By Mira Brody EBS ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
BIG SKY — Each summer, Heather Rapp takes an annual hike up to Beehive Basin in the pursuit of her two passions: adventuring in the outdoors and gaining inspiration from the bountiful Big Sky landscape. The painter, known for her vibrant, abstract mountain scenes, estimates she’s painted Beehive Basin, in particular, about once a year, yet each version is unique.
Rapp was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and has lived in vista-shadowed cities most of her life, from Amsterdam, Montana, to Portland, Oregon, where she got her BFA in Graphic Design from the Art Institute. Ironically, she disliked her only painting class and never quite took to graphic design after graduating, but it was that very same frustration that fueled her to irrevocably define her unique style.
“I felt like I had so much more in my head that I wanted to create. If anything, it sparked my passion to paint the things that I wanted to, and it happened while I was in that class,” Rapp said of the still life painting class she took in college. “While I was frustrated, I was able to focus on honing my skill in my own unique way. It’s always a challenge to try and separate yourself from other people’s work.”
After graduating in 2007 and moving back to Big Sky Country, she began to focus on painting with the encouragement of the area’s natural beauty, which she refers to as her “most influential muse.” Rapp basks in not only the stunning landscape, but also the support of the community including the Arts Council of Big Sky, with whom she worked with to wrap a couple utility boxes last year. One challenge she notes, however, is rapid growth.
“I do feel lucky to be able to live in Big Sky, but I think it’s important for people to know how hard it is to be a small business owner and live in this town,” she said, speaking of the importance of maintaining a diverse, business-friendly community. She worries commercial and residential rental markets are stifling locals and small businesses. “The struggle needs to be out in the open. It’s important to not stop talking about it. There’s room for us all.”
Yet true to her favored bright palette, Rapp does not dwell on the negative for long. She does her part to leverage her craft to not only bring joy to the community, but also empower others during her Paint Parties hosted at Beehive Basin Brewing, where students can enjoy a brew and a painting lesson.
“Trying to paint even when you have no formal training can really empower you,” she said. During Paint Parties, she keeps instruction open-ended, allowing aspiring artists to apply their own style, but is adamant about one thing: dispelling your inner critic.
“You can see them light up as they connect with other people as they’re creating together. Art allows them to express themselves in a positive way,” said Rapp.
Rapp’s style utilizes the roughness of a palette knife, a spray bottle for dripping techniques, and mixing bright saturated colors with animal forms or abstract landscapes. She says her choice of palette channels not only her colorful personality, but also the positive energy and imaginative nature of a dreamland brought to life.
Her work can be found hanging in Beehive Basin Brewing, Eastslope Outdoors and Lone Peak Caregivers, as well as on the utility box on the corner of Lone Mountain Drive and Ousel Falls Road. She has also collaborated with PROBAR to create limited edition packaging for their meal bars in which part of the proceeds of each box go to support the U.S. Ski and Snowboard teams. She has also been featured in the Arts Council of Big Sky’s Auction for the Arts and was voted Best Artist in the Best of Big Sky of 2019.
Rapp’s work is a process of discovery, and oftentimes she begins without knowing what it will become. There is, however, always a singular driving force behind every piece—to add joy and vibrancy to her community.