Art requires as much discipline as it does creativity. But it takes a special kind of personpossibly even a crazy personto sit exposed to the elements and paint the same scene, once a day, every day, for an entire year. Recently, 36-year-old Thompson Falls artist Jared Shear did just that, painting a mountain scene from his hometown 365 times.
That scene features Cougar Peak, which looms over relics from Shear's childhood. The barn you see in the paintings is his grandfather's, and the ranch that stretches beneath the mountains is owned by his family as well. The peak sits right outside the front door of his art studio, and has been a constant fixture in his life. The paintings illustrate the mountain as it changes through the seasonsfrom white snowstorms to blue skies, from sunrise to sunset. Cougar Peak-A-Boo, Shear's current exhibit at the Missoula Art Museum, showcases the entire series of small paintings from his year-long endeavor, the sum of which displays overwhelming diligence.
"There's a lot of fear built into art," Shear says. "You're afraid of failure. When you're looking at a blank canvas there is a lot of fear to even put a mark down. I thought this would be a good way to teach me to paint every day whether I want to or not."
Shear grew up in Montana and moved to Seattle to study computer animation in college. He worked with networks like MSNBC and Nickelodeon, on projects ranging from the animated television series "The Angry Beavers" to a Pampers commercial.
In television work, big cities are the place to be. But as time went by, Shear grew tired of having to work out of Seattle and Los Angeles. He decided to move back to rural Montana to be closer to his family, to spend time with his parents in that landscape miles from the nearest stoplight and in view of Cougar Peak. Art was still his passion, he says, but his focus changed to helping his father run a True Value hardware store in Thompson Falls.
Then, on New Year's Eve 2007, Shear decided to make a resolution that was simple, reasonable and productive.
"Hey, I'll just paint Cougar Peak every day for the year," he said to himself. But within a matter of weeks he realized the gravity of his commitment. In the winter, the days are short, the light is thin and the conditions can be brutal. As Shear began the process of painting the peak once a day, he recalls thinking, "My god, what have I gotten myself into?"
But as the seasons changed, the peak and its surrounding land remained interesting, and kept Shear focused on his goal. Though he always painted from the same vantage point, the time of day, the weather conditionseverythingvaried within the scene.
"The way it's angled you get these really nice shadows laying across it in the evening, and the sun lays in the canyon in the mornings," he says. "So there's always a weather pattern or storm system moving up and it sort of slams into the mountain. There's always sort of wonderful, beautiful chaos going on around it."
In an effort to stay even more engaged, Shear allowed every other factor of the paintings to become a variable. He switched between acrylic, watercolor and pastel. He used Photoshop. The surface he used changed, as well, from canvas to scraps of wood. Once, he even used a Klondike Bar wrapper.
The other variable was Shear himself. Shear says he worked through a wide range of emotions and daily life experiences, all of which come through in the paintings. He recalls forcing himself to go and paint the mountain after attending his grandfather's funeral.
"That painting really stands out to me in the series because it's so dark and gloomyit sort of looks like the end of the world is coming," Shear says. "That was one of the days that I didn't really want to paint, but it's one of the most powerful images in the series."
Despite this huge undertaking, Shear also created more than 100 other paintings in 2007, making it one of his most productive years. He continues to paint four to five hours per day, but the Cougar Peak project has stuck with him. Long after its completion, Shear found himself going back to paint the landscape again and again.
To this day, whenever Shear goes to visit his parents, he still finds himself staring out the window, looking in the direction of Cougar Peak.
"I'm still fascinated by the mountain," he says. "Every time I see it there's something different and amazing going on with it, and I want to try to capture it with paint. So, I still have a love affair with it. I'm still obsessed."
Jared Shear's Cougar Peak-A-Boo is on display at the Missoula Art Museum, 335 N. Pattee St. The First Friday reception Fri., Aug. 2, goes from 5 to 8 PM. Shear's artist talk and tour is Sat., Aug. 3, at MAM from 1:30 to 4:30 PM. Free.