Colorado native Topher Straus weds digital technology and an impressionist view of nature to give a modern flair to powerful scenes.
The story of the West begins with the land — its mountains and plains, glaciers and valleys, towns and ranches, and above all, its grandeur. It’s those amazing vistas that Colorado native Topher Straus chooses to make the subject of his art. Attracting collectors worldwide who dream of owning a piece of that West — “the West of the heart,” as the artist says — he weds digital technology and an impressionist view of nature to give a distinctly modern flair to primordially powerful scenes, often in national parks, from Bryce and Zion to Canyonlands and Guadalupe Mountains.
In some significant way, Straus isn’t just depicting what’s beautiful to his eye and heart — he’s representing home. He has deep Western roots, going back to pioneers who helped build the city of Leadville, Colorado, and who later turned the family’s successful mercantile into a nationwide chain. Their descendants, Straus’ great-grandparents, collected 20th-century art, most of which was eventually donated to the Chicago Art Institute, and the Metropolitan Art Museum and MOMA in New York City. Straus grew up exposed to the works of modern masters, and when he started to paint as an adult in response to a dark time in his life, he created intensely personal works that often reflected their influence.
“A lot of my work came out of my dreams; other pieces, magical conglomerations of moments,” Straus says.
Being an artist wasn’t always his goal. After serving as a television host for Tribune Broadcasting, Straus decided to study film at Syracuse University. Concurrently, he immersed himself in fine art, studying with professionals and honing the same skills necessary for a film director’s eye, concentrating on composition, light, color, and scale. He became obsessed with the idea of working for and learning from legendary director, screenwriter, and producer Robert Altman. With luck and persistence, Straus succeeded in becoming Altman’s assistant and personally directed several documentaries, narrative films, and international TV commercials, spending a total of 10 years in Hollywood.
After a personal relationship took him to New Zealand, a beautiful son came into his life. Juggling parenthood and an interim career in film, Straus continued painting and discovered that people were moved by his work — so much so that they often wanted to touch the canvases. That inspired him to find a surface that would discourage or stand up to being touched, and he began working with recycled aluminum sheet metal sealed with shiny resin.
It took a return to Colorado to launch Straus’ first major exhibition. For inspiration, he once again turned to nature and the vistas of the West. “My process,” Straus explains, “begins with a reference photograph, seeking the most intriguing aspects of the image and its prominent colors. Then, using a stylus, I select specific hues from the original to create a palette and reimagine the photograph with those. From there, a process called sublimation affixes the painting to metal. A 45 x 90-inch original is followed by 25 limited editions of 30 x 60 inches.”
Straus’ first landscape on sheet metal, Zion National Park, resulted in a one-man show. Featuring familiar views of America’s beloved national parks but with a distinctly modern, fresh take, the exhibition opened on January 11, 2019, just as national parks were closing due to the pandemic. The success of that show launched exhibitions from New York to Denver.
“Gallery owners have to be connoisseurs and look for the innovative and new,” says Marc LeVarn of Vail International Gallery, which represents Straus. “Topher’s work is original and of the times, 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. Adamant about giving back, he generously supports charities that promote art education, medical research, and food insecurity. “The more paintings I sell,” he says, “the more I can use my art to do my part in making the world a better place.”
See Topher Straus’ work through April 8 at an exhibition at Slate Gray Gallery in Telluride, Colorado; in the Topher Straus Art Walk at The Hythe hotel in Vail, Colorado; and at the newly opened Topher Straus Gallery (in partnership with Breckenridge Gallery), in Breckenridge, Colorado. He is represented by Vail International Gallery in Vail, Colorado. Visit the artist online at topherstraus.com.
From our April 2022 issue
Photography courtesy Topher Straus