If you see a man biking around town with an easel and paints strapped to the back of his bike, it’s probably Travis Walker.
The executive director of Teton Artlab often works en plein air within blocks of his studio and his home.
“I get the framework down on canvas in a few minutes,” he said. “You have to catch the light, and you really only have between five and 45 minutes.”
Walker’s latest one-man show opened Tuesday at Altamira Fine Art and runs through Oct. 1. A reception will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday.
The show features more than a dozen new paintings, including some of iconic Jackson landmarks.
“A lot of people like my work because they’ve been there,” Walker said of his easily recognizable locations, like Snow King or Town Square.
Walker has chosen to title the show “Out There.”
“When I first got here Jackson seemed ‘out there,’” he said — as in far away, across the plains. “But I’ve also had people describe my work as ‘out there,’ whatever that means.”
Walker’s paintings focus heavily on patterns he sees in nature.
“Just look at the patterns the forest makes,” he said. “The system of triangles, I find that amazing.”
Walker describes them as composed spatial illusions that visually rhyme, similar to musical lyrics.
While Walker’s locations may be recognizable, his color palette is more complex than meets the eye.
“I’m not looking to replicate what’s actually out there,” he said. “Then it would look like everything else in the valley.”
Walker works with complementary colors — or colors that are opposite from each other on a color wheel — layered to capture just the right light.
He paints around 50 canvases in a year but shows only around 30 or 40.
“You want to be proud of your work,” he said.
He has paintings in his studio that he says he’ll never show or even finish. He learns from things he doesn’t like about the way they turned out.
“The right painting just feels right,” Walker said. “It’s kind of like music, with harmony and chords. You might not know why it sounds right, but it does. And nature does this all the time.
“I’m just trying to copy nature’s tricks and how there is a pattern in everything,” he said.
Selling one of these paintings, Walker said, is similar to falling in love.
“My art becomes part of their journey,” he said. “And maybe they’ll have it forever. It’s kind of like how songs can mean different things to different people, but you can both love them.”
Walker’s journey to Jackson began with a poster of Ansel Adams’ famous Snake River Overlook shot. Walker said he didn’t really know where it was at the time; he just liked the black and white composition of the piece.
Now Walker’s work is being displayed in books with that very shot.
“When I moved out here and realized that, I couldn’t believe the serendipity of it all,” he said.
Walker was born in Tokyo. He and his wife lived in Kansas City, Missouri, before fleeing for the mountains after an anthrax scare at their local post office.
When Walker got to Jackson he wanted to connect with other artists.
“Teton Artlab really started as a book club gone crazy,” he said. “I just wanted to be around other artists, talk art, and give and get feedback.”
The lab, a nonprofit that provides studio space for artists, is located on Jackson Street. Walker said it has more than 300 applications for the regional artist-in-residence program, a yearlong opportunity.
Now that he has become established in Jackson, Walker views his work as a kind of meditation.
“I don’t work from photos,” he said. “I’ll come back to the same location at the same time of day multiple times until I get the details.”
Unless, of course, that detail is a bear or a moving paraglider.
Walker prefers biking or walking so he can notice his environment, and he does 90 percent of his work during the summer for that same reason.
“If you slow down you notice more,” he said.
He carries water in spice jars and straps his palette down to his collapsible easel on the back of his bike for ease and convenience.
Walker is content, for the most part, about his work changing his world, not the world. In December he will have another exhibit, that one in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“I deeply enjoy what I’m doing,” he said. “I’m trying to make a feeling survive, a time of day, a light, a place. I want to make that moment last.”