We each look at a piece of art differently. Some are attracted to the subject matter, others the colors. While some wonder what the artists were thinking as they worked on the piece. The bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter. The viewer simply likes the work. Outwardly, there’s no rhyme or reason. However, inwardly, the viewer was moved, attracted in some unspoken way. And that’s exactly how gallery owners choose an artist: They are moved by what they see. 

“She Rides a White Horse,” by Mark Yale Harris, bronze 16” x 12” x 9”, Raitman Art Galleries

At the same time, it’s important for artists who seek representation to do the research to see if a gallery is a good match for their work. Gallery owners have clear interests and aesthetics. They represent creative visions no matter what the genre. And, once committed, galleries are willing to support their artists in every way. 

“Sundial Peak,” by Tracy Felix,  oil on panel 42” x 34”, Raitman Art Galleries. 

“It’s pretty evident to me when an artist has something to say,” remarks Marc LeVarn, of Vail International Gallery. “It’s like when you read a good book, you get it right away and it has a life force to it. That’s what we look for.”

LeVarn, Patrick Cassidy and Maria Cassidy LeVarn founded the Vail International Gallery, which features contemporary work by emerging artists, in 2005. “People are always asking me how we find our artists,” shares LeVarn. “And I answer, ‘There’s no formula.’ We, as dealers, do not adhere to any specific genre. The number-one and most important thing that we look for is quality. And quality, in our minds, in my mind, is defined by whether the artwork has a life to itself. An inner life — that part of a painting that makes someone who’s looking at it connect on a very human level.

“It might not happen to everyone but, for me, that has to happen in a way that goes beyond looking at the piece and thinking, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ A piece should make you really look at it and grab you and take you by the shirt and shake you and say, ‘Hey, I’m really here.’ That’s what separates an amateur from a professional in my opinion.”

And that is precisely why the gallery was one of the first to represent Russian artists. “After Glasnost, in the mid-nineties, fabulous, technically perfect, classical art began coming out of the former Soviet Union,” explains LeVarn. “Russian painters are trained at a level that is probably the finest in the world. Their classical training is the best. Just like the Russian ballet dancers and classical musicians, Russian artists put in the hours.”

“Leo and Babe’s Cow and Calf,” by Don Coen, airbrush, 48” x 48”, Claggett/Rey Gallery.

“Our art collection focuses on all genres,” says Mark Kihle, Director of Knox Galleries in Beaver Creek. “We look for artists that have a unique, different style. We like pieces that put a smile on someone’s face. 

“We want to get a response from the viewers, rather than have them just taking a look and walking by and not noticing.” 

In fact, the sculpture, by George Lundeen, of George Washington sitting on a flagstone bench in front of the gallery is one of those pieces that gets responses from people of all ages who enjoy being photographed on this exceptional piece of art.

“George Washington,” By George Lundeen, bronze, life size, Knox Galleries.

Kihle gravitates towards artists whose work might represent their background, their lifestyle. And sculptor Curtis Zable is one of his favorites. “Curtis grew up on a ranch and has spent a life time there raising cattle,” he says. “And his Western heritage has been the main inspirations for his work.

The Raitman Art Galleries lean more towards contemporary art: “works that capture the beauty of the mountains we call home, along with abstracts that push to new heights.” The galleries are rooted in the American age-old tradition of small, family-run businesses.

“So many things go into it when we choose to represent an artist,” says Brian Raitman, who commutes between the Vail and Breckenridge galleries. “One, we want to know if the artist is a full-time professional. How committed to their career are they? How unique is the work and what niche will it fill in the art world? How recognizable is the work? When you see the artwork, it’s important to us that you instantly know that it’s a specific artist’s painting or sculpture. How much has the artist found their artistic ‘voice,’ and what do they want to convey to the world? And that can be in terms of subject matter, in terms of style or color choices. There are so many different things that go into what is important to us.”

 “From there we consider the quality of the work,” continues Raitman. “Is it exceptional? Does the piece make you stop and stare in awe because of the level of execution that the artist has achieved? When we are considering which new artists to represent, we often have had a visceral experience when we first saw the work. We knew that we would not forget that particular artist’s work. It just sticks with you.  Simply put, we fell in love with it and we believe our clients will too.”

John Vickers owns galleries in both Vail and Aspen. Vail Village Arts is easily recognizable from the extensive kinetic sculpture display out front. “It took me awhile to figure out why our galleries are successful, and how we’ve stood the test of time over the last 35+ years,” says Vickers. “It’s that we have no preconceived ideas of who or what we are, we’re not strictly a contemporary, or a landscape or a wildlife gallery. We are whatever we’ve found that is high quality, unique, well executed and priced fairly. Our clients are very well traveled and we need to be memorable!”

”Vail, Colorado,” by Bill Braun, oil on canvas, 24” x 36”, Vail Village Arts

And, when it comes to art of the American West, Claggett/Rey Gallery prides itself on its collection — be it historical or contemporary. For 30 years the gallery, owned by Bill Rey, son of artist Jim Rey and Maggie DeDecker, sister of sculptor Jane DeDecker, the gallery has represented some of the most notable American artists and sculptors in North America. The owners have an “eye” for exceptional work in every genre.

However, Rey finds that some modes of creation are changing in the current art world — particularly in Western paintings.

“Many of the greatest artists have passed away or are in their 80s and there are not many coming up that will fill those shoes, because, today, anyone under 50 did not grow up with the Western mystique. They weren’t exposed to the westerns and television shows from early days. So artists today, who are forty-years-old or younger, grew up on Star Wars. They grew up on a very different American myth. And even though Star Wars isn’t an American myth, it is a societal change in the types of movies and television shows that we see today. So we see a greatly different and reduced level of fine artists coming out today that have something to say. 

“Most of the younger artists that I see today are using the camera or their phone to compose the image, then painting the image on canvas. And that doesn’t appeal to me. I think photographs are a great reference and tool, but copying a photograph leaves a lot to be desired. I feel that artists still need to put a lot of their own empathy and insight of the setting and ‘why did you do it?’ The first question I ask an artist is ‘What was your intention? Why did you create this?’ I don’t always ask this outwardly, but that’s what’s in my mind. And if it’s just a pretty picture of a photograph, that’s not very appealing to me. What I want, what I believe is that great art, no matter if it’s very contemporary or very traditional, truly great art can change your life. It resonates with an energy that can really affect your cellular structure.”

No matter what art genre one is drawn to, it’s always exciting to discover a new piece of art to which you are drawn. A piece that seems to say, “Wrap me up. Take me home. I will make your heart sing.”