Skip to main content

The City Journals

Artist Brings the Colorado Plateau to His Alma Mater

Aug 04, 2016 02:22PM ● By Tori LaRue

Ron Larson’s paintings hang in the George S. & Dolores Dore Eccles Gallery at his alma mater, Salt Lake Community College. –Tori La Rue

By Tori La Rue | [email protected]

Ron Larson’s art shows spread across hundreds of miles in the 1970s. As a billboard artist, his pictorials appeared on I-15 and other highways from Ogden to Saint George.

 “It was there that I got a lot of experience in art by trial and error because there was always a deadline which means you had to work fast, and you got a ton of hands-on experience,” Larson said. “The work I did on billboards was so varied. You’d have to paint loaf of bread one day, a portrait the next or a car. That’s where I really honed in my skills as an artist.”

 As computers started stealing the jobs of billboard artists in the mid-90s, Larson swapped his thick commercial paint brush with a smaller one, exploring the realm of landscape art seriously for the first time. Larson had never taken a formal fine art class, but his grandmother taught him a thing or two about oil painting while he was a child growing up in Taylorsville. He used his knowledge from billboard painting and his grandmother’s lessons to begin a new career in the fine arts realm.

 Larson’s success wasn’t immediate, but over time his paintings were showcased in galleries, homes and museums across the country, and he gained accolades, including signature member status from the National Watercolor Society. His current and evolving project, Vistas & Visions of the Colorado Plateau, was first showcased in the John Wesley Powell Exhibit near Lake Powell before moving to Salt Lake Community College South City Campus’ George S. & Dolores Dore Eccles Gallery – where it will be on display until August 4. Larson, a SLCC commercial art alum, said it is special to have his art featured at his alma mater.

 “When I talk with those people here, I say I am an alumni, and they get excited that someone from here made it,” he said. “I think the best advice that I have for them is to not get discouraged. It is a hard road and with so many talented artists. The competition is fierce, but you have to have a thick skin and paint every day.”

 Larson’s been adding brush strokes and new pieces to Vistas & Visions of the Colorado Plateau for 10 years. It’s a project that will never be complete, he said. Now Larson’s working on two paintings that he will add to the collection -- one of the Grand Canyon and another of Lake Powell.

 The Colorado Plateau is a 140,000 square mile-area of heightened rock mass that spans from the edge of the Rocky Mountains in Utah, down to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, over to the Aztec Ruins in New Mexico and back up through Mesa Verde to Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado.

 Larson camped in the Colorado Plateau during his teenage years, but he fell in love with its scenery while he was an artist-in-residence in the Lake Powell area. He’d paint the lake and its surroundings during the weekdays, and on the weekends he’d venture out to other areas, painting on site and snagging photographs that he’d tuck away to paint later.

 “That was the start of it, and then the project just evolved,” Larson said “I think the best part about these paintings is getting to travel around that area. I love to explore it.”

 True to his billboard pictorial roots, Larson’s paints the plateau with a “brushy” look, he said.

 “My stuff looks rough, like a mess if you look up close, but if you step back, it goes into focus,” Larson said.

 Emma Eastman commented on Larson’s style in his sign-in book.

 “The brush strokes were simple and unapologetic, and they came together to create something amazing,” she said.

 Gordon Jiminez noticed Larson’s “astonishing” portrayal of bodies of water in his oil painting A New Day.

 “He blended the water into the cliff with elegance and grace that are uncanny,” he said. “I am intrigued by this piece and interested in buying it to put in my three-story bathroom.”

 SLCC was grateful to showcase such beautiful artwork, said Megan McDowell, Art Event Director for the SLCC Gallery.   

“Mr. Larson is a prolific artist, and we’re always happy to showcase local artists,” she said. “Some of Mr. Larson’s works are in SLCC’s collection and have homes in various places on campus, so it is a delight to have his exhibit here.”