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'Memories and Inspirations' exhibition opening at San Juan College

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FARMINGTON — It's not often an artist chooses to go back and repaint a subject he or she already has tackled. But that's exactly what Flora Vista painter Curt Stafford did for some of the pieces included in his "Memories and Inspirations" exhibition opening June 7 at the Henderson Fine Arts Center Gallery at San Juan College, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington.

Stafford was intent on boldly going where he had gone before by enhancing the hues in those new works.

"My use of color has gotten a lot better as I have evolved as an artist," Stafford said earlier this week while preparing for the opening of the show.

"Memories and Inspirations" will feature 43 pieces, most of which are new paintings that focus on southwestern Colorado landscapes and smaller works that depict floral scenes. What they have in common is a bright palette that leads many of those subjects to virtually jump off the canvas.

Stafford said his move toward the use of greater color wasn't necessarily a conscious decision. It was simply a logical evolution he underwent as he devoted himself fully to painting in 2007 after retiring from his job with an engineering and construction company.

"No, I think it just happens," he said. "The more you paint, the more familiar you become with different color combinations. … That just comes with time."

Much of the work featured in "Memories and Inspirations" comes from what Stafford calls his "Mountain Series," a group of paintings that depict many of the more well-known vistas in the San Juan Mountains. Stafford roamed those mountains regularly as a boy, and he returned later in life to capture digital images of the scenes he wished to paint and to reacquaint himself with the terrain.

"I think I know the mountains as well as any other artist because I've spent so much time around them," he said, noting that many of those excursions occurred via horseback with his brother-in-law, a successful guide near Durango.

But those trips were taken as much for professional reasons as for enjoyment, he said — they provided him with invaluable insight into what those forests and rocky mountainsides really look, feel and smell like, as opposed to simply admiring them from afar.

"Seeing the mountains that way is a lot different from seeing them from the road," he said.

A few years ago, Stafford wanted to broaden his catalog of work and took his wife's suggestion to begin painting floral scenes. The idea resonated with him because his mother had been a florist, and Stafford acknowledged his personal history clearly plays a large role in his choice of subject matter. That's why he selected "Memories and Inspirations" for the title of the show, he said.

Stafford hasn't devoted himself to studying plants the way he traipsed around the San Juans as research for his "Mountain Series." But he's been pleasantly surprised at how much he has enjoyed the new series as a change of pace.

"After I painted the first one, I just kept going," he said. 'It's not as big as the 'Mountain Series,' but I think people will enjoy it."

These days, Stafford mixes in the occasional painting of a building — his depiction of the Beaumont Hotel & Spa in Ouray, Colorado, is included in the show — as a way to continue to challenge himself.

"I just wanted to paint a variety of things," he said. "I have plans to paint some canyonlands and other New Mexico scenes. I like to mix it up so I get various scenes."

Stafford characterizes his style as somewhere between Realism and Impressionism. He said there was a point several years ago when he was exploring taking his work more in the direction of the latter, but that didn't last. His work seemed to find an equilibrium between the two styles, he said.

"That happens as you paint more and more," he said. "You don't have to find a style. It'll find you."

"Memories and Inspirations" will remain on display through June 28 at the gallery. A closing reception for the show will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. that day. Call 505-566-3464.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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