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Artists on Art: Denver Creatives Discuss the Local Scene


Cortney Lane Stell, executive director and chief curator for Black Cube Art.

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy.

"Snail Drawing #2," cut paper with snail slime (2016).

Peter Miles Bergman, as illustrated by his wife.

Crush has produced 50,000 square feet of murals in six years.

MATTER owner Rick Griffith has been in the letterpress industry for 20 years.

The itchy-O Marching Band is a dynamic enclave of Denver musicians and performers.

Santiago Jaramillo at work.

BuCu West commissions local artists to create public art on Morrison Road.

Walter McDonald's handiwork.

Five prominent local creatives share their thoughts on standout visual art, urban change in Denver and the evolving meaning of art in the years ahead.
In the waning days of 2016, Confluence Denver quizzed five local arts luminaries about the city's arts scene, their favorite events, trends and exhibitions in recent memory and the evolving messages and challenges for artists in the coming new year.
 
Cortney Lane Stell is executive director and chief curator of Black Cube, a nomadic contemporary art museum.
 
Who is really coming into their own, artistically?
 
It has been so amazing to see Dillon Kogle, Janice Schindler, Cyd Wilkes, Josh Gondrez and Zach Reini work together to build Leisure gallery. Part of a healthy arts ecosystem is young experimental places, like this. These guys have a great sense of space, a unique design aesthetic and have built a community around the space that is dynamic and engaged. I love Leisure!

Cortney Lane Stell, executive director and chief curator for Black Cube Art.Who deserves the local equivalent of a Guggenheim Fellowship?
 
Devon Dikeou deserves to be celebrated in this community and beyond. She is an amazing artist whose practice looks at the art system itself by intertwining collecting and publishing with her art practice. The Dikeou Collection is a must see for all who come to town.

Favorite show or art event this year?
 
Shock Wave, the Japanese Fashion exhibition at the Denver Art Museum's Ponti building, curated by the amazing new fashion and textile curator Florence Müller. In the exhibition she effortless connects high and low culture through fashion and design. The exhibition reveals so much about different Western and Eastern ideas of the body in without being oppressive or dogmatic. It's a gentle, quiet and elegant exhibition. It's not to miss.
 
What's something in Denver that has agitated you creatively? Or someone?
 
It agitates me when artists are not compensated for their labor in producing exhibitions for nonprofit organizations. Nonprofits -- like museums or art centers -- charge entry and program fees, they pay their staff, and should not expect artists to exhibit for the exposure alone. Those institutions know who they are; I don't need to call them out.
 
Lauri Lynnxe Murphy is an artist, writer, independent curator and regular contributor to Westword.
 
Tell me what's happening in Denver art right now.
 
I feel that art -- not just in Denver, but everywhere -- has hit a moment when it is more important than ever. One of the things I've been so encouraged to see is more artists as activists, more artists doing socially engaged work, and more artists being political. I've long been considered a political artist, but I've felt somewhat outside of things sometimes as a result. I'm encouraged to see others using their work to amplify their voices and spread social ideas. I think this is an important part of the job of being an artist, historically, and artists can communicate things that can't be communicated in any other way.
 
One of the best events rounding up these socially engaged artists and also highlighting them is RedLine's yearly event, 48 Hours of Socially Engaged Art. This was the second year; both years featured speakers, workshops, individual artists and installations. I hope it continues to grow, there hasn't been another event like it in this city before, and it is truly community-building and affirming as an event.
 
What's a local development in the cultural realm that has excited you this year?
 
I'm also encouraged by seeing some efforts towards creating funding for artists, something that was missing from the infrastructure of our art scene for many years. Not only that, but institutions stepping up. For example, the generous I'm an Artist Membership program that the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Denver introduced last year. We can always do a lot better than we are, and especially in a time when the city's growth has created new pressures on producers of culture as we struggle to earn enough to stay here, but I hope to see even more support in 2017 and feel positive we are headed in that direction. Artists and creatives have made this town what it is. I'm hoping 2017 finally shows us that Denver has our backs!
 
Peter Miles Bergman is assistant professor of communication design at Metropolitan State University of Denver and special agent in charge at the Institute of Sociometry.
 
Peter Miles Bergman, as illustrated by his wife.What's the thing Denver that most recently made you stop what you were doing to have a look?
 
The last show I went to is the MSU Denver Faculty show at the Center for Visual Art. I was really impressed with the caliber of work from the faculty -- both full- and part-time -- and the staff. This is my home-team so I'm biased but I think this faculty show is particularly strong and that the art and design faculty at MSU Denver constitute the highest concentration of talent in the region. Pieces I particularly liked were "Mapping the Liminal," by Sandy Lane, and "Chicano Avanzar: Correr Fuerte," by Carlos Frésquez.
 
What's something in Denver that has agitated you creatively?
 
