If you are surrounded by bears, brides, prostitutes, fire and shoes all in one booth at the Columbus Arts Festival, you have entered the arena of painter Paul Tepper.

He's one of 10 artists selected to exhibit under the festival's new Emerging Artist Program. These exhibitors have no experience selling their artwork in an outdoor setting. As part of the program, several of the show's vendor veterans will mentor them throughout the weekend (see sidebar).

Tepper drinks a cocktail of inspiration mixed with everything from Renoir to Ryden, Jay-Z to Jesus.

"I love the texture of Van Gogh," Tepper said, "and the technique of Rembrandt."

He lives and paints in a red house in the Discovery District. The studio is home to a smattering of stuff that burns in him the urge to create. Bible verses on a desk and a Jim Tressel quote on a wall. Dr. Seuss books. A plastic tiger. A photo of Frederick Douglass. A pet snake.

Even with his busy palette of idea sources and knowledgeable admiration of painting's masters and pop surrealism's all-stars, Tepper does not regurgitate.

"Art is a conversation," he said. "I want to paint a response to everything else."

Andy Warhol shared the story he witnessed every day. Tepper wants to tell a story to enhance the way viewers see the everyday.

His fantastic figures act out themes of love, femininity and forgiveness. When reading Tepper's paintings, dark is for doubt, gold for hope, fire for passion (both dangerous and good), empty shoes for the presence of a promise.

Tepper's booth at the arts festival this weekend is his first step from galleries into open-air art markets, where he hopes to go from "emerging artist" to pro. But trust he'll keep his inspirations around.

"I keep those art history books out," he said, "to keep logs on the fire."

Check him out: