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Colorado, you already get your veggies from a CSA, shop for your snowboards at Weston, and drink small-batch, Denver-made craft brews. It’s time to get local when you buy your art, too, because the Mile High City’s community of talented artists is diverse and growing—which is both good and bad news. On one hand, there are so many compelling pieces to choose from; on the other, it’s tough to know where to start. To help you in your quest, we asked a few local art experts—a gallerist, a museum curator, and two art consultants—to share some of their favorite Centennial State artists of the moment. Whether you’re a veteran art buyer or collecting newbie, the following names should be on your radar.
1. Shawn Huckins
The Expert: Ann Benson Reidy, Ann Benson Reidy & Associates
What do the Digital Revolution and the American Revolution have in common? It sounds like the beginning of a cringe-worthy joke, but for Denver-based artist Shawn Huckins, the question has sparked intriguing (and hilarious) oil paintings. “I thought that was a very interesting concept, to combine our new way of communicating with high society from the past,” he says. “The irony between the two worlds is fascinating to me.” That paradox is particularly striking in recent works: portraits of notable colonials (think: George Washington and Thomas Jefferson) overlaid with white text reading “LOL” and “SRSLY.” Since moving to Denver five years ago, Huckins has crafted these tongue-in-cheek images of 18th-century pioneers and Western landscape scenes for his Goodwin Fine Art show The American _tier. Ann Benson Reidy, a Denver-based art consultant who works with private collectors and corporations, loves how Huckins’ art can be interpreted as funny or serious. “His work is incredibly contemplative,” she says. “And it’s political but still humorous…. Plus, he’s an amazingly skilled painter.”
(available through Goodwin Fine Art)
2. Anna Kaye
The Expert: Bobbi Walker, Walker Fine Art
If you live in Colorado, you’re familiar with the idea of a summer wildfire season. But for local artist Anna Kaye, who grew up in Michigan, the idea of cyclical fires was intriguing and new. In her charcoal-and-graphite drawings and watercolors, as well as time-lapse videos, Kaye depicts animals and plants in the process of recovering after a blaze. After seeing an exhibition of her fire-inspired work, gallerist Bobbi Walker was particularly struck by her use of charcoal. “Anna Kaye’s execution is flawless, and her message heartfelt,” she says. The artist’s stark black-and-white images perfectly depict the destruction caused by natural disasters, but her lifelike—and occasionally colorful—flora and fauna highlight the resilience of nature. “That’s what inspires me,” Kaye says. “After a big fire, you can watch species come back. They push through the obstacles and eventually thrive.” And, because she donates a portion of her proceeds to the Colorado State Forest Service, helping to conserve the natural beauty of the Centennial State is as easy as buying one of her drawings for your home.
(available through Sandra Phillips Gallery)
3. Joel Swanson
The Expert: Katherine Sharp, Nine Dot Arts
All day, nonstop, language and technology intersect (#amiright?), and that sweet spot is exactly where Joel Swanson loves to create. “I think a lot about words and how the technologies we use to inscribe words shape our meanings and affect communication,” says the artist, who creates digital art, sculpture, and interactive installations. His work ranges from heartwarming (an exhibition of words cut from handwritten letters) to thought-provoking (prints of spacebars that urge viewers to consider the idea of “space and pauses” in the Digital Age). Curator Katherine Sharp, who has worked at the Denver-based art-consulting firm Nine Dot Arts for several years, believes Swanson is taking a smart and innovative approach to a familiar topic. “He encourages you to look at language in an entirely new way, even though you see words all the time,” she says. “I think what he does is really fascinating.”
(available at David B. Smith Gallery)
4. Molly Berger
The Expert: Zoe Larkins, MCA Denver
When ceramic artist Molly Berger started college in Pennsylvania, she had never even touched clay, but a senior-year ceramics class was such a satisfying experience that Berger was hooked. Since then, she’s completed residences at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village and the Carbondale Clay Center—with the goal of refining her craft and using it to explore ideas of utility and beauty: Some of her exhibits have featured ceramic objects that resemble, but aren’t quite, tools and utensils. The installations encourage viewers to consider the ways in which precious memories cling to otherwise unremarkable things. Museum of Contemporary Art Denver assistant curator Zoe Larkins was particularly taken by Berger’s exhibition for Black Cube last year. “There’s an intimate quality to her works…but there’s also an element of the uncanny, a surrealism to them,” she says. In addition to these installations, Berger makes functional tableware using the pinch-and-coil method. Her cups, mugs, and plates are elegant but retain a rustic quality—in part because her fingerprints are visible on the finished products. “I leave evidence of my hands on the clay because I think the marks from my fingers add a sense of warmth to the finished objects,” she says.
