At 9 a.m. sharp last Saturday the brush was in Aaron Hazel’s court.
It was the first QuickDraw ever for the college basketball player turned professional painter represented by Horizon Fine Art. Not unlike the beginning of a game, he was nervous, but determined.
“This felt like game time for me,” he said.
The QuickDraw, an annual crowd-pleaser at the Jackson Hole Fall Arts Festival, gives artists 90 minutes, no more, no less, to create a piece of art from scratch. It might not require as much athleticism as basketball, but it takes no less mental fortitude.
Hazel’s piece fit in nicely with his recent series that focused on notable women in Jackson history. In the past year he has painted the iconic all-women “petticoat government” from the 1920s and traveling nurse Edna Huff, who was appointed Jackson health officer in 1920.
At the QuickDraw his inspiration was a 1939 postcard depicting two women riding horses through Grand Teton National Park.
“I came across this and was super inspired,” he said.
In his spot along the south side of Town Square, he attempted to drown out distractions by blasting the ambient hip-hop of Flying Lotus in his AirPods. The end result, “Rangers,” transformed the reference photo into something wholly Hazel’s own, complete with his characteristic saturated hues and textured brushstrokes.
“I’m happy with it for sure,” Hazel said. “There were two horses, two people, there was a lot to navigate, so I think I’m just proud of myself for finishing it.”
But for the artists on Town Square that morning, it didn’t seem to matter whether it was their first year at the QuickDraw or their 20th. When the clock struck 9 every artist was nervous.
Take painter Kathy Wipfler. The Trailside Galleries artist participated in the QuickDraw during its very first years, when it still took place at Spring Creek Ranch and ran for 35 minutes instead of 90.
Some things, undoubtedly, have changed since then.
“Well, it’s a lot bigger,” Wipfler said. “There’s more interest from the public. There are more artists in the show, and there’s more buyers and bidders.”
But though she has painted in the valley for 39 years, Wipfler said the nerves never really go away. To help quell them she decided to paint a scene she was familiar with at the QuickDraw and settled on Spring Gulch Road.
“I paint fast normally, because I paint outdoors and you have to paint fast to catch the light,” she said. “ So the painting fast isn’t a problem. But it’s still pressurized. And people visit with you and you can kind of tune them out, but you get all these little distractions. If you’re painting by yourself — and I paint by myself — I get in a zone. And so with all the distractions here, that doesn’t happen quite as readily.”
Stationed in the northwest corner of Town Square was artist Jason Borbet, aka Borbay. His geographical position allowed him a clear view of the subject of his painting: the Jackson Drug neon sign.
There’s nary a neon in town that Borbay hasn’t painted, so when the establishment reopened last year on the centennial of its original founding in 1919, everything aligned.
“As soon as that went up I was like, ‘I have to do it,’” he said. “What I love about it is that if you look at photos, literally from the early 1900s, it’s the exact same sign. And not only small towns, but cities everywhere are losing their character and their personality, and so to see something restored versus something destroyed is a beautiful thing.”
This was Borbay’s second year in the QuickDraw, and he had the distinction of being the only artist in the event who is not represented by a gallery.
Not unlike Hazel, Borbay compared the QuickDraw to athletic competition. He too, played college sports, running track and cross-country.
“It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing art professionally and how many times you do live paintings, you always get the nerves for it,” he said. “It’s like sports: You train and train and train, and then you have a game or a race. And I love it. You use that juice to propel you to paint much faster than you would, and you learn stuff about yourself creatively because you’re pushing your comfort zone.”
Borbay also likened painting to running in that the two are generally lonely pursuits. Not during the QuickDraw, however.
“There’s very rarely an audience,” he said. “People literally came out here today to watch paint dry, and that’s beautiful.”
The paint barely did have time to dry by the time the QuickDraw pieces were sold later that morning to the highest bidders at the QuickDraw Art Auction and Sale.
There were 39 participating artists in this year’s QuickDraw, and two featured artists for the Fall Arts Festival, adding up to a total of 41 pieces being sold.
The artwork that sold for the highest amount was Kathryn Mapes Turner’s “Of Earth and Wind,” the Fall Arts Festival featured painting, which was bought for $60,000. That’s not a record, but it comes close. The highest sale ever was just two years ago, when Mark Keathley’s “Rise Above” went for $77,500.
The piece from the QuickDraw that sold for the highest price was Amy Ringholz’s “The Strength from Within,” a painting of a red fox in her signature style. It went for $13,000.