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Steamboat Magazine

The Best of the Best

10/04/2022 07:00AM ● By Deb Olsen

“King of the Wild Things” | 30 x 30 ANNA ROSE BAIN 2022 GOLD MEDAL AWARD WINNER 2022 MEMBERS’ CHOICE AWARD. 

Steamboat Springs, CO - It’s a shame there’s no red carpet for artists to walk at the Oil Painters of America annual exhibit, on display this summer at Steamboat Art Museum, because the show is filled with celebrities. 

The best representational oil painters in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico vie for a place in this juried exhibition, which returns to Steamboat Springs for the second time in four years. Almost 2,000 artists submitted works for consideration in 2022; approximately 230 pieces made the final cut. The jury selected three Yampa Valley artists for inclusion: Adam Zabel, Chula Beauregard and Bonnie McGee, whose work sold prior to the exhibition and will not be on display. 

“These artists represent the top of the top,” says Dancy St. John, who curated the show for SAM. 

The jury’s goal in 2022 was to select paintings that demonstrate the highest quality in draftsmanship, color and composition while emphasizing a diversity in style and subject matter. The resulting exhibit is all of that, as well as being emotive, captivating and even occasionally shocking. 

The national show has been a hit since it first came to town in 2018. “People come in multiple times,” says Dottie Jones-Zabel, director of operations at SAM. “You just can’t digest it all the first time.” 

“Cathedral of Shared Human Knowledge” | 30 x 40 by Gail Wegodsky.

Even selecting a few favorite pieces is difficult. The process begins with one or two that immediately stand out, but others quickly catch your eye. Before you know it, you have spent hours savoring the artwork, and hours more could easily be devoted to the task. 

“There’s something for everyone,” St. John says. 

It’s not surprising that Jones-Zabel’s favorite piece is “Ready to Ride,” a portrait of a white horse in golden light that was created by her husband, Adam. The horse comes alive, seemingly in motion even on the still canvas. In an agricultural community like Routt County, the horse is more than an excellent piece of art: it is emblematic of a lifestyle. 

St. John, who curated the exhibit based largely on the OPA’s criteria, said she was immediately drawn to Gail E. Wegodsky’s “Cathedral of Shared Human Knowledge,” a depiction of the interior of Bibliothèque Nationale de France – Richelieu Louvois. The elaborate domes overhead, the murals, the extensive collection of invaluable manuscripts – all of the details of this architectural masterpiece are present in Wegodsky’s painting. In the center of it all stands a man, back arched as he looks overhead to study the magnificent domed ceilings, not unlike the pose we would likely strike if we could be there. 

“Salish Sea,” a photorealistic study of water by Friday Harbor, Washington, artist Debbie Daniels, draws the eye back to it time and again with its strong lines, photo-like quality and strong-yet-subtle use of color. 

“Salish Sea” | 24 x 48 by Debbie Daniels.

“King of the Wild Things” by Anna Rose Bain also employs photorealism, in combination with other techniques, to create a whimsical portrait study of a child surrounded by wild animals against a wooded, fall landscape. 

Some artists use their medium to make a social statement. Las Cruces, New Mexico, artist Vincent Figliola tells the story of the separation of an immigrant parent from his child in “Connected,” a study in contemporary realism that is certain to evoke emotion. Kristen Savage’s “My Body, My Rules” makes a strong social commentary, as it depicts a naked female figure, pulling a trench coat over her body, with her face turned away from the viewer. 

“Connected” | 36 x 24 by Vincent Figliola. 

 The works of Master OPA artists, who enjoy the organization’s most prestigious status, are on display in the front gallery of the museum. “Night Shift Miner,” by Christopher Zhang, is among them. This new piece manifest’s Zhang’s expertise in portraiture. Look into this miner’s eyes and you will see exhaustion, pride and power. 

“Night Shift Miner” | 26 x 20 bu Christopher Zhang.