Professor turned artist MB Warner is still teaching | SteamboatToday.com

Professor turned artist MB Warner is still teaching

Frances Hohl/For Steamboat Today

Animals are one of Steamboat Springs artist MB Warner's favorite subjects to paint.

— Cruising down one of Steamboat's most picturesque roads known for its elite addresses, drivers eventually come to an end. That's when pavement turns into dirt and potholes.

While some of the millionaires run power lines to their country homes, a few holdouts from the hippie era still live off the grid, pulling in power from solar panels. There in the forest surrounded by changing Aspens, lives one of the area's most prolific artists MB Warner.

"I'd rather paint than schmooze," laughed the energetic MB Warner from her off-the-grid studio on the edge of the national forest.

Thankfully, on the first Friday of every month, Warner likes to leave her lair in the woods and inspire the crowds in person during the city's First Friday Artwalk held in downtown galleries, museums and alternative venues.

"People like to see the process," Warner said. "A lot of artists have problems painting in front of people. Not me."

Warner's background as a college art teacher makes her more comfortable than most, but it's not hard to imagine why Warner became inspired to quit her adjunct art faculty position at the local community college.

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Warner and her husband built their solar-powered barn/studio in 2010, not far from their little homespun "hobbit house" in the woods. The view from her studio windows would inspire the most unimaginative person to create.

Sure enough, two years after building her studio, Warner quit her college job and joined the "daily painter" movement.

"I did a hundred paintings in a hundred days," Warner said.

She describes her art as "contemporary realism with a colorful twist," and she literally paints everything, including the kitchen sink.

With all her enthusiasm you'd expect Warner to have been one of those typical prodigies who grew up with a crayon in one hand, a magic marker in another, marking up her parent's walls.

Not quite.

"I didn't think about art 'til my brother bought me my first camera, in the mid-'70s for my birthday," Warner said.

But when it hit her, Warner couldn't stop — photography, printmaking, fabric design, glass blowing, pottery, sculpting, painting. The young hippie, who left Minnesota to be a ski bum, knew she'd be much happier if she could study and learn about her new passion. Off she went to college, leaving the Colorado scene for educational stints in Minnesota and California, eventually earning a Masters in Fine Art.

Warner moved to Steamboat Springs permanently in 1987, where she settled with her husband on the outskirts of historic Strawberry Park … a place where rustic charm is now mixed with luxury development.

But don't mention the words Strawberry Park around Warner … "We live off upper County Road 36," Warner insisted. "We're our own little funky neighborhood."

Like the duo nature of her "neighborhood," Warner can be a "contradiction in terms." She has the advanced art degree yet rails at artistic elitism.

"You get a lot of people who believe painting from photography isn't painting but that's just bullcrap," she scoffed.  

"I think through a lens and I take a picture after it has struck me emotionally. I have so many paintings in my head, I can't paint fast enough to keep up with my thoughts." And don't get her started on art historians who she says like to keep art shrouded in too much mystery. "When you think of Renoir and other greats… a lot of it was staged," Warner bluntly points out.

Art connoisseurs can debate the finer points of art with Warner about six times a year with her free art talks at the Steamboat Springs Center for Visual Arts (CVA). But most people, including non-artists, just want to learn about famous artists through her talks. She'll use anything from YouTube videos to slides.

"It keeps me engaged because I have to do research. I try not to make it boring," Warner said. "Picasso washed dishes. Sometimes people put them on a pedestal, but they're just people."

And what is Warner's biggest reward for these art talks?

"When someone tells me 'I can go to the museum now and appreciate what I'm seeing.'"

For the silver-headed pixie with the quick tongue and somewhat irascible nature, Warner is surprisingly self-effacing.

"I'll never be famous. I'm old and I love being home. I'll never get anywhere, but my work has grown exponentially," she said.

She credits the nonprofit Center for Visual Arts on downtown Lincoln Avenue for giving so many new or unknown artists space to show their work and get discovered.

"CVA allows freedom in my work, freedom to explore, which I wouldn't be allowed anywhere else," Warner said. "I can paint a cow one day and a Coca-Cola bottle the next day."

Warner's modesty belies her talent, which is recognized in the community she loves. Her colorful work can be seen hanging throughout homes and offices in the Yampa Valley.  She's also raised thousands of dollars for charity over the years painting one of her favorite subjects — animals — with money going to places like Born Free Wildlife Rehabilitation and the Routt County Humane Society.

For an upclose and personal look at Warner's work, visit the Center for Visual Arts at 837 Lincoln Ave. or view her portfolio at steamboatartcenter.com/Artists_Portfolios/Pages/MB_Warner.html

You can also watch her in action during First Friday Artwalk from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7.