Gallery unveiling for local legendary artist Jack Roberts opens today
Some 30 years ago, artist Jack Roberts picked up a ringing phone and quickly grew vocal over a request for hire made by a prominent Parachute couple to paint a historical depiction.
“I ain’t paintin’ no God damn train robbery!” he yelled over the phone to his son, Gary Miller. Roberts then immediately hung up.
This was typical behavior of the great Colorado painter, Miller reminisced.
Despite his charismatic outburst, Roberts called Miller back a few days later.
After asking all sorts of questions about the historical accuracy of the great 1904 train robbery carried out by the infamous Kid Curry, Roberts changed his mind. He said he’d allow Dave and Jeanette Troug from Parachute to commission this project based on the condition he paint not one but three paintings — a triptych to tell the full story of the historic train robbery, Miller said.
Eventually, the couple agreed to purchase all three paintings when they were finished. And nowadays, the priceless stories adorn the walls of the city hall chambers.
“I have never met anybody like him,” Miller said of his late father.
On Thursday, Miller prepared to tell many more anecdotes of his father during a members-only gallery unveiling of Roberts’ work at the new Glenwood Center for the Arts at 216 Sixth St. in Glenwood Springs. The official gallery, which is open from 3-8 p.m. this weekend, showcases many of Roberts’ pre-painting sketches.
Miller said he kept many of these mementos after Roberts’ passing in 2000.
“I am excited to share Jack’s work and just share the progression of how a painting developed, you know?” Miller said. “From the sketches of a cowboy, how he holds his hand, how he lifted a drink, how he stood at the bar, how those positions are played with and how they evolved into the final painting.”
The emphasis on the painting that Miller used for Thursday’s event is on a locally owned painting, Miller said.
“(The sketches) had footprints on them from being on the floor and whatever else,” Miller said. “If I came across sketches that I knew belong to a painting, I gave those sketches to the person that owned the painting. Except for this series on what I’m going to deal with tonight.”
THE MAN, THE LEGEND
Miller more often than not refers to his father as “Jack” — not dad, not pops, but “Jack.”
Roberts was born and raised in Oklahoma City in 1920. He’d marry and they’d eventually have Miller. But a divorce while Miller was “very much an infant” led Roberts to Colorado in 1947, Miller said. Miller, meanwhile, would be adopted by his stepfather.
Roberts, a former pupil of the American Academy of Art in Chicago and the Grand Central School of Art in New York, was a struggling artist with a drinking habit.
“Jack could not have been a good father at that time,” Miller said. “He was very frustrated with his art not selling, and he was a full-fledged alcoholic. Alcoholwise, he dried out about three years before I met him.”
The estranged father and son were reunited in 1966. Miller was 20.
Roberts was, at the time, as many Western Slope folks know, living and working as a wrangler and painter at the old Hanging Lake Resort in Glenwood Canyon. But after construction of the new Interstate 70 freeway, Roberts was kicked out of the former resort, and he’d move to his Redstone studio — a place Miller owns to this day — in 1969.
From there, the sort of abstract realism of Roberts’ work proliferated. His eclectic use of saturated and unsaturated colors, his notable use of blotchy features reminiscent of Van Gogh, helped establish Roberts as an icon in the world of Western Art.
His depiction of cowboys, American Indians, overdressed floozies, newspaper editors and scenes of atavistic coal mines can be found all over the area and across the county. The Redstone Castle, the Museum of West in Grand Junction … even billionaire Colorado business tycoon Philip Anschutz owns a private Roberts collection.
Glenwood Springs Arts Council President Laurie Chase said many of Roberts’ pieces, which include paintings of Teddy Roosevelt’s hunt in Silt in the early 1900s, are locally inspired.
“He painted a lot of scenes around western Colorado, and some specifically here in Garfield and Pitkin counties,” she said. “And then, a lot of his work was shown at Buffalo Valley Inn for many years. And, of course, that’s gone. … He’s iconic in this area. This was his home base, even though he is originally from Oklahoma.”
But his growing legend never got to the modest but sometimes “out there” Roberts. Typically when you saw him around the Roaring Fork Valley, his go-to choice in style started with blue jeans.
“Honestly, his clothing typically had paint on it somewhere,” Miller said. “… But he would go through phases where he’d like to dress a little bit better and maybe wear corduroys and a flannel shirt, like a Pendleton or something. But for the most part, he dressed real casually.”
It wasn’t his overall dress, however, that necessarily caught the attention of the ladies. Telling by Miller’s recollections of his father, Roberts led a life of promiscuity.
“He flirted with women a lot and had great success with that,” Miller said. “And he was just … he was just a character.”
Roberts was very outgoing, Miller added.
“I had never met anybody like that. I didn’t have uncles or relations or adult friends that acted like that — he just had big fun and wowed, you know?” he said. “He considered himself somewhat of a recluse and an introvert. But he really wasn’t.”
Along with this weekend, the gallery will also be open to the public from 3-8 p.m. June 25-26.
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or email@example.com.
What: Jack Roberts gallery
When: 3-8 p.m. Friday, June 25, and Saturday, June 26
Where: Glenwood Center for the Arts, 216 Sixth St., Glenwood Springs.
How much: Free
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Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon will continue to be closed due to “extreme damage” from the latest round of heavy rain and flooding Saturday night, the Colorado Department of Transportation announced Sunday afternoon.