Dale Hartman, an award-winning painter, has finally reached his Nirvana. Having finally obtained the means to live on, all he has to do is paint. At his age, he qualifies for an old age pension, a housing voucher and Medicaid. He’s been moved from his cramped studio into a spacious new apartment at the Northern Hotel, within easy walking distance of the Art Lab and the Artery, where fellow artists gather to show their work and “talk shop.” He often invites groups of artists and art lovers to his apartment to view his work. The pressure to sell is off. At this time in his life he says, “I’m having a blast!”
He moved to Fort Collins from Los Angeles in the mid-eighties with his wife, Pat Hartman, on the advice of a friend. At the time, the local art scene revolved around the Poudre Valley Art Association and their annual show, held at the Lincoln Center. Already accustomed to competitions and awards in the highly competitive atmosphere in L.A., he confidently entered the competition with his black and white, photorealistic piece, The Balloon Man. The painting was inspired by an actual character, a dwarf selling balloons in a park, and with its riveting subject matter and masterful level of skill, took best of show.
The painting and resulting award dropped like a bomb on the dedicated but conservative Fort Collins art scene. A core group of painters were floored by the level of talent and quick to accept the new member into their group. Not only did Hartman receive the $500 grand prize, the painting sold immediately. All signs indicated that the dynamic artist was set for a career in Fort Collins.
In 1990, Hartman broke out of the photorealistic mode and splashed into the competition with a whole different style. The cartoon-inspired triptych, entitled “Gotteradamnherring,” consisted of three large panels, the center panel measuring 6 feet wide by 4 feet high. The judges, always from out-of-town and not associated with the local art league, had no choice but to crown the painter with another award. He took second place in the competition and the center panel appeared on the front page of the Coloradoan.
Acclaim did not lead to sales, however, and daily life has always been a struggle. Dale has always had his day jobs, ranging from dishwashing to screenprinting. When he has sold his work, it has been at “obscenely low” prices. Repeated showings at local venues have always garnered praise, but the stress of preparing the work, the cost of framing, transporting the paintings and hanging the show has not paid off. His conclusion: “Why do I bother? If I sell anything at all it’s because the prices are so cheap.”
Since recovering from a surgical procedure, Dale has been back into his groove. He describes the Art Lab and the Artery as “very cool places,” and he finds the company of other local artists to be very satisfying. He also says bravo to the First Friday Gallery Walk, an event that he says “gives everybody a fair shake.” Without the pressure of deadlines and no sales, he feels he can “finally do what I was put on earth to do.”
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