Serena Supplee in her new Moab gallery space on 400 East. [Photo by Travis Holtby/ Moab Sun News]

“Our eyes and a camera lens are not the same,” said Serena Supplee.

When Supplee’s fans look at her paintings of iconic desert landscapes, they certainly appreciate how Supplee’s eyes see the world in a different light.

“It’s hard to put Serena’s work into words. It leaves it very open to interpretation from the person viewing it,” said Kaye Davis, who has owned a large Supplee painting for years. “She leaves it open for you to interpret the piece, especially if you own it, without being impeded by the artist’s intent. When you own it you live with it.”

Supplee recently had a week-long open house to welcome the community to the new gallery space on her property on 400 East.

She first came to Moab in 1969.

“My father was a 4-wheel drive enthusiast and my first impression was ‘wild and open,’” Supplee said.

Her second trip to the area was two years later with three siblings and enough camping gear for a four-day trip through the Maze stuffed in the back of a Jeep CJ5.

It was on that trip that she had an epiphany.

“At that moment I knew this was where I wanted to live and I knew that I wanted to be an artist,” she said. “I wanted to express this country. I could feel it, like it was God. I never changed my mind.”

Supplee moved to Moab after she finished college to work as a river guide in 1980. She felt the same draw to the land that she had as a child.

During her first two years on the river her artist’s perspective evolved; she gave away her camera, preferring instead to transfer images from her memory to the canvas by painting scenes the way that she saw them.

That perception of the surrounding area is what her admirers believe adds an extra dimension to her work.

“It truly represents Moab. It’s so distinctly her and so distinctly Moab,” said Marty Warner, a long time area resident.

That artistic evolution came to fruition in 1988, when Supplee decided to dedicate her life to her art.

But it wasn’t an easy path.

“I really didn’t start making ends meet until 2006,” she said. “I think the only thing I really did was have faith.”

That faith paid off in 2006 when she hosted ‘Inner Gorge Metaphors’ at the historic Kolb Studio in the Grand Canyon National Park. Out of the 72 paintings that Supplee brought to the show, only 18 came home with her.

“After being poor for so long, oh my God was it stressful to spend money!” she laughed.

Since then, Supplee’s work has become increasingly popular around the Grand Canyon. The town of Page, Ariz., last year declared March 4 to 10 ‘Serena Supplee Week.’

Supplee hopes to bring that success to Moab.

Her new studio space was designed to enable her to do more work in a medium that has recently been calling to her: sculpture. She counts among her completed sculptures an arch and a giant rattlesnake.

“I’ve talked to some people who are shocked that I did all these sculptures without a grant,” Supplee said. “But the feeling was so strong I had to.”

In the coming year Supplee is hoping to become the community artist for Arches and Canyonlands national parks, and for Natural Bridges and Hovenweep national monuments.

For her, it is a joy to finally be able to marry a steady income with her passion.

“It’s just the simple joy of putting the colors next to each other,” Supplee said. “The flutter of heart when I’m doing it.”

That, for D’ahna Chalmers, is exactly what comes across in Supplee’s paintings.

“What’s special about Serena is her heart and spirit. She connects to the heart and the spirit in nature and the heart and the spirit in people, and you feel it in her work,” Chalmers said.