As a child growing up in Provo, Utah, Nicholas Coleman used to imagine hunters and trappers from 100 years before as he checked the traplines with his dad.
He thought of the explorers who came before him as he fished the lakes and rivers near the Wasatch Mountains. When he visited places like Montana to hunt, his dad would tell him about the history, including Lewis and Clark’s early exploration.
“All these things were magic to my ears,” Coleman said.
As Coleman got older his dad took him hunting in Alaska, Africa, Canada and other places, and Coleman thought of the sportsmen who hunted those same places.
Coleman’s new show at Mountain Trails Gallery is an ode to those sportsmen. The show opens today and hangs through July 26. Coleman will be at the reception from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday.
The one-man show features about 15 new pieces that depict wildlife and sportsmen of the past.
Coleman has made his career painting the history and heritage of the American West, he said. He’s always been drawn to the “rugged mortality” of the 1800s. He loves the early history he often thought about as a child in the mountains. His paintings depict Native Americans, trappers and early western expansion. His own experiences hunting and fishing the West inspire his work.
He’d go to Quebec to fish for Atlantic salmon. The river would be 200 feet wide, the rocks old, flat and weathered, and Coleman would want to paint.
“It’s not that big of a stretch to romanticize something that is already so romantic to me,” he said.
Coleman started capturing the landscapes he loved when he was only 3 or 4 years old. His father, also a painter, would mark small pieces of his work for the boy to paint.
His father encouraged his work, but also warned him that working as an artist was not an easy life. Coleman went on to study art at Brigham Young University. People told him the wildlife, Western-art thing had already been done and he should try to do something else. He didn’t listen.
Today Coleman is known for his atmosphere, he said. He likes the early morning light when it first emerges, or the evening light as it begins to disappear. He works in oils and watercolors, capturing the past. but he’s always pushing his work in new directions.
Recently a friend asked him to paint some motorcycles for a Harley-Davidson store. Coleman resisted. He’d spent years cultivating his reputation as a Western artist.
“But I do like motorcycles,” Coleman said. “That’s the problem.”
Coleman ended up creating three 9-feet-by-6 feet paintings with figures riding motorcycles from the 1920s up steep hills, flailing around, flipping backward and sideways. The paintings garnered him notice and led to shows in Europe. They also caught the eye of collectors in Japan, who then requested his more traditional Western artwork.
The step outside his normal genre influenced his Western work. He scaled-up his figures in the motorcycle paintings and that’s translated into his other work.
Still, he’s happy to be back focused on the subject matter he truly loves: the outdoors and wildlife. He hopes that people see his work and it reminds them of something they love, too.