"For a guy my age, I have a lot of energy," says Michael Charron. "It sounds cool, but it's sort of an affliction." The contemporary realist expels some of that energy in the summer when, funded by various collectors, he disappears into the Colorado wilderness with a pack of llamas and a few hundred pounds of gear and paints seldom-seen landscapes. Charron calls his collections "Colorado Pictorial Essays," and displays them annually at the Gilmore Art Center, a casual, dual-use gallery space adjoined to Mile High Framing that functions as the Curtis Street Church on Sundays. This year's installment, showing through December 20, features 34 plein air paintings from the Mount Zirkel Wilderness, along with several larger oils, a self-portrait, new abstract rock paintings dubbed geoabstractions and a photo slideshow from Charron's most recent journey.
Charron got a bachelor's degree in sculpture from Western Michigan University before the allure of the outdoors summoned him West. "I've always said I am glad I didn't know about Colorado when I was younger because I never would have gone to college," jokes Charron, an avid outdoorsman and hunter.
But he had other journeys ahead. "I was one of those people who had a proclivity for altering the state of consciousness, and it just started to unravel for me," the artist explains. "I got sober, and I started painting." Thirteen years ago Charron bought a few llamas, and the following summer he took them into the wild for the first of his lengthy painting expeditions through the backcountry.
"You can throw a dead cat in Denver and hit an artist," says Charron. To distinguish himself, Charron brings something unique to the landscape collector -- views of Colorado that have never been painted. "They've been photographed maybe, but not painted," he adds. "If you like the outdoors but are sick of seeing the Maroon Bells, I've got something for you."
Charron's llama treks take at least two weeks to complete. "This year was a really good example of why you need to dedicate that kind of time," says Charron, since rain and snow shut him down for days at a time. "Even if it is very cloudy, I can't work because nobody buys flat paintings," he adds,
Intensive time in nature is much more than a business practicality, though: Charron's connection with the natural world is what activates his work. The artist has painted upwards of 400 pictures of the Zirkel Wilderness, that large stretch between Steamboat Springs and Walden that's just south of Wyoming, and his heartfelt appreciation for the natural world shows in every piece.
Continue reading for more on Charron and his painting treks.
Another point of distinction in his pieces can't be seen, but is deeply felt. "Everything I take to read on days I get rained out has to do with metaphysical exploration," Charron explains. His meditations form the backdrop for his paintings, and before he begins he etches a prayer into the canvas with the backend of a paintbrush while priming it.
This year prayers were supplemented with drawings of the sacred heart. "I am not religious," Charron says, "but I honor the face paths of all people, and spent my contemplative time trying to figure out what the hell this sacred heart thing really means." Although Charron calls his paintings "pedestrian" -- "They're landscapes, for goodness sakes," he says -- he also believes they are extraordinary because they are "infused with intention for people's highest and best good."
Charron's lengthiest llama trip to date took 22 days. "When you are by yourself, especially for long periods of time, you get to do a lot of exploration of the inside. I don't think a lot of people can do it, frankly," he says. "We are such a highly stimulated society, and I think people default to that."
Charron has seen the crescent moon set on an empty, mountainous horizon at night. "Just the very tip of the moon remains, a bright dot on the skyline," he says of a complete and overpowering serenity that very few experience. He's encountered bears, mountain lions and moose, too, but only one thing scares him: lightning. "There's no reason to take the llamas except to get into those high areas, so I'm frequently camped at timberline," explains Charron. "The sound and experience of lighting is very different up there."
But everything else he's encountered in the wilderness has been "unadulterated magic," he says.
Charron also shows and sells his work at Mary Williams Fine Art and Valley Fine Art, and he submits to exhibitions nationwide; most recently, he was juried into the Paint the Parks Exhibition at the Coutts Museum in Kansas. For more information, visit his website.
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