The Queen of Color
Monroe Hodder’s vibrant paintings pulse with life—thanks in part to the inspiration she finds in Steamboat’s quiet beauty. Find out why the artist calls Colorado home, how she understands color and why she paints.
CH&L: Did you always want to be an artist? How did this happen?
Monroe Hodder: I painted and drew like all children do, and I had sort of special little gifts for it when I was younger. The real moment for me was when my husband and I went to Amsterdam one summer to work. Well, he went to work and I went to paint. It was our anniversary, and he gave me this bowl of yellow roses. I painted and painted them. When he came home from work, I said, “What are you doing home so soon?” I had totally lost my sense of time. I had no feeling that a whole day had passed me by. That was 40 years ago. I still have that feeling when I’m painting. Through better and worse, making art has stayed with me. There have been some times when I’ve thought, ‘Why did I do this as a career?’ It’s hard to be an artist, but it’s very, very satisfying.
You live in New York and Steamboat Springs. What drew you to Steamboat?
That has to do with the fact that I’m still married to the same man for whom I painted those flowers. He grew up in Colorado and Wyoming, and skiing is…perhaps it is the love of his life, or a close second! We’ve only been here about seven years, and I’ve come to love Colorado.
And do you paint here?
I would say that I do most of my work here. I have a very big studio not too far from my home. I can just drive over there and get completely lost in work with no distractions whatsoever. That doesn’t happen in New York. There are always people visiting and art shows to see and that kind of thing. But there’s also a kind of energy in New York that’s very good for my painting.
We read a review that says your most powerful language is color. You’re like Matisse! What draws you to color?
Color is not just pretty. It’s a vehicle of expression for all my emotions. I had a very sad trip to New York to see someone who is sick. And in the show [this spring at the William Havu Gallery in Denver], the painting I made after that visit was hanging right next to a painting about a rafting trip down the Colorado River. Color is the way I was able to describe both of those experiences.
Your paintings certainly reveal emotion. They almost vibrate with it. Do you know what a painting will become, what it will say, when you begin it?
More often than not, I don’t know what a painting will become. I have this feeling and desire to do this painting. It sounds a little silly, but there’s also a will of the painting itself that takes over. It kind of molds itself, and at a certain point I just have to follow along. It’s as though the painting becomes so real that it expresses its own being. Those are my best paintings, when the painting takes over and becomes what it wants.
When did you begin painting these bold stripes of color that characterize your recent work?
When I came to Steamboat. I went to drop someone off at the airport, and there’s this beautiful road along the Yampa River with these little bits of color, and I thought, ‘I just have to express this winter beauty.’ That was my very first stripe painting.
Your work makes me think you’re a happy person. Is that true?
I was wondering about that myself. I looked at one of my paintings recently, and I thought, ‘Only a person who experiences joy could have painted that.’ I believe very strongly in certain values—love, generosity, joy, forgiveness—and because I believe in those values, even though I’m not always happy, they are what I want to communicate. You know, there’s a lot of physical and mental struggle in getting your work done and into the world. My husband once said to me, ‘Are you sure you want to put up with all this? You could just be taking a walk.’ And it’s true. But my work is kind of like my gift to the world. It’s essential to me to give that gift.