Colorado native Topher Straus combines digital technology with an impressionistic take on nature to bring a modern twist to powerful scenes.
Jhe history of the West begins with the land — its mountains and plains, its glaciers and valleys, towns and ranches, and above all, its grandeur. It is these incredible views that Colorado native Topher Straus chooses to make the subject of his art. Attracting collectors from all over the world who dream of owning a piece of this West – “the West of the heart”, as the artist puts it – he marries digital technology and an impressionistic vision of nature to give a decidedly modern touch to scenes of primordial power, often in national scenes. parks, from Bryce and Zion to Canyonlands and Guadalupe Mountains.
Significantly, Straus doesn’t just describe what’s beautiful in his eyes and in his heart – he represents the house. He has deep Western roots, dating back to the pioneers who helped build the town of Leadville, Colorado, and later turned the family’s thriving business into a national chain. Their descendants, Straus’s great-grandparents, collected 20th-century works of art, most of which were eventually donated to the Chicago Art Institute, as well as the Metropolitan Art Museum and MOMA in New York. Straus grew up exposed to the works of modern masters, and when he began painting as an adult in response to a dark time in his life, he created intensely personal works that often reflected their influence. “Much of my work has come out of my dreams; other pieces, magical conglomerations of moments,” Straus says.
Being an artist has not always been his goal. After working as a television host for Tribune Broadcasting, Straus decided to study film at Syracuse University. At the same time, he immersed himself in the fine arts, studying with professionals and honing the same skills necessary for a director’s eye, focusing on composition, light, color and scale. He became obsessed with working and learning from legendary director, screenwriter and producer Robert Altman. With luck and persistence, Straus managed to become Altman’s assistant and personally directed several documentaries, narrative films and international television commercials, spending a total of 10 years in Hollywood.
After a personal relationship took him to New Zealand, a handsome son entered his life. Juggling parenthood and an acting career in film, Straus continued to paint and found people were moved by his work – so much so that they often wanted to touch the canvases. This inspired him to find a surface that would discourage or resist touch, and he began working with recycled aluminum sheet sealed with shiny resin.
It took a return to Colorado to launch Straus’s first major exhibition. For inspiration, he again turned to nature and the vistas of the West. “My process,” explains Straus, “begins with a reference photograph, researching the most intriguing aspects of the image and its dominant colors. Then, using a stylus, I select specific hues from the original to create a palette and reinvent photography with them. From there, a process called sublimation attaches the paint to the metal. A 45 x 90 inch original is followed by 25 30 x 60 inch limited editions.
Straus’s first landscape on sheet metal, Zion National Park, resulted in a one-man show. Featuring familiar views of beloved US national parks, but with a decidedly modern and fresh approach, the exhibit opened on January 11, 2019, just as national parks were closing due to the pandemic. The success of this show launched exhibitions from New York to Denver.
“Gallery owners should be connoisseurs and seek innovation and novelty,” says Marc LeVarn of the Vail International Gallery, who represents Straus. “Topher’s work is original and up-to-date, tangible and exciting.”
At home near Denver, in a mountainside studio surrounded by wildlife and mountain views, Straus is more than grateful for his success. Determined to give back, he generously supports charities that promote arts education, medical research and food insecurity. “The more paintings I sell,” he says, “the more I can use my art to do my part to make the world a better place.”
Admire the work of Topher Straus through April 8 in an exhibition at the Slate Gray Gallery in Telluride, Colorado; in the Topher Straus Art Walk at the Hythe Hotel in Vail, Colorado; and at the new Topher Straus Gallery (in partnership with Breckenridge Gallery), in Breckenridge, Colorado. He is represented by the Vail International Gallery in Vail, Colorado. Visit the artist online at topherstraus.com.
Excerpt from our April 2022 issue
Photograph courtesy of Topher Straus