CREATIVE PEAKS: Vertical Dreams

By on December 29, 2015

An image long etched in Mike Tierney’s mind has become a powerful piece for snow loving masses.

Mike Tierney’s winning piece for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, ‘The Wildest Mountain Alive,’ captures the anticipation we experience gazing into Corbet’s from the tram. (Photo: mike tierney)

Mike Tierney’s winning piece for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, ‘The Wildest Mountain Alive,’ captures the anticipation we experience gazing into Corbet’s from the tram. (Photo: mike tierney)

Jackson, WY – Mike Tierney had to think hard before he agreed to enter a contest to create artwork for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s 50th anniversary.

He knew if he entered, he would win. He knew because he had a vision he’d been holding onto for years.

Tierney, 38, still remembers his first tram ride about 20 years ago. The crowds smashed him, but he still caught a view of Corbet’s Couloir.

“I’ll never forget that first tram and thinking ‘people ski that? No way,’” he said. “And then the next thing you know you are in there skiing it. It’s profound.”

Tierney also knew winning did not promise many financial fruits. While there was the chance to receive a cash prize and a ski pass, and he would retain rights to his work, he wouldn’t receive royalties for the years the resort used the piece for marketing.

But it meant the opportunity to create the image he’d ruminated on for years, and to have thousands of eyes on it.

“It was a chance for me to make art for the power of the mountain,” he said. “It was a way to say thanks to the mountain for providing us all that. It was an opportunity to connect to every skier that has ever ridden this mountain.”

Tierney says his piece wasn’t the best of the five final artists. But he knew his bold design captured the feeling of the mountain while remaining simple enough for use on marketing materials.

Sure enough, if you visit Jackson Hole Mountain Resort this year, you’ll see the image adorning the bottom of the tram as it flies toward Rendezvous Peak. It’s on the cover of the mountain’s trail map, too.

It is an image you’ll see everywhere in Jackson this winter, created by an artist with no formal art training.

Tierney grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Colorado for college. One day he read a story about a small ski company called Igneous, based in Jackson, which was churning out custom skis that all looked the same. Tierney wanted the skis, but he also wanted them to look better.

He didn’t have a portfolio, just a few doodles, but he drove to Jackson, walked into Igneous’ factory and said, “Your skis are awfully boring, anything we can do better than all black?” Suddenly he found himself hired as the company’s graphic department. He dropped out of college and moved to town in 1996.

Tierney discovered spray paint to work on skis. That eventually gave way to computer and graphic designs.

He also quickly found his way to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and was soon spending all his time skiing or sitting behind a computer, painting houses for extra money.

When the economy crashed in 2008 he found himself competing with more house painters for fewer jobs. He knew he had to figure something else out.

At about the same time, while house sitting, he picked up the coffee table book “Wall and Piece,” by the artist Banksy, whose work led Tierney to discover stencils.

He could suddenly control the spray paint down to a small degree, key for the detailed work Tierney wanted to create.
“You need some way to harness the power,” he said.

Tierney emerged on the Jackson art scene in 2008 with a show at the Teton Artlab that featured three of his paintings of Cody Peak.

He credits Teton Artlab founder and artist, Travis Walker, with introducing him as a legitimate artist.

Tierney had never sold a piece of art before, but that night he sold two of the three paintings on display, including one he’d created for his parents.

“I felt a little like a sellout selling that one, but it sure felt good to get paid,” he said.

Only a few years later, art is more than a full-time job for Tierney.

He’s working on finishing murals at the new mid-mountain restaurant, Piste, at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

He regularly shows his art at Daly Projects. His work features familiar landscapes with a unique twist, like the spray paint he works in or the glow-in-the-dark paint he uses that offers a surprise element when the lights go out. He’s also been experimenting with drywall mud to bring another dimension.

His new piece at WonderSpot, installed this week, features thousands of empty spray cans from his work through the years put together to recreate his winning design for the mountain resort.

Tierney says his success is in part due to the supportive art community and growing contemporary art scene in Jackson. People appreciate art in all forms, sizes and shapes, he explained.

“That’s what art is about, looking at things in new ways and experimenting, and people here get that,” Tierney said. “The art scene here is really coming into its own.”

As is the artist. PJH

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