eight paintings drying upstairs. A gust of wind blew out a window, then carried five paintings off the drying rack. They got smudged, and I had to remix all my colors to restore them and get them on display for the summer season.”

His gallery carries a dozen other artists’ work, which range from oils, acrylics, and watercolors to bronze sculptures, jewelry, and quilts. He looks for art that “has a strong local connection — an alpine subject matter helps a lot.” He also wants to “see a range of new stuff that avoids clichs,” and further, “we have a bold tradition of whimsy.”

Not all is whimsy, of course. Andrews is finishing a term as president of the Chaffee County Council on the Arts, whose mission is to promote all the arts in the county.

“Over the years, though, we’ve focused only on visual art. Part of the reason for that limitation is that we administer the courthouse gallery, and it didn’t have any heat, so we we couldn’t do much more than the summer exhibitions. Now that there’s heat in the building, the Council is positioned to do more — host and sponsor plays, workshops, musical events.” In August, for instance, the Council held a first-ever reception for local writers at the courthouse.

As for the future of art in Central Colorado, Andrews is cautiously optimistic. “There are threats — artists could get priced out by other development, or get forced into the rut I didn’t want to get into in Aspen, of finding something marketable and not having time to do anything else. And you’ve got a growing segment of the population who thinks that everything that is interesting or entertaining has to come on video tape. But in general, we seem to be on a good course. Art can fit with recreational development, since it gives us the emotional and spiritual renewal, the re-creation, that we all need.”

That, and I get something even better: a good, deep belly-laugh when I catch the joke in one of Andrews’s surreal flights of whimsy.

Ed Quillen somehow missed taking Art Appreciation 101 when he was looking for easy courses in college.