When one thinks of ultra-distance runners (that's 50 plus miles btw) artist Travis Weller may not be what comes to mind. Though he should—in addition to endurance racing, Weller is a multimedia artist and former university professor. Experimenting with cut paper, oil painting, and oil pastels Weller uses sensory imagery and emotions he experiences on his long runs to create unique abstract pieces that celebrate and highlight nature and the environment he surrounds himself in.
Weller started getting serious about making art when he was in college. Coming from a small town in rural Pennsylvania, being a full-time artist as a career was never on his agenda. But when he got to the University of North Carolina Wilmington he had a painting professor, Margie Worthington, who helped him fall in love with art and realize it was something he could and wanted to do full-time.
Weller has gone on to do several group and solo shows with a variety of well regarded galleries from California to North Carolina, but it wasn't until he collaborated with The North Face in 2020 that he started combining his love for activewear and lifestyle with his art. Now, he has collaborated travel-inspired apparel brand Roark on for its Run Amok trail running line. The Roark x Travis Weller collection, out today 4 November, puts Weller's unique synthesis of design and nature front and center, featuring a color palette born from the ridgelines, fog, and forests that surround the artist's home in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"The balance between art and running. That is what it is all about."
To get the inside line on Weller's process as an artist—and learn a bit more about the new collab collection-we recently caught him for a few moments between trail running, painting, and surfing for a quick chat. Read on to learn how he strikes a balance between it all.
Have you always combined your love for running with your art?
No, I used to keep it really separate. They acted as a good counterbalance to each other. Art is full of subjectivity and so running allows for a sense of objectivity. There is first place and last place with no room for interpretation. I would go full steam ahead with running and racing and then when I felt burnt out I would switch back to making art just to have some subjectivity again.
A few years ago I realized it wasn't healthy for art or running and I tried to find a balance in pursuing both. I did a big project for The North Face that launched last year and that was really the starting point of bringing art and running together and realizing that they could not only function together but benefited from each other. Since then I have been in a new place with both and it feels good to have them synced.
You use many different mediums in your art–cut paper, oil pastels, oil paint. Do you prefer one to another?
Cut paper is what I tend to work out the most. I love working with my hands so it feels partly sculptural, using a tool to cut, moving the paper around, placing it. With paint, it opens the door to color and there are no limitations—you can make any color that you can imagine. When I work with paper and it starts to feel representative I will switch to painting. For this collection I did a cut paper piece, but it really depends on what the project entails for which medium I choose.
"Every day is a little different, the same trail is never the same and that is the beauty of it."
Your Roark collection's color palette was inspired by Mount Tamalpais. What is your relationship with this place?
Mount Tamalpais is just out the back door. There is an amazing variety of ecosystems from deep redwood groves to scrubby coastal rolling mountains. The color pattern comes from the whole mountain. We have these polarizing blue skies and that comes into my work a lot; the color of the redwoods; you'll find a lot of green in my work. In the summertime when everything turns brown I tend to gravitate to the forest where it is green still. In the winter we have this magical window usually in the first couple of months of the year where you are immersed in green.
I also buy all my materials at this local art store in San Rafael. They have a set selection of paper so that is partly the palette, what is available. I love the grays they have and then how pink balances all these cooler colors out without being overpowering like yellow and orange. It is a soft balance that doesn't overpower the other colors.
Do you ever run specifically to seek artistic inspiration?
At home, we have a beautiful selection of trails in the Bay, and I find a lot of inspiration for my work from the trails. I love being on the ridgelines looking down into the ocean and then dipping into a redwood grove. The colors and land formations are here. The fog is another big one. We have this amazing fog that wraps its way up the coastal mountains and that has found a way into my work as well.
I definitely have some favorite trails here and what I see on those trails influences my work. I try to have an awareness and bring some of it home with me. Every day is a little different, the same trail is never the same and that is the beauty of it.
Your designs for Run Amok were inspired by camouflage, though it's pretty clear these pieces are meant not to hide or conceal but to be seen. Do you still think of this as camo?
I really don't like camo—part of it is the look but the kind of traditional camouflage pattern just never interested me. I tend to be a bright and colorful pattern person but I appreciate camouflage for what it is in nature. Animals all possess some realm of camouflage and how they use it for protection, I think that is special. I also see camouflage as this thing that we can put around ourselves to hide feelings.
Tying it back to why I chose this, camo is always in the Roark line. From season to season, they always tend to involve camo in their patterns. I was trying to link how to bring my preference for bright colors into a Roark line that tends to be a bit more muted.
When I am running I feel free and I see things brighter. I see color for what it is. I am free and I have this feeling of freedom that can be associated with camouflage. The freedom I feel when running is a space for me to think and feel and process emotion. For me, it is a freeing time frame and I think that is an interesting take on camouflage—how we see through this camouflage that we put on to access these deeper emotions and feelings.
"When I am running I feel free and I see things brighter."
What do you see in the biomorphic shapes you create? Are they representative or is it up to the viewer to interpret?
My work has a juxtaposition between landscape and abstraction. The shapes that are tied to the landscape like fog, water, or trails have kind of the same shape. Rivers flow in the same shape as they snake over the environments in the same way the fog comes over. At the same time, the fog shape is also a feeling and you feel more of an emotional thing as much as a physical thing. All the shapes have a shared physical and emotional representation to create a sensory experience.
Is there a relationship between your artistic practice and how you approach the outdoors?
It is all about balance. The more I look at everything I do, it is visual balance, the balance between art and running. That is what it is all about.
How does your approach to art change when making something for a brand versus yourself or a gallery show?
If it is just for myself it is less objective—I don't have to tie it to any certain subject matter or place. When working with brands, everything tells a story—each collection has a story and a place. Certain objects or areas want to be enhanced, so when working with a brand I am telling their story through my filter.
Commissions are half and half, sometimes something they want me to emulate and sometimes it is just what I want to make. I like the challenge of having a story to tell and it makes me think about it more in my work and how I am telling my own story. Again it all comes back to finding a flow and a balance. They all build off each other and that is progression—which is what we all hope for.