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A mural by celebrated local artist Emanuel Martinez in LoDo’s new Kachina Cantina restaurant. Photograph by Adam Larkey

State of the Art

Immerse yourself in Denver's art world with help from our guide to what to see and experience right now.

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Art At Home

The five local artists to watch—and collect. Plus, tips for art-buying in the Mile High City.

1. Kristen Hatgi Sink

Photo courtesy of Kristen Hatgi Sin

Denver native and fine art photographer Kristen Hatgi Sink’s new exhibition “Honey” at the MCA Denver (through August 26) is a video series of—you guessed it—honey dripping over composed objects, such as fruit, flowers, and even a young woman. Sink’s work has long explored femininity, and this show, like her still photo-graphic work, is a study of sensuality and the natural world.

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2. Diego Rodriguez-Warner

Photo courtesy of Diego Rodriguez

Printmaker-turned-painter Diego Rodriguez-Warner “is pretty much the most important artist in Denver right now, as far as I’m concerned…because his work is about what it means to be alive at this point in time,” says Eric Nord, co-owner of Leon Gallery. Rodriguez-Warner creates work that is hard to ignore, employing vibrant colors and vaguely familiar images from famous painters (Is that a nod to Matisse? Picasso?) and from pop culture. To make his art, he covers wood panels with paint and stain, but also digs into his printmaking roots by carving into the wood surfaces. The results are captivating and well worth the time it takes to explore them.

3. Ramón Bonilla

Photo courtesy of Ramón Bonilla

Ramón Bonilla’s paintings employ architectural lines and sharp-edged geometric forms to explore the relationships among objects and their environments, an approach that tips its hat (intentionally or not) to life in Colorado. Within the fictional landscapes, you might see mountains, buildings, or other shapes that rise and fold on the page. The work is often minimalist in style—but never cold or static. This former RedLine Contemporary Art Center resident’s works range from small—a recent series included paintings on four-inch wood squares—to large-scale murals (check out “Untitled” at Stanley Marketplace).

4. Kaitlyn Tucek

Photo courtesy of Kaitlyn Tucek

An illustrator by training, Kaitlyn Tucek has added brushstrokes, spray paint, and even thread to her work. The result is a series of paintings that, through intense bursts of color, explore the emotional minefield of mothering a child with a congenital heart defect. The effect is raw and real—thread stitches the canvas together, neon pink paint drips—and beautiful. Tucek’s inspiration may be painful, but her works are hopeful and even incandescent.

5. Kim Dickey

Photo courtesy of Kim Dickey

Display one of ceramicist Kim Dickey’s large-scale “tapestries” in your garden, and summer will bloom there all year long. The artist and professor at the University of Colorado Boulder shapes, glazes, and assembles thousands of terra-cotta “leaves” to create sculptural landscapes that extol the texture, complexity, and beauty of the outside world. We also covet her smaller-scale works, which include plant-inspired stoneware vessels.

Collecting Museum-Quality Art…For Free?

Earlier this year, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Denver launched an art-lending program called the Octopus Initiative. Here’s how it works: Denver residents enter a lottery to borrow a piece of contemporary art from the museum. If their name is drawn, they take the framed work home, enjoy it for 10 months, and then return it to the museum. Says Nora Burnett Abrams, curator at the museum: “This program is intended to support artists and our city at large. The two are very connected; a thriving artistic community is itself a thriving city.” Plus, she adds, “being surrounded by great art enhances your quality of life.” The museum commissioned 225 works—all from Denver artists, some of whom have shown at MCA Denver—for the lending library, and on the 15th of each month, the museum releases a new batch of loaners. Art-lovers can register online and hope they’re among the lucky ones.

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Beyond the Gallery

“Museums and galleries will always be the go-to models [for seeing and buying art], but I think people are looking for experience-based art,” says Drew Austin, an artist-in-residence at the Temple, an artist space and gallery housed in a former temple in Five Points. “They want things they really can remember, instead of just an object to look at.” Here are a few new ways we like to experience art in Denver.

Photo courtesy of Third Dune Productions

Un-Museums

If you happened to catch Happy City: Art for the People, a multi-media, multi-installation “pop-up” art project throughout Denver’s public spaces earlier this year, then you’ve already experienced the power of Black Cube. The nonprofit calls itself a “nomadic contemporary art museum,” which means it has no brick-and-mortar location. (In the art world, indoor galleries and museum spaces are called “white cubes”; the name “Black Cube” plays the foil to this idea.) Its exhibitions—created by local, national, and international artists—appear for a limited time, usually in the public sphere, then disappear as quietly as they arrived (think: a giant inflatable prospector near the Colorado State Capitol building, and an “Emotional Baggage Drop Off” kiosk at Union Station). “The most powerful contemporary art relates to the world we’re in,” Black Cube executive director and chief curator Cortney Lane Stell says. “It might be a mirror; it might offer different worldviews. It can inspire curiosity. We like to pick challenging contemporary artwork, the kind you might not think is art at first look.”

Photo courtesy of Jen Lewin Studio

Activated Alleyways

Art shows up in the most unlikely places, including garages (see sommerbrowning.com/georgia and minervaprojects.org for two new examples of artists tucking galleries into actual garages) and alleys. In April, the Alley at Dairy Block—which runs parallel to Wazee and Blake streets, connecting 18th and 19th streets—opened behind the renovated Dairy Block building (dairyblock.com) with thought-provoking, permanent, interactive exhibits like Jen Lewin’s “Promenade” light-up tiles and Nikki Pike’s “Musical Churns” that reference the building’s history. It’s worth a stop—and some reflection—the next time you’re in LoDo.

