Call Of The Wild

Colorado's wilderness captures the spirit and brush of this graphic designer turned artist

Sliding and gliding up Summit County’s mountains on all-terrain skis, Leslie Jorgensen deposits herself in parts of Colorado’s backcountry many of us will never experience. It is there where her art begins.

“We ski these mountains, climb these cliffs, snowmobile on the snowy slopes—and that affects the landscape,” says the petite, cowboy-boot-wearing brunette. “At the same time, it affects us. I’m interested in this complicated relationship we have with all the wild places we love.”

Hiking the Cornice

“Art of the Backcountry” is Jorgensen’s series of love letters to Summit County’s wilds and the skiers who delight in its peaks and valleys, in the same way she and her husband, “IT guy” Ron Salerno, do. It’s her newest evolution, inspired by her desire to forge three artistic loves: figurative, landscape and abstract painting.

“My artistic background has been very figurative, very representational, yet I have a huge amount of respect for people who do abstract art,” she says. “My hope with ‘Art of the Backcountry’ is to merge that abstract dynamism with my representational work.”


From her earliest memory—growing up on Merritt Island, Florida, home of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center—Jorgensen, now 52, wanted to be an artist. But her homemaker mom and chemical engineer dad, who worked for the U.S. space program, wanted her to graduate with a “marketable skill.” And art, they said, wasn’t one of those.

Obediently, she focused on graphic design and landed a post-college job with The Denver Post, fulfilling a childhood dream of “living with mountains and snow," she says. For the next 30 years, steady design work followed, while she indulged her “closet passion” on the side. Then in 2014, she experienced a profound shift. 


“I made a conscious decision to put my passion over my paycheck,” she recalls. “I said, ‘I’m no longer doing art as a sacred hobby.’ Part of that was I went through a divorce, and something about midlife maybe? It forces you to look at, ‘What do I want to do with my life while I still have the energy and capacity to do what’s important to me?’”

Game changers were a mentorship with Denver fiber artist Carol Ann Waugh and renting studio space in Globeville Riverfront Art Center (GRACe), a community of 71 artists, down the road from the RiNo Art District. She created 60 paintings that first year alone.

“Art of the Backcountry” is Jorgensen’s third in a series of landscapes and abstracts. Come summertime, she crisscrosses Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, camping and working. “Painting outdoors is tapping the well of being one-on-one with the landscape. It’s a very happy and satisfying place for me to be.” Working with both oils and acrylics, Jorgensen has devised an on-the-go painterly solution by repurposing an old cigar box. The lid works perfectly as an easel, securely holding a 6-by-8-inch canvas, while the box improvises as a palette.

A Walk on Walnut St

Craving more opportunities to paint “directly from nature,” Jorgensen and her husband recently packed up their metro lives and moved to a contemporary, 1,700-square-foot town home in Salida (Salerno’s hometown), where they are “immersed,” she says, “in this gorgeous valley, surrounded by fourteeners and bordered by the Arkansas River.” 

Mayflower Gulch Trail

Her at-home art studio is in their natural-light-filled detached garage, and with no commute, she is free to paint late into the night, blasting Jimi Hendrix and Santana. Her infatuation with abstract art has been especially running wild. “It’s a challenge for me to create something I’m satisfied with,” she explains, “because it has no defined beginning or end and no rules, which is part of the beauty and part of the challenge.”

Categories: Art