Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs artist Rob Williams paints a Masonite panel with a thick sheet of white gesso. Then he scrapes across the panel with a palette knife.
"I think it's so beautiful," he said, "but my wife looks at it and says, 'So, when are you going to get started?'"
The perfect line, the canvas divided, the simplicity of the white by itself -- but it's not enough.
Williams' work is on display this month at the Small Works Gallery at the Depot.
One series on display is called "Sand Dunes." The background is painted a rusted orange.
"If it was me, I would just leave the painting as a rust-colored square," he said. "But humans have to come in and mess it up."
He added several small blue squares to represent the few things that actually survive in the desert and strips of white to represent the disturbance created by humans.
Williams hates to name his work, but he does for the same reason he keeps painting beyond that first simple line.
Viewers need paintings to say something. They need meaning, or at least the appearance of meaning.
"I don't think things happen for a reason. Things just happen," he said.
Williams' work is half-effort and half-chance. It is the pouring of his subconscious onto the canvas draws lines meant to represent nothing -- only perfect composition.
He adds a layer of paint but doesn't like the color, so he scrapes it off.
"Suddenly, another layer will show through and I'll realize it's exactly what I wanted. I couldn't create that myself," he said.
His work has a graphic visual rhythm full of lines and fields of interrupted color created with the sensibility of someone who makes his living as a graphic designer. Williams is the owner of a small advertising firm called The Design Ranch.
Williams designs the advertising for such local companies as BAP, SmartWool and Fat Eddy's Threadworks.
His work is usually large -- acrylic painted on 4-by-6-foot panels of Masonite.
Masonite is a type of fiberboard often used by painters but manufactured as wallboard for use as insulation.
He started using canvas, but because he paints with rags and palette knives, his rough scraping tended to tear holes in the material.
In college, Williams bought a piece of art painted on Masonite from a friend. The piece still hangs above his bed.
"I was looking at it and a light bulb went off in my head that I didn't have to use canvas at all," he said.
Williams' process of preparing the Masonite is almost as involved as the actual painting itself. First, he sands the Masonite. He cuts the panels to the right size and shape with a saw to get rough edges.
"It adds to the piece," Williams said. "As a graphic designer, I spend so much time working with straight lines."
He covers the panel in gesso and tries an initial drawing. He usually covers the first several drawings with gesso until he finds one he likes.
"All my pieces sit around for a while," he said. He picks them up intermittently and adds until they are finished -- a moment as esoteric as the process of creation.
"All of a sudden, I'll realize that it's done," he said.
All the pieces in the Small Works Gallery are miniature versions of his usual work. They all have a landscape feel and were assigned landscape names.
A four-piece series called "Aerial View" evokes the patchwork view of the ground as seen from an airplane window.
Williams' work is an interesting juxtaposition to the Plein Air painting exhibit in the Depot's larger gallery next door. The Plein Air pieces are realistic renditions of Aspen groves and New England farm roads.
In Williams' piece "The Grass is Always Greener," he layers cut boards of Masonite in various lined green and yellow patterns.
"I was thinking about how people are always looking for something better, no matter what they have," he said.
"I am finally to the point where I can pay the bills and support my family with my business. Now that I have that confidence, I can totally enjoy this.
"For the first time I am not looking for the greener grass."
Williams started painting this summer after decades of total commitment to his graphic business.
He moved the office of Design Ranch into his home and now splits his day between work on the computer and work with paint.
"In my job, you end up with a lot of downtime," he said, "but you can't leave the office. So I spend those unused hours painting."