(available through Artstream Nomadic Gallery)
5. Jane Guthridge
The Expert: Bobbi Walker
If hiking a fourteener is your idea of a relaxing afternoon, Jane Guthridge’s nature-inspired artwork is sure to resonate with you. “Being out in nature always brings people such peace and joy. I want to bring that feeling inside with my art,” she says. To accomplish this goal, she uses materials that interact with natural light. In her encaustic pieces, for example, she saturates lightweight mulberry paper with multiple layers of paint to create a translucent look, while her hanging Dura-Lar installations reflect and shimmer as the light hits them. Bobbi Walker gives Guthridge kudos for her pursuit of the ethereal. “Jane’s use of translucent mediums captures nature in the Colorado light like no one else,” Walker says. So even if you can’t trek in the mountains every day, her work might give you some of the tranquility you seek.
(available through Space Gallery)
New collectors, take note: Our experts have a few tips for art-buyers.
- Expose yourself to as many styles of art as you can. It takes time to discover what you like.
- Avoid impulse buying. If a piece is in your home, you’ll see it every single day, so have a conversation with yourself to make sure it’ll move you on a daily basis.
- Hit up art markets, like the one run by the Art Students League of Denver each summer, to find unique and affordable pieces.
- Notice strong reactions to a piece—even if they’re negative. Sometimes work that challenges you is the work you’ll end up loving most.
- Talk to gallery owners and be up front about your budget. They want to help you find art you love—and can afford.
- Ask gallery owners if they have smaller works on paper when you fall in love with something that’s out of your price range. They’re usually a little more affordable.
- Visit open studios and museum events to talk to artists. Learning about their creative processes will make you appreciate their work even more.
All of these Colorado artists have earned our experts’ stamp of approval.
- Duke Beardsley: This sixth-generation Coloradan paints modern Western scenes featuring cowboys that look inspired by pop art.
- Joseph Coniff: In his newer pieces, the artist uses digital tools to craft images of flowers.
- Kim Dickey: The Boulder-based ceramicist often creates earthy, leaf-and-petal-covered sculptures.
- Ana María Hernando: The Argentina native makes paintings as well as mixed-media works, many of which feature floral images.
- Monroe Hodder: Using broad brushstrokes, this painter composes massive abstracts. “She’s fearless. She explores unlimited possibilities with color,” says Benson Reidy.
- Hadley Hooper: In addition to crafting picture-book illustrations and fairytale-inspired installation pieces, this creative helped found the River North Arts District.
- Heidi Jung: Her training in photography is apparent in the hyper-realistic, detailed drawings of plants and insects she creates.
- Wes Magyar: This CU alumnus is known for his detailed oil portraits.
- William Matthews: A beloved hometown artist, Matthews creates realistic watercolors of Western landscapes.
- Mark Penner-Howell: Influences from vintage advertising and graphic design can be found in Penner-Howell’s intriguing paintings and illustrations. “He reflects our time and makes us think,” Walker says.
- Diego Rodriguez-Warner: A master of multiple mediums, Rodriguez-Warner stands out for his bright paintings that hint at both historically famous artists and pop culture. “He makes work that’s totally distinctive; not like what others are doing,” Larkins says.
- Laura Shill: The Denver artist addresses big ideas of intimacy and feminism in her thought-provoking prints, photos, and installations. “All her work is so different but still so good,” Larkins says. “She really understands the topics she works with.”
- Derrick Velasquez: Perhaps best known for his vinyl wall pieces, this Mile High City artist opened a gallery in his basement. “He has really interesting, smart approaches to sculpture,” Sharp says.
- Scott Young: One of Denver’s sharpest conceptual artists, Young has recently used neon signs as his medium—and invited us all to consider themes such as commercialism and love in the Digital Age.