Roanoke artist Greg Osterhaus views his new exhibition of paintings, “Our Side of the Mountain,” as a visual essay about our region.

“I wanted people to know that I’m painting the very same things that they’re familiar with. Everybody who lives in this region knows that there are beautiful mountains, lots of stubbornly hanging on farms and homesteads that are still being run in the area,” he said. “I’ve never met a person who lives in this region who doesn’t absolutely love living in this region.”

Osterhaus’s show in the LinDor Arts gallery in downtown Roanoke is filled with bright, uplifting views of mountains and farmland that call to mind the views from Dragons Tooth or McAfee‘s Knob. Not to mention, anyone who has ever slowed down to lock eyes with a cow while driving along a Southwest Virginia country road is certain to have déjà vu. The 56-year-old old artist has made soulful portraits of cows something of a specialty.

“He’s the one who made ‘in your face cow’ popular,” said gallery co-owner Dorsey Taylor with a chuckle. “Greg’s a real good seller. He does real well everywhere he goes. He’s got this style of painting with these broad colorful strokes that just seems to appeal to everyone in the arts.”

The show at LinDor Arts is Osterhaus’ first large show in his home city in 10 years. “This is the very most up to date representation of my current working style that anyone is going to see. These are all brand new paintings, never been seen before.”

Osterhaus is a relative rarity, a regional artist who makes his primary living from selling his art. An Illinois native, his family moved to Roanoke from Schenectady, New York, in 1976 when he was 12 so his father, a General Electric employee, could work at the Salem plant. He enrolled at Virginia Tech to pursue a degree in architecture, but switched to fine art with an emphasis in graphic arts before he graduated.

After he earned his degree, “I was doing very moody paintings of people,” but that changed after the discovery of Gallery 3 in downtown Roanoke introduced him to the likes of Wolf Kahn, a German-born American painter whose landscapes combine realism with vivid colors reminiscent of abstract expressionism. Osterhaus developed an appreciation for art “that was colorful and celebrated life,” and pursued producing work that did the same.

Married and raising three children, he continued to work day jobs until about 20 years ago, when he made the leap to producing art full time. His last regular job was in the Rowe Furniture advertising department. “I was having to turn away paying art jobs, commissions and things at that time because I was working a day job and there was only so many hours I had left over.” It wasn’t the first time he had quit his job and tried to make it on art alone, but “I kind of felt like, ‘All right, everything is telling me that this time it’s going to work.’”

His subject matter encompasses more than bucolic farms and cow close-ups — his equally colorful paintings of crabs sell well on the Virginia coast — but those cows were a factor in making that first leap over the moon.

“The cows are about half of what I sell,” he said. “That sort of happened accidentally, not by design. I painted cows as part of landscapes for a long time. One time I figured, hey, this face looks interesting, I’ll paint it close up. That cow face sold right away. I rubbed my hands together, thinking, ‘I’ve got to do some more of these, and maybe lightning will strike twice and I’ll sell another one.’ And here we are 20 twenty years later. The sales have taken off in ways that I really wasn’t expecting.

“I’m not just painting likenesses of cows. There’s a whole lot of art theory, craft and colorism going on behind the scenes,” he said. “It’s just sort of been a godsend that it all worked out and people respond to them.”

All the paintings in the show are for sale, with prices ranging from $2,700 to $7,100, Taylor said. However, stopping in to see the show is free.

“It’s going to celebrate what you’re familiar with, and hopefully touch you on an emotional level, too,” Osterhaus said.

Poetry and art in Botetourt

Tuesday, Blue Ride Library, a branch of Botetourt County Libraries, will host a free event combining visual art with poetry. “Artistic Hands & Poetic Voices” will begin with three Botetourt County artists, Linda Atkinson, Amy Herzel and Dreama Kattenbraker, giving presentations about the works they have on display. They’ll be followed by readings from six Botetourt County poets: Curt Alderston, Anita Firebaugh, Tim Miller, Molly O’Dell, Pauline Pauley and Maurice Ferguson. The event happens 6 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. For more information call 928-2900.

Mike Allen writes the Arts & Extras column for The Roanoke Times. The beat he covers includes visual art, classical music, opera, theater, dance, literature, museums and other arts and cultural nonprofits, and things even more eclectic.

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