Painting his life in the Rockies

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Bob Harper knew he wanted to be a painter after his first show in the lobby of the Wyoming National Bank in Casper, Wyo. It was during the early 1980s, when the residents of Wyoming were rolling in oil money and ready to spend their disposable income on art. He sold a lot of paintings from that show and was able to pay cash to buy a freezer.

Until then, he'd been working as a carpenter and taking three-day weekends so he could paint part-time.

"I would go to church on Sundays and paint on Saturdays and Mondays," Harper said. Although he liked his work as a carpenter, he loved the idea of making a living doing what he loved -- painting scenes from his life in the Rocky Mountains.

The oil boom ended, and the money left with it, but Harper had tasted the life he always had wanted.

"I told my wife that I was going to become a painter," he said. "Our oldest daughter was 1 at the time, and my wife couldn't figure out what I was thinking."

Those were tough times, he said. He strung together money to pay the bills by teaching painting workshops. In fact, it was only in the past five years that he noticed that people were buying his paintings.

"I didn't have time to teach anymore because there was such a demand for my work," he said. "Everyone loves the idea of traveling to all these beautiful places to paint. Now I'm blessed enough to live that life. After 30 years, I've finally gotten to that place."

As a painter of landscapes -- most famously of the Tetons and Aspen groves in the fall -- Harper has styled himself after the American Impressionists.

Harper is a self-taught artist.

"I got every (art) book I could get," he said. He took workshop after workshop to hone his talents, and the rest of it he worked out through hours in the studio.

His breakthrough came when he discovered a glazing technique that gave a luminosity to his paintings and made them stand out on the wall from other paintings of similar subjects.

Using a Liquin medium, Harper's oil paints dry quickly, allowing him to add layer upon layer in a way not possible using the wet-on-wet process.

"The building-up process gives my paintings a life of their own," he said.

Harper was one of the first artists to show at the Wild Horse Gallery when it opened. He was showing in a gallery in Jackson, Wyo., with Rich Galusha. Rich's work was stuck in the basement, Harper said. "I felt bad for him. I was in another gallery, and I called him to tell him he could probably show there.

"That's when he told me that he owned a gallery in Steamboat and invited me to show there."

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