Ann Yaeger's oil painting of a plump green caterpillar could easily pass for a scientific illustration if it weren't for the helmet and space-age gear. The same could be said for the wide-eyed bird in an aviator cap. Or the lionfish with a scuba tank strapped to its back.
Yaeger, an art instructor at Pueblo Community College, adds unexpected twists to animal subjects that already catch the eye for another reason: They literally look as if they could leap (or crawl) off the canvas.
"The first time that you see it," says Christel Dussart, Sangre de Cristo Arts Center's visual arts curator, "you can't believe that actually someone could do that with oil paint."
There's no better way to learn how Yaeger does it than by asking the artist herself, and visitors to the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center have the opportunity to do just that. At the Third Place, a studio built inside the Hoag Gallery, they can watch and chat with Yaeger while she works on new paintings. She'll work there throughout the month but is guaranteed to be available the evening of Friday, July 20.
As executive director Dan Lere explains on the Sangre's website: "While most of us spend much of our lives at home (our 'first' place) and our workplace (our 'second' place) we derive much of the enjoyment and fun in our lives at 'third places,' such as coffee shops, parks, libraries, and art galleries."
Dussart says the Third Place strives "to be something new that would bring in a younger generation and get people locally more involved" in the art scene. Key to that effort are the artists like Yaeger, who says she's "a little nervous but excited" about opening up to curious viewers.
Surely, she'll have plenty to talk about. For instance, "Stag" and "Unicorn" — in which green and white beetles sprout intricate towers from their backs — date back to her 2007 residency in Paris, which she took after graduating from Washington University in St. Louis. Lately, Yaeger says she's working on small-scale, intricate paintings partially inspired by the medieval art and architecture in the French capital.
"I was actually thinking about the insects with a dash of their surroundings and what they would look like," Yaeger says, adding she has her father, also a nature artist, to thank for her interest in scenery and wildlife. "But I'm still working on that theme concept."
Each artist at the Third Place can request to have a musician play while he or she works; Yaeger will have the Pueblo Community Jazz Ensemble, also known as Deep Shelter, which counts some of her students as members.
Yaeger's finished products from her stay at the Sangre will be shown during a September show of hers at PCC, which will soon form a partnership with the museum. Both organizations will swap space for classes, and PCC students will have free, unlimited access to the Sangre, along with internships.
Hopefully that will be as successful as Third Place. Since it launched in May, Dussart says, it has received such a warm reception that there's no end date in sight. Artists are currently booked through December.