Photo courtesy of Meg O’Neill Photography

Murals!

We can’t talk about Denver art without mentioning the ubiquitous large-scale murals going up seemingly everywhere (even beyond the boundaries of RiNo, where the craze began). Among our favorites are the whimsical, mostly black-and-white winged murals (three of them in Colorado so far) by Kelsey Montague. They’re dialogue-provoking (her hashtag #WhatLiftsYou is meant to start a conversation in a divided country) and, it turns out, highly Instagrammable: Taylor Swift took a selfie in front of one of Montague’s New York City murals and launched the artist to instant fame. We also love Molly Bounds’ crisp, breezy, almost comic-book-like glimpses of daily life and the vibrant color-blocked portraits by the artist Detour.

Get Schooled

Three ways to learn more about Denver art.

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Take a Tour: Sign up for the Cherry Creek Trail Urban Arts Fund Bike Mural Tour and take a guided cruise along the path with a public art administrator to learn more about Denver’s grand plan to combat graffiti with art.

Talk to an Artist: Visit RedLine Contemporary Art Center (Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.), which hosts two-year residency programs for emerging artists—and allows you to observe those creatives as they get down to business.

Think Big Picture: Explore artists’ unique perspectives—and get a dose of inspiration—by attending a monthly meeting of Creatives at Roundish Tables (CART), where local artists get together to chat about such topics as inclusive art communities and social responsibility in art. Each discussion is hosted by founder (and artist) Moe Gram and a guest, and covers a different topic in a different space. So shake up your evening plans (no Netflix on the couch) and get ready to change the way you think about art.

Artist to Watch: Detour

If things had gone as planned, Thomas Evans (aka “Detour”) would have had a long and fruitful career in the military. But a bad knee kept him out of the service—and almost certainly launched his art career. Unsure of his future, Evans, who was a hobby artist at the time, went to Tanzania with the Indigenous Education Foundation to work at a school and teach art on the side. In Africa, Evans painted his first mural—and decided to pursue his passion for art full-time. Upon returning to Denver, he began making art of all kinds, eventually landing a studio at the contemporary artist group Temple and an invitation to Crush, RiNo’s annual public street-art event, in 2015. These days, Evans’ color-saturated “abstract pop” portraits appear on garage doors and warehouse walls all over the city. Accessibility is a common theme for Evans; every Tuesday he offers a pro tip (ranging from a new spray-paint technique to business advice) to his 54,000-plus Instagram followers. @detour303

Art in Real Life

Look closely and you’ll find that art and design are part of your everyday routines in and around the Mile High City. Here, we share a few highlights worth seeking out.

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Hotels and Restaurants

Long the domain of mass-produced paintings, hotels and restaurants in Denver have become the new art galleries. A recent spate of boutique hotels has led the movement, debuting beautiful original pieces by local artists. And our restaurants have evolved far beyond those ho-hum, modern-farmhouse-rustic themes into wild and exciting destinations. Nine Dot Arts, a Denver-based art-advisory firm that worked with the Maven Hotel at the Dairy Block in LoDo, has helped businesses curate their collections. “What we do is take a regular environment and transform it into an experiential and cohesive space,” says Chris Roth, associate curator with Nine Dot Arts. “I think a successful art collection [in a public space] has pieces that you like and pieces you don’t like. That’s what draws people in; that’s what starts conversations.” Here are five destinations that deliver serious inspiration.

Photo courtesy of Stephan Werk Media

1. Take in the 780-square-foot, black-and-white, and boldly graphic (almost Picasso-esque) mural “Endless War,” by Los Angeles artist Cleon Peterson, at RiNo’s new Source Hotel—and stay for the modern-rustic folk art by famed Denver artist Jaime Molina. 3330 Brighton Blvd.

Photo courtesy of Matter Design

2. At Super Mega Bien, a “Latin American dim sum” concept restaurant adjacent to the new Ramble Hotel, be sure to look skyward at the ceiling installation, which was fashioned from nearly 2,000 hanging wooden dowels (and created by architecture and design firm Liv Studio). 1280 25th St.

3. Find a version of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s “Big Sweep” in the Portico Gallery at The Art, A Hotel—and stay to check out everything else. Dianne Vanderlip, former curator of modern and contemporary art at the Denver Art Museum, handpicked the collection. Schedule a free tour on Saturdays. 1201 Broadway

4. North Denver’s newest food hall, Zeppelin Station, features 10 vendors serving food and drinks from across the globe. The design, by Dynia Architects, is subdued and modern, which helps artwork, like Bree Corn’s Chinese-takout-box mural, pop. 3501 Wazee St.

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Photo courtesy of Adam Larkey

5. Consider the enormous-yet-intricate hand sculpture, by Colorado Springs artist Andrew Ramiro Tirado, hanging above the lobby of the Maven hotel. The piece is just one of 700-plus pieces of local art tucked into the hotel’s design. 1850 Wazee St.

Save The Date!

Early 2020
No conversation about the future of Denver’s art scene is complete without a mention of the highly anticipated Meow Wolf project. A Denver outpost of an immersive-art destination (imagine a carnival funhouse for art-lovers) created by the eponymous Santa Fe arts group is slated to open in early 2020 in a $50-million building near Broncos Stadium at Mile High. Tickets are already on sale.

September 1–2
Artists from Five Points’ Temple and community members will transform three floors of studio space into a giant “exploratorium” and host the Temple Tantrum, a 4,000-person costume party complete with installations, performances, and live music. “Meow Wolf is our main sponsor,” says Lewis Neeff, artist and the brains behind the event. “Temple Tantrum will be a festival of characters for everyone.” $25–$45 ticket (per day)

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