My whole creative practice revolves around creatively responding to that which agitates me. I recently moved to Lincoln and Alameda, which is on the border of Wash Park (which my wife Heather calls W.A.S.P. Park) and as such have immersed myself in a much more bourgeoisie environment than West Colfax where I was before. Somewhat in response to that, and the election, Heather and I are going to start an "Anarchist Zines for Little Libraries" program in which we stock those bougie little wooden-house libraries that people put on poles in front of their McMansions to unload their old Deepak Chopra and Harry Potter books with black-and-white photocopied anarchist zines on the police state, queer power, prison art and DIY feminine hygiene. Its educational. It's for the youth.
 
Who is someone you think is really coming into their own artistically?
 
Frank Conecutter Kwiatkowski is my favorite Denver artist. He's currently in Miami wheat-pasting blown-up prints all over Wynwood [a neighborhood famous for graffiti] during Art Basel. Frank has a unique creative voice and is almost monastic in his rigorous commitment to his practice and to the ethic of DIY. He's a Denver native -- born at St. Anthony's -- and has a very proletarian and unique view of the challenges of being a diabetic Denver artist in 2016.
 
People say, with all of these new folks coming into town, there's an influx of creativity and ideas. Have you felt that recently?
 
Potentially. I haven't seen evidence of that per se, but that is the rumor. There obviously are growing pains and the influx has definitely caught the city government flat-footed in terms of rent-control and enhanced infrastructure, but growth is inevitable and I enjoy seeing the changes and welcome newcomers. That sentiment really sells the people who've been here a long time short though -- as if this place had nothing going for it until a bunch of Brooklynites colonized LoHi -- which is a bullshit idea.
 
The flip side I see as a professor is many creative young people who grew up here can't afford to live in Denver and now bus in from the far-flung suburbs. They are also leaving in droves after they graduate from art school. If they're going to have to pay this much rent or spend this much time in traffic they might as well do that in L.A. where there's a chance they could actually make a living being creative.
 
I do think the influx of people and influx of affluence will help all creative people in Denver have a better chance of making a living off of their art. The art community in Denver has been supportive -- but emotionally, not financially.
 
Who is someone new you admire?
 
Daisy Corso -- a student and the studio assistant of our program in the communication design program at MSU Denver where I teach. She transferred here from Ohio last year. Daisy is a very creative designer and artist, is super motivated and professional, and is a really nice positive person and a really helpful co-worker. Buy stock in her now!
 
Crush has produced 50,000 square feet of murals in six years.Who deserves the local equivalent of a Guggenheim Fellowship?
 
Robin Munro of Crush is probably the local artist who has done the most to put Denver on the map with national and international artists and really aesthetically transformed "RiNo" (a made-up buzzword "DoDo" neighborhood name) -- and all outside, literally, the gallery and museum context. He's a super talented painter in his own right and an organizational genius.
 
Describe Denver's moment in art in three to five words. 
 
Label it and it's dead.
 
Denver has always had a reputation for being collaborative, creatively. Still true?
 
Absolutely! The MCA, for a big one, is working with local artists in interesting ways that is almost unheard of among MCA's in other cities. Molly Bounds, who is only a couple years out of art school, had an exhibit there and they accommodated her request to hold a zine fair and invite all her friends to sell their odd DIY art. That type of thing absolutely does not happen at other museums.
 
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Jolt of Guerrilla Garden's new project "West Side Walls," in the alleys behind Santa Fe Drive, is a really interesting way of providing a sanctioned and branded street art collection that is able to stay true to the street and traditions of graffiti that's not a sanitized and corporate-sponsored co-option of "street art."
 
What was your favorite show or art event this year and why?
 
Strike Everywhere by Ravi Zuppa at Black Book Gallery. Ravi Zupa is the ultra-rare artist that lives up to the hype. His concepts are air-tight and his technique is absolutely incredible. This was the type of show that raises the bar internationally -- that totally transcends Denver.
 
Favorite new piece of public or street art?
 
It's not totally new, but last fall's White Mirror -- a Denver Public Art-commissioned dance piece by Lemon Sponge Cake Ballet commemorating the Babi Yar massacre in Ukraine that was held at Babi Yar Memorial Park. I'm not a big contemporary dance guy but as a novice viewer (and full disclosure, member of the public art commission that selected it) I was really impressed by the artistry and athleticism of the choreography and narrative. I also think it's really progressive of the city to commission a dance piece or any type of ephemeral performance. A typical public art program is either bronze statuary or -- what Tom Wolfe so aptly described as -- "the turd on the plaza." Denver Public Art is absolutely not like that. They are cutting-edge.
 
Something you hope is on its way out?
 
I'm really tired of artists complaining about being gentrified out of neighborhoods they themselves gentrified working class people out of. It is a messed-up situation but there are plenty of examples of how to either organize and come up with positive solutions or respond creatively as an activist. Yet another Facebook post on this topic isn't going to solve anything.
 
What are you hoping to see in 2017?
 
I think recent events -- especially the election of a nihilistic, corporate, racist narcissist as president -- is a great opportunity for creative people. Art has been really really bland, decorative, and devoid of any meaningful message in the last eight years. Street art for one has devolved to a kind of self-congratulatory exercise in formalism in which the most meaningful thing anyone has to portray is a sexy lady or a fantasy animal or some cartoon characters. I'm looking for that generation to rediscover its power to challenge an oppressive status quo, and to bomb the streets like it did in the Reagan/Thatcher era. It's the broken windows theory of art! If your neighborhood seems too fascistic and sanitized just a few broken windows is all it takes to turn the neighborhood back into a bohemian slum!
 
