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Health crisis pushed Colorado painter into art

Sometimes art blooms from crisis.

“Elk at Dawn,” oil on canvas by Arturo Garcia.

Arturo Garcia spent much of his life as a real estate broker. Then he learned he had cancer.

“I got very ill six years ago, and I ended up in the hospital for a long time,” he said in a telephone interview from his Littleton, Colo., home. “I had cancer. They took all my organs out. They cut my pancreas in half. It was a bile duct, but they treated it as pancreatic cancer.

“I looked back on my life and I said I wished I’d painted more. That was what made me happy.”

“Spirit of the Tetons,” oil on canvas by Arturo Garcia.

The results of that personal epiphany can be seen at next weekend’s Rio Grande Arts & Crafts Festival Spring Show at Expo New Mexico’s Manuel Lujan Exhibit Complex. A lineup of 185 juried artists will show fine art, sculpture, photography, jewelry, textiles, ceramics, wood, metal and glass art. Patrons can browse a selection of both traditional craftsmanship and contemporary art. This marks the show’s 31st year.

Garcia had always treated his art as a hobby, although he had been creating since he was a child growing up in Mexico.

“I always had the ability to create and paint well, but I’ve always been too critical of myself,” he said.

He began as a realist until he shifted into the highly expressionistic, color-splashed style of the Fauves. French for “wild beasts,” the Fauves incorporated vivid, splashy brushwork. Henri Matisse and André Derain were the movement’s leaders.

“Rolling Hills,” oil on canvas by Arturo Garcia.

Switching from brushes to a palette knife added a thick, painterly quality to Garcia’s canvas. The paint layers are so thick they cast their own shadows, giving the images a three-dimensional appearance.

At one point, Garcia struggled and gave up because the technique proved so difficult; it was hard to add detail. But he persevered, using a 2½-inch triangular-shaped knife to produce wild slashes of pigment.

He’s never taken a formal art lesson. He often works from his own photographs.

Garcia’s Colorado wildlife series features elk, buffalo, bears, bobcats and bighorn sheep.

“In Evergreen (Colo.), we have hundreds of elk,” Garcia said. “Evergreen is 40 minutes from here, and I like to watch them.

“I’ve painted buffalo so much I don’t need to look at the animal anymore,” he added.

New to the Rio Grande festival, Garcia also shows his work in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and at Denver’s Cherry Creek Art Festival. He took first prize in Jackson, landing the cover of the festival poster. His work has been shown at the Denver Art Museum and at the University of Colorado.

“Last year, I won a residency in France,” he said. “I painted for a whole month in a castle. It was a gift from art itself.”

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