It took several tries before Phil Lear was pleased with his painting of Nikola Tesla. And even now he's not totally sure about it.
To everyone else, it's gorgeous. Tesla is in his lab, and has activated his coil. Tesla's transfixed at the spectacle of the crackling, colorful bolts of electricity; his assistant has his ears covered to dampen the intense sound.
Somehow, Lear doesn't see the drama he expected. But then again, this painting is something new for him.
For one, "Tesla's Colorado Springs Lab" is larger than his norm — nearly 5 by 6 feet — and will be hung by the Nevada Avenue entrance of the Mining Exchange, a Wyndham Grand Hotel, as one of three paintings commissioned by hotel owners Perry and Lorn Sanders. The others, a portrait of the hotel and a merry close-up of Louis Armstrong, are also large and consist of a whole new color palette of blues and greens.
While these three will stay on permanent display, Lear will sell other paintings of local landmarks and of mining and jazz/New Orleans scenes out of the downtown hotel, named a Four-Diamond property by AAA earlier this year. Local photographer Jeff Cloutier has a similar opportunity, after a summer spent checking off a list of 70-some locales to shoot for the Sanderses. Each artist's work will adorn walls in the lobby and hallways throughout four stories.
"We're really making a point of featuring as much of the really fabulous local talent as possible in the hotel," Perry Sanders says. He's also gotten photographers Lewis Carlyle and Larry Hulst to take part, in addition to New Orleans painter Eddie Mormon, whose Trombone Shorty work will hang across the lobby from Lear's Armstrong. Further down the road, he hopes to host more frequent art events.
Helping coordinate the art, which non-guests may peruse as well, is Marcea Flowers, formerly of Sabi and Holey Rollers. It's no easy task, she says, as the complex — from Springs Orleans restaurant to the neighboring Utilities Building, soon to become a live entertainment venue (see here) — is so large. The hotel's ballrooms pose a special challenge, since they're rented often for weddings.
"People don't want anything that's not completely neutral," Flowers says, adding, "A couple weeks ago, they had a purple wedding. Everything was purple."
Once everything's hung, Flowers will turn her attention to the Mining Exchange's next addition, a retail space on the west side of Springs Orleans. There, she'll sell local artwork and jewelry, as well as food items like bottled dressings from the restaurant. Sanders says it will also function as a media room with TVs, a sound system and seating.
The architectural plans are about finished, and the space has been gutted down to the brick walls. Flowers says they expect to open next year, but it could be sooner; in her experience as an independent contractor with the Mining Exchange, she's found that things here move efficiently and quickly.
In the meantime, Lear will keep a similar pace, painting for both the hotel and for other galleries that represent him, such as the Modbo and Mountain Living Studio. He hopes to catch the eye of more out-of-town clients, but he can't upcharge at the hotel when he's selling for less down the street. For now, he'll just keep working.
As Flowers says, "You can't slow him down."