Rick Griffith is the owner of MATTER, a design and typography studio and laboratory.
 
Rick Griffith. Photo by Kara Pearson Gwinn.What's the thing Denver that most recently made you stop what you were doing to have a look?
 
I've been interested in the influence of architecture in Denver, from the Hamilton wing of the Denver Art Museum to the bridge across the train tracks to the transportation hub and Spire, I relate to all cities through the architecture and through the public spaces they imply.
 
What's something in Denver that has agitated you creatively? Or someone?
 
I have a hard time with peers, I don't feel like I have many, but maybe it's because I'm a bit of an introvert, creatively, I work in a team but I am also always working on private or small projects on my own. I think Dateline Gallery is hosting some great work. Though I assure you we do not have enough galleries in RiNo.
 
Who is someone you think is really coming into their own artistically? What do you admire about their work and what is its place here?
 
Kyle Warfield is an artist I think Denver should enjoy a lot more of. He has a mural in RiNo. He's showing at the MCA group show right now. His work is innocent and uncomplicated. It seems like a brave conscious decision to make this type of work in a time where I think people and artists in particular seem entitled to make work with adult themes.
 
Who is someone new you admire?
 
Sean Campbell is a really sweet guy, seems legitimately interested in Denver and how to make it great. Ama Mills-Robertson seemed new to Denver a few years back.
 
The itchy-O Marching Band is a dynamic enclave of Denver musicians and performers.Who are some of the true geniuses working here now?
 
Scott Banning of itchy-O -- from where I sit -- is the most deserving but there is action in the many parts of Denver, just if you have ever experienced this marching band you should know it's a gift to Denver's past, present and, if we get it right, the future.
 
What are they getting really right?
 
The courage to get on with it.
 
Describe Denver's moment in art in three to five words.
 
More talent getting more opportunities.
 
Denver has always had a reputation for being collaborative, creatively. Still true?
 
I feel there are established communities of practitioners. CVA is a creative hub, and trying really hard to include some young new talent in our creative ecosystem of ideas.
 
What was your favorite show or art event this year?
 
Marilyn Minter, Pretty/Dirty, at MCA.
 
Favorite new piece of public or street art?
 
All of it. Art does not please me. Nor should the maker feel compelled to please me or people like me. Especially public art and street art. Artists should take delight in their own works and their own pleasure, I trust them they way I trust a doctor. Experts in every way, and when I'm buying it's their job to entertain me as a customer. Otherwise, let me compel all artists to "be compelled."
 
Something you hope is on its way out?
 
Boring and repetitive architecture. As a habit. But as a side note: We can't do murals fast enough on the Cherry Creek bike path for me. It's all very exciting work.
 
What are you hoping to see in 2017 in response to current events?
 
I moved to the United States when Reagan was president, we was a special kind of denier he made life difficult for many of my gay brothers and sisters, we made a punk rock that was inclusive and special. I hope that many other young people get their chance to make a creative gesture as meaningful and long lasting. I'll help fund and produce the best new ideas that come my way. I'm certain.
 
Santiago Jaramillo is a painter, muralist, Denver native and a leader of Westwood's thriving street art scene.
 
Santiago Jaramillo at work.What's something in Denver that has excited you creatively?
 
With BuCu West and D3 Arts, we are trying to turn Morrison Road into an art district in Westwood. We want to put more public art up and make changes to accommodate an art district. Westwood Unidos and Re:Vision are also part of the efforts as well. Councilman Paul Lopez would like to help us in anyway he can. What frustrates me about Denver is the lack of city or government support to neighborhoods that are seeking funds and support. The city has for the most not supported us, I feel.
 
Who is someone whose work you admire?
 
Walter McDonald, owner of Lifetime Tattoo. I absolutely love his art and his tattooing style. Best shop in Denver. His art inspires me, and I admire Walter because of his work ethic and because he does the art he wants to do and doesn't cater to anyone or go with trends. He is one of my best friends so I know him on a personal level. He's on Instagram as @saltywalt. Check him out.
 
Denver's moment in art in three to five words?
 
Boring, predictable and forced. I think I might fit into this as well. I have to make a living off my art so I sometimes do things that aren't what I truly want to do, and the stuff I want to do, people say, "I like it but it's too crazy" or "It scares me."
 
What are you hoping to see in 2017 as a response to current events?
 
Hopefully people will see the value in art and how hard it really is to make it. I guess what I'm saying is that maybe a movement of artists and art enthusiasts can start a movement to show the value of art and its influence on people and the world around us. How it can transform lives and inspire. I know it has in my own life.

Read more articles by Laura Bond.

A former editor and staff writer with Westword, Laura Bond has written for Rolling StoneUSAA and Spin, among others. She is the principal of Laura Bond, Ink., a content and communications strategy firm that serves nonprofits across metro Denver.
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