By Dawn Aerts
Iron County Today
For oil painter Valerie Orlemann, the color and light of a Utah landscape always makes her stop, look, and spend time with the beauty.
Over the past 16 years, Orlemann has immersed herself in this time and place, soaking up light, form and color, and then trying to tell about it. The result is a collaboration. “It’s the landscape and my experience of it,” said Orlemann. “A moment in time and my response on canvas.”
Though art wasn’t an early interest, she first pursed a history degree at Stanford University, and later, a Master of Divinity degree at Fuller Theological Seminary. In later years, she would meet her future husband while pursuing a Ph.D. in history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “You could say, I didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I grew up.”
As a youngster, Orlemann recalls coloring under the kitchen table and being good at art in school. But it wasn’t until her grandmother passed away in 1997 that she revisited art with more serious intent.
“My family gave me her large collection of unused canvases. She was a painter and I had fond memories of her — so I decided to paint.”
While Orlemann admits that her early efforts were disappointing, some showed promise.
Her husband went on to study law at the University of Utah, so as a new bride, she decided to take a job on campus. “But when he graduated he asked me, ‘Now what do you want to do Valerie?’ and told me it was my turn.” It was in the Art Department at (UU) that her fascination with painting took hold.
“I began to grow as an artist there,” said Orlemann, but studies came to a halt in 2003, as their daughter was born, and a new position with the U.S. Forest Service brought them to settle in Escalante. “I wound up far from any art school, but I was also surrounded with these amazing landscapes.”
In those years, she involved herself with the arts community and credits her husband for connecting her to a gallery owner who wanted to display her work. The paintings began to sell and Orlemann began to paint to replace them. “Serenidad Gallery owner, Philip Priska, opened doors for me as an artist, and I was so encouraged by the interest people gave to my work.”
In 2008, Orlemann’s family settled in Parowan with what she described as a growing appreciation for the beauty of Utah: “I learned to paint using photographs, and found that I loved painting in oils. They dry slower and don’t darken or dry as acrylics can do. Oils are opaque, which gives me the freedom to change my mind, change the composition or the objects if I want to.”
She also discovered that painting outdoors, up close, and immediate was a clear advantage and an inspiration.
According to Orlemann the human eye can discern colors more accurately than a camera, and can better capture changing colors of light, or shadow.
“With my paintings, I think people see a freshness of color. I’ve learned that I can add or subtract features – anything from roads and clouds to phone poles, and to make better compositions as I go. I hope to tell the viewer where I’ve been and what it looked like. And like any person, I’m attracted to certain subjects, the rocks, cliffs and canyons.”
In her current exhibit at the Frontier Homestead Museum visitors will find 35 landscapes titled mostly by the color and scenes of Utah – Kolob Eve, Parowan Autumn, and Above Zion, among others painted of Escalante, Cathedral Valley and Cedar Breaks.
“There are thousands of landscape painters here, but each express what they see in a unique way, said Orlemann. “It’s surprising how differently we can see a landscape, and each painter has their own way of seeing, choosing colors, arranging a composition and handling a paintbrush.”
Her work is sometimes mistaken for watercolor because she uses soft, short-handled brushes, softer lines with a thinner application of paint. “For me, it’s more about (clear) color than form, and it is color that catches my eye.” Orlemann is associated with the Kolob Society in Cedar City, and the Women Out West: Professional Artists of Utah.
Her work has been recognized by numerous art organizations over the past 15 years.
“I love the grandeur and space of the American West… the character I find in weathered old structures that have endured, and with the beauty I see here,” said Orlemann of her personal connection to history and faith. “The result is a collaboration with the landscape itself, and my experience of it.”
Caption: Valerie Orlemann is a Utah landscape painter is known for her real-time oil landscapes, vivid colors and realistic style. Her work is featured in the exhibit, Landscape and Light, Frontier Homestead Museum, through March 28th and can be viewed at Art & Soul Gallery, St. George, and Artisans Gallery, Cedar City. Her work is included in the collections of Dixie State University, the St. George Art Museum and the Chapin Mesa Museum. An Artist Reception will be held Mar.3rd from to 2 to 4 p.m. at the Frontier Homestead Museum. (photo by D. Aerts).