Tue, Aug. 20

Stroke of Genius

Courtesy image

THIS watercolor and mixed media painting of Sonoran Sanctuary-Mission San Xavier del Bac in Tucson is available in giclee reproductions.

The artist, Sedona’s John Spannagel, was nominated for a 2004 Governor’s Arts Award in the Individual Artist category. The mural, entitled “Art, the Golden Thread of Life,” ambitiously connects history, various cultures, current events, and even gives us a glimpse into the future.

Spannagel worked for a year and a half to complete the 90-foot long mural, alongside Arizona 179. Commissioned by Marc and Angela Ringel, owners of The Sedona Trading Post in Bell Rock Plaza, it fuses Sedona’s beautiful rock formations, Native American cultures, scenes from the old west, music and movies with various symbolic elements of knowledge, spirituality and discovery, exemplified by a lotus flower and white rose.

Moved by the events of 9/11, the artist incorporated the twin towers of the World Trade Center and such familiar patriotic icons as the Statue of Liberty, the American eagle and American flag. Finally, looking into the future, Spannagel included a magnificent rendering of the universe, based on photos captured by the Hubble telescope.

The Mural, as it’s fondly dubbed by VOC residents, is Spannagel’s second outdoor project. His first large-scale work was a corner section of the Bell Rock Plaza building, which was designed, shaped, and then meticulously painted by John to resemble the plaza’s namesake, Bell Rock.

Until three years ago Spannagel had never worked on such a large scale or on the surface of a wall. He’s best known for his dramatic landscapes in oils or watercolor on canvas or fine paper, often reproduced in signed, limited edition, high quality giclée prints that he hand embellishes with signature metallic acrylics.

On weekends this talented and prolific artist can sometimes be found painting in Tlaquepaque, people gathered around him, fascinated to see a work of art emerging from a blank canvas. He enjoys meeting and talking to the onlookers, claiming, “People love to talk to the artist. If they end up buying one of my pieces, it has more meaning because they have had a personal relationship, however brief, with its creator, and often we become friends.”

From the time he was a young boy growing up in Colorado, John was inspired to draw and paint the beauty of nature around him. Equally gifted in music, he enjoyed playing the piano and guitar. It posed a dilemma for him when it came time to decide on one or the other as a major in college: drawing and painting or music. Solving his problem by choosing a double major in Visual Art and Classical Flamenco Guitar, Spannagel has continued to devote his life to both loves.

In the years leading up to his move to Sedona, John worked as a commercial artist in California while playing the guitar with the Santa Barbara Symphony, spent several years on the faculty of his alma mater, Adams State College in Alamosa, Colorado, teaching fretted instruments, and managed an art gallery in Breckenridge, Colorado, while also working as an entertainer.

It was on his travels between California and Colorado, that Spannagel discovered the enchantment of Sedona. He sees Sedona as a “parallel world to Colorado’s ski towns – it has the natural beauty, the possibilities for working as an entertainer and a vibrant art community, but not the snow.” As John enjoys gardening and bike riding, that’s fine with him.

Since moving to Sedona 10 years ago, Spannagel has turned to painting in earnest, creating masterful landscapes of the area’s red rocks and high desert, flowering cactus, incredible sunsets, quaint vistas of Tlaquepaque and, a bit farther afield, a magnificent rendering of San Xavier del Bac outside Tucson.

His signature style includes creating dramatic “trails” of blended hues over a background of abstract shapes that become the foundation for a carefully crafted detailed image.

Says wife Carol, “Often, while we’re eating supper, John will be studying a painting he’s been working on, propped upside down.”

Adds John, “Sometimes seeing a work in progress from a different perspective helps me to see the painting as a whole, to study the design elements rather than the subject alone. I can see if I’ve missed anything or should change something.”

Digital photo shoots become sketches to be later turned into paintings. Spannagel says he keeps a notebook with 70-80 sketches and ideas for future paintings, and shifts easily from oil and acrylic to watercolor, depending on subject matter and how he’d like to treat it. “I like to be adventurous in my work. Changing media from oil to watercolor, and in the case of the murals, working on a completely different surface, keeps me on my toes, expands the possibilities and keeps my work fresh.”

John Spannagel’s painting can be seen locally at the Navarro Gallery in Tlaquepaque. His work is also found in various galleries in Arizona and Colorado, as well as several resorts, the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, and in numerous private collections around the world.

And yes, John is still playing the guitar. He, along with Carol as vocalist, have become a popular duo, known as “The Two of Hearts,” singing and playing musical engagements throughout the Sedona area.

John can be contacted through the Navarro Gallery at (928) 204-1144 or e-mail: