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Animal Instinct

Artist Ron Apgar blends art and therapy and takes us to where the wild things are

Ron Apgar relaxes in his home studio, among his animal paintings and abstracts.

Ron Apgar relaxes in his home studio, among his animal paintings and abstracts.

s I talk to popular Colorado Springs-based artist Ron Apgar in his studio, his beasts surround us. Sharp-horned beefy buffalos. Charging wind-blown stallions. And if the menagerie in his paintings isn’t enough, Apgar’s graying standard poodle joins us for some canine affection. Apgar reaches over and pets her head, running his hand down her coarse coat and smiles.

Apgar’s kinship with animals carries over to his human relations.

Not only is Apgar among the most successful artists in Colorado Springs, with works in Aspen, Taos and Los Angeles galleries and throughout The Mining Exchange, a Windham Grand Hotel, and dozens of local silent auctions, he’s also a psychotherapist who uses his practice to, among other things, bring out the inner artist in others.
“We all have a creative impulse,” he says. “I want to value and bring out that part of ourselves.”

After his individual therapy sessions and his work doing animal and child cruelty assessments for the courts, he escapes to the studio in the back of his house, cranks up his music – sometimes classical, sometimes alternative rock or folk – and splashes color onto canvas.

“The goal of art for me is to discover your own creativeness,” he says, his weary green eyes searching in mine for understanding.
Meeting his gaze, I’m reminded of what a key role eyes play in Apgar’s work. Look into the pupils of his buffalos and you’ll get it. They feel alive. It’s like locking eyes with a beautiful and dangerous beast. He revels in these connections, and it fuels much of his art.

Apgar’s love for art started as a constantly doodling child in San Diego. He actually got private art lessons when he was 7.

But it wasn’t until 1967, when he enlisted in the Army, deploying to Vietnam, that he discovered how his art could create significant personal connections.
“I painted some of the soldiers’ flight helmets with something from their hometowns: football, or somebody who was important to them,” he says.

But, of course, working as a helicopter crew chief during the height of the war, he had a lot more to do than paint helmets. His tour of Vietnam proved painful -- emotionally and physically. During one of his paratroop drops, he ended up severely injuring his foot and leg, requiring intensive surgery and months of rehabilitation.

“It certainly was a coming of age for me,” he says.

After leaving the Army, Apgar tried to make sense of the chaos around him by studying art, theology and psychology. His therapy practice developed as a way to go beyond problem solving and lead people to real personal growth.

He started his private therapy actice in Colorado Springs in 1992.

“I do like doing therapy,” he says. “I feel privileged that people invite you into their lives.”

Meanwhile, he continued his art, building both therapy and art to gratifying success. Serious art collectors have discovered his paintings, and his large pieces have gone for as much as $10,000. Meanwhile, his psychotherapy practice keeps his days full. It might seem odd for somebody to build two careers, refusing to choose one over the other. But, for Apgar, it works.

“For me, it’s the growth of integrating it all,” he says.

The art might take a more dominant position in September, when Apgar plans to stage a huge open-studio sale.

Although Apgar is best known for his wildly colorful impressionistic horses and buffalo paintings, he also does folk art with Spanish influences and he loves creating abstracts. In fact, he recently completed a series of 10 semi-abstract paintings inspired by the Waldo Canyon fire.

“They’re mainly from perspective of sky,” he says. “Not dark despair but they speak to the fire and what was going on.”

He watches me as I examine the swirling reds and oranges, looking, as always for that essential, personal connection.