Shock and Awe
By Alesha Damerville
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS- As a boy, Gregory Block would pedal his mountain bike nearly 20 miles into Steamboat Springs to stand, damp with sweat, and closely examine the paintings in galleries around town. Now, it’s others who stand in awe of Block’s paintings in Steamboat’s art galleries.
Block developed a fondness for art at an early age. His parents were instrumental in starting a Waldorf school in Fort Collins, where he started painting watercolors before he could walk. When Block’s family moved to Routt County to raise alpacas, he attended Soroco High School, which is smaller than Steamboat.
“It was an interesting transition for me to go from this very liberal and artsy Waldorf environment to this more conservative, down-to-earth area,” Block says. “I found refuge in my artwork.”
Showing an artistic eye far beyond his years, Block quickly gained attention. Individuals in the Steamboat art community, like Rich Galusha and Shirley Stocks at Wildhorse Gallery, embraced and supported the prodigy. When Block was just 17, internationally renowned cellist John Sant’Ambrogio purchased several of his pieces. “John took the time to say, ‘You know, young man, you’re doing the right thing. Keep going,’” Block says.
Block attributes his rise as an artist in large part to Steamboat’s thriving art community. “There’s a certain richness in the community – a familial quality,” he says. “Everybody is there to support each other.”
One might assume that Block studied art upon graduating high school, but he instead earned a degree in biology at Colorado College, consciously avoiding painting classes. “They seemed too academic for me,” he says. And if you ask him, the divide between art and science isn’t as great as it seems.
“One of my inspirations was Leonardo Da Vinci,” Block says. “He demonstrated curiosity, having an interest in the things around us. Biology is the essence of that. It’s the same as what I do in my still-life painting. I try to deconstruct.”
It’s common for inspiration to strike during Block’s day-to-day routine. “I was in this antique store the other day looking for hangers, and I walked past this antique scale, and it’s just a beautiful object – the sheen, the shape, the texture, the color – I ended up bringing it home to paint,” he says.
Block wants his paintings to jar viewers out of their repetitious mental state. “I try to paint anything that inspires awe and makes someone slow down and appreciate something like craftsmanship. Craftsmanship is something people can admire; when you see something done well, that can be awe-inspiring. So much of our lives these days is dictated by split-second decision-making, Instagram photos, flashing lights and information that feels so manic. Something that has time and care put into it can take us out of that daily chaos and bring us into awe.”
“I think in his paintings, it’s almost like he sees the souls of objects,” says Rufina Tegeder, owner of Gallery 89 in Steamboat. “Everything he paints is almost more real than it looks in real life. He shows things that we pass by in everyday life that we don’t notice how beautiful they are. He has this amazing curiosity about everything he’s touching. One day – this is my prediction – we will have a Gregory Block museum in Steamboat Springs.”
Out of all the awe-inspiring pieces Block has put to canvas, which is his favorite? “It’s always the one I’m currently working on. Every time,” he says. “I work on one piece at a time, and that piece has my complete and utter attention. And the world around it is just a blur.”
Gregory Block’s art can be viewed at Gallery 89.