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Image: Ryan Dearth

What with all the mountains and the trees, Summit’s a natural destination for plein air painters. 

But Christian Tai Leach—who goes by Tai—is a landscape painter of a different stripe. He paints the creatures he encounters during a night on the town, the denizens of Breck’s nightlife, the bar scene, the clubs, the street life. He captures beauty that typical postcards ignore—the beauty that is Jaeger shots and tipsy ski girls and the burly brahs who fling themselves into their orbit, only to crash and burn like iron meteorites. 

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It’s not nature. But it’s not not nature, either, you know? Tai is doing the series because he loves art and loves Summit; and also because his friend and employer Jerry Georgeff asked him to. 

“Breck is so alive at night,” says Georgeff, proprietor of the Blue River Fine Art Gallery, where you can see Tai’s nightlife paintings, and a similar series he commissioned from Chicago artist Nick Paciorek. “We’re trying to capture that in paintings.”

Georgeff, a helluva good painter himself, was inspired by Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” and Norman Rockwell’s mastery of the mundane. Similarly, the Blue River Gallery’s nightlife series offers a fresh perspective on a darker side of Breck that’s often overlooked, or more often, is seen out of focus. It’s pure joy to watch his artists at work, and not only because you can drink at the same time. 

On a typical Saturday, Tai sets up his canvas outside the Blue River Bistro, on Cecilia’s dance floor, or near the bar in the Liquid Lounge, among other late-night haunts. Then he starts painting while navigating the perils of happy hour, like the cute tourist girls ogling his strokes and angling for a portrait like Winslet sitting for DiCaprio, or the bartenders who slide him free brews … while he tries not to drink so much he sees—and paints—double. He adds details others might miss, like the gold thread in the Patagonia jacket worn by a sun-bronzed fly fisherman, the grains of the pecan crust on the ruby red trout he’s eating. Genius! 

Like the ski bum he is, Tai cultivates an Everyman shtick. His oversize glasses have white tape on both hinges. His ratty hoodie is splattered with paint. He’s spent whole years caring mostly about snowboarding and partying—twin pillars of Summit life. Years blazing around the county in a rusted 1987 Toyota 4Runner with alternator trouble, parking tickets hanging off the door frame, and which also sometimes doubles as his bedroom. 

Tai’s greatest previous artistic output was apropos of a ski bro: old snowboards he painted with halfpipe and nature scenes—an oeuvre spanning more than 400 works, he says. And though he is already Summit’s Picasso of discarded Lib Techs, our Monet of core-shot Burtons, he wants more. 

“I’ve always been a starving artist, but now I’m tired of starving,” he says. “I want to be a rich and famous artist, and this show is the greatest opportunity I’ve ever had.” 

Every work in this series reiterates that notion, that the relatives and doubters who told him to get a real job—that he’d never earn a living as an artist—were wrong. And that Georgeff, who saw promise in him and told him to get serious, was right.

“I’m hoping this will become a breakout show for him,” the gallerist says. 

In pursuit of that goal, Tai eats, breathes, and sleeps art—literally. On a weekend night, he’ll paint until last call, crash on a pullout couch in the back of Georgeff’s Blue River Gallery, wake a few hours later, step up to an easel, and start painting all over again. 

That kind of work ethic, that determination, those dreams? That’s beauty right there.  

Blue River Gallery
411 S Main St,
Breckenridge
970-453-4111
blueriverfineartgallery.com

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