See the inspiration behind the art at Arts Alive in Breckenridge |

See the inspiration behind the art at Arts Alive in Breckenridge

Krista Driscoll /
Krista Driscoll / |

If you go

What: “Starts & Finishes,” an exhibition at the Arts Alive Gallery

Where: 500 S. Main St., Breckenridge

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Cost: Admission is free

More information: Call (970) 453-0450

When you look at a work of art, do you ever wonder what inspired it? What image or view or moment caught the eye of the artist and compelled him or her to turn it into a more permanent impression? How did the artist take that original reference and put a unique stamp on it?

A new exhibition at Arts Alive Gallery in Breckenridge, titled “Starts & Finishes,” allows art lovers to see the inspiration behind the art in order to get a better view of the artists’ perspective. The interactive exhibit allows patrons to use pieces of yarn and thumbtacks to draw a literal line from the original item that jump-started the artist’s creative juices — whether it’s a photograph, sketch or found object — to the finished piece.

“Most shows you just kind of stand there, look at the paintings on the wall and move on to the next wall, you go though the gallery that way,” said Diane Johnston, of Silverthorne, one of the artists whose work is featured in the exhibit. “We set this one up the way I’ve seen it done in large cities; that’s where I got the idea from.”

Typically with this style of exhibit, the reference material is hung alongside the final work, but when Johnston heard the title of the show, she approached exhibit chairwoman Mary Lou Johns and proposed making it more interactive by adding the string-and-tack component. The result is unlike anything that has been done at Arts Alive or, for that matter, any gallery in the county, Johnston said.


Each artist interprets his or her reference material in a different way. Johns, who splits her time between Breckenridge and Evanston, Illinois, uses photographs as a basis for her landscape paintings, and an example is included in the exhibit.

“I painted that from a photograph because I was back in Illinois when I painted it,” she said. “I like painting landscapes of Colorado when I’m in Illinois because I miss the beauty and the grandeur. I had that from the summer and painted that in the fall in my home studio and painted the whole thing with a palette knife.”

Johns said people enjoy learning the stories behind the art, wanting to know where the artist was when she painted it, what she was thinking or feeling and why certain colors or textures were chosen, especially those that vary wildly from the hues found in nature.

“People like the engagement to try to figure it out, and some of them are very simple,” Johns said. “There’s the beautiful pastel portrait of a dog, and it’s clear which photograph matches that, but for some of the landscapes — there’s one particularly beautiful landscape by Diane where she uses totally different colors in the painting than were present in the scene from her photograph.”

Johnston said her work stands out because she’s a colorist, taking a photograph with muted tones or even one in black and white and painting it with vivid, vibrant colors.

“I see more color in things than most people do. It’ll be one that’s easy to spot,” she said of her contribution to the exhibit. “The photograph is really bland — it’s not even that great of a photograph — but the painting is amazingly colorful. Joanne (Hanson), she had a large photograph, it was a field and a lot of flowers, a little building, and she chose to paint only a little piece of that. Her painting is much smaller and more intimate than what her reference piece was.”


Though there is a certain amount of realism to most of the pieces in the show, from watercolors to acrylic and oil to pastels, woodblock prints and even jewelry, the artists’ interpretations never end up being line for line re-creations of the original reference pieces. From color palettes to composition to light and shadow, each artist draws out the magic from their bit of physical inspiration.

“If you’re sitting on Boreas Pass Road and looking out over the beautiful meadow and, beyond that, the town below and, beyond that, the mountains and ski trails and, beyond that, the highest peaks, there’s so much to see, right?” Johns said.

The artist must ask herself what’s really interesting about the scene.

“The wildflowers? That fallen pine tree over there a few yards away, the texture and rusty color of the bark? Or is it the ski trails in the distance that are so fun to look at?” Johns said. “Whatever the answer is to that question, that’s where you put your more vibrant colors, your darkest darks, lightest lights, where you want the viewer to look.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Now more than ever, your financial support is critical to help us keep our communities informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having on our residents and businesses. Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.

Your donation will be used exclusively to support quality, local journalism.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User