Colorado-based artist Topher Straus’ newest seven-painting series of ski and snow works includes “Duet,” his first narrative landscape in his more than 70 paintings. Familiar in Topher’s playful and rhythmic style, but newly anecdotal, “Duet” depicts a love story between two skiers, represented by two gold lines starting at opposite ends of a run that approach each other, flirt and begin to intertwine before escaping out of frame side-by-side.
Like with “Duet,” Topher will weave more fictional narratives based on his own emotions into his future pieces. This corresponds with what he learned about storytelling from attending Syracuse University’s film school and his directorial pursuits in Los Angeles and New Zealand. Topher describes his impressionistic landscapes as “filmic” and composes them as such.
“These landscapes are so broad and captivating that I wanted to find a substrate I could create on a large-scale, immersing the viewer into the broad perspective I learned from film school and directing,” Topher says about how he affixes his paintings.
After selecting a photograph and a color palette from the image–as a multi-generational Colorado native, Topher’s landscapes mostly focus on the American West–he uses a stylus to recreate the picture and prints his work on aluminum sheets that are then sealed with a touch-resistant top coat.
Topher says his personal experience taking photos of nature and outdoor scenes improves the final masterpiece, informed by the locals and his interpretation of the environment. When Topher visited Haleakalā National Park, he stayed in a hostel, either hitchhiking or riding a bike for four days up 10,200 feet from sea level to the dormant volcano.
“The experience isn’t just about nature, but the culture, the people,” Topher says. There’s more to his pieces than the macro-landscape, but also the details that come with knowing the location around him, the moss on rocks and blades of grass in a scene’s foreground.
Haleakalā is just one of 24 parks Topher has visited and recreated, and he’s hoping to complete the remaining 39 in the next three-to-five years. Painting well-known spots at iconic National Parks allows Topher to connect with his collectors and fans who identify with the locations, one of the primary inspirations for Topher to continue creating art.
Topher was born in 1974 and grew up in Genesee, Colorado. Topher’s great grandfather, David May, migrated to Leadville, Colorado, during the gold rush and, though he had no desire to mine, started a dry goods store and, later, the May Department Stores Company, then one of the largest department store chains in the United States.
In New York City, David’s daughter, and Topher’s grandmother, Florene May Schoenborn was the largest collector of early Matisse paintings in the world. Growing up, Topher visited her apartment for tea and was faced with original Picasso and Matisse works, with no choice but to let the masterpieces inspire him in his own artistic career.
After a decade making films in Los Angeles and New Zealand, Topher returned to Genesee to focus on his paintings, beginning to show them in 2019.
Among the foothills of Golden, in a house a three-minute drive from his mother’s, Topher created two paintings a month throughout 2021, and expects to do the same this year. He only creates one 45-by-90-inch original and 25 smaller, limited-edition versions of every piece. Once his international collector base buys the paintings up, they’re gone.
But there’s definitely demand for more; in January, three collectors reached out to offer almost five times what Topher originally sold his now sold-out limited edition Maroon Bells paintings for. Often before he even prints his paintings, Topher texts the image to galleries and sells five or six editions.
Last quarter alone, Topher sold 75 paintings, and in the last three years he’s raised more than $50,000 for charities with such revenue.
With this success, Breckenridge Gallery helped Topher open a space featuring 15 of his works at the start of this year. The gallery and Topher plan to have an opening party soon.
In addition to having works in Breckenridge Gallery, Topher’s paintings are on display at Colorado Vail International Gallery (a project Topher was recently featured in Forbes for), Boulder’s R Gallery Art Bar, Uptripping in Winter Park and Slate Gray Gallery in Telluride, where Topher is hosting a premiere for his Ski and Snow series in early March.
With plans for a sculpture series based on vintage computer products, Topher expects to have his new art medium in galleries by the end of the year.
Though Topher dreams of becoming one of the top artists collected in Colorado, he’s struggling to think past that point, since it already feels so close. “I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m having a hard time defining my goals because my greatest dreams are coming true,” he says.