Denver author Peter Heller's gripping new novel "The Painter" is about an artist, Jim Stegner, who moves to Paonia, Colo., for a fresh start.

Stegner is a recovering alcoholic, his marriage has fallen apart, he's been in prison and he's lost a child.

"He's a guy that has a huge, generous soul and a good heart, but often finds himself in trouble," Heller says.

Heller based Stegner's character on a friend, the famous New Mexico artist Jim Wagner. A painful event from Wagner's life is depicted in the opening pages. Stegner, as did Wagner, shot a man in a bar who made a lewd comment about his child, Heller says.

The shooting behind him, Heller's character Stegner looks forward to a life of painting and flyfishing in Colorado's North Fork Valley. But more trouble is in store.

Heller's main character was inspired to become a painter after seeing "The Fog Warning" by Winslow Homer in a museum.

Photo: Courtesy Google Art Project

Heller weaves real-life art into the novel. As a young man, the character, Stegner, stumbles into an art museum after a street fight. Inside, he sees Winslow Homer's 1885 painting "The Fog Warning." Stegner is so entranced by the image, he decides to become a painter. 

"The Painter" is Heller's second novel. His first, "The Dog Stars," is being turned into a movie.

Colorado Matters at The Tattered continues June 16, when host Ryan Warner speaks with New Yorker writer and short story author Antonya Nelson about her new collection "Funny Once."