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To call Jerry De La Cruz an artist would be an understatement. For more than 40 years, he has toggled between mediums and styles. His Lincoln Park studio (which takes up half of the first floor of his house) is bursting with still-in-progress sculptures, paintings dating back to adolescence, drawers upon drawers of old sketches and studies, and shelves of collectibles that may or may not ever be used. De La Cruz isn’t bound by traditional definitions—rather, he seems to view art on a continuum, one on which he jumps around depending on the day, his mood, and what images are calling to him from the deepest recesses of his creative soul.
Starting this month, you can experience the diversity of his works and his enduring talent with Jerry De La Cruz: A Road Well Traveled, a 45-year retrospective opening at Museo de las Americas on October 15. Approximately 90 pieces—from drawings crafted as a young man to contemporary digital collages—will be on display as De La Cruz takes over the entire venue. Interestingly, the majority come from the artist’s personal collection, though a dozen or so are being borrowed from collectors. “I picked out works based on a timeline,” he says. “I wanted it to be more accessible—a story of a person who happened to be an artist.” As you travel through the museum, you’ll see what De La Cruz calls “radical shifts,” from traditional to abstract, from portrait paintings to playful collages.
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Born in Denver in 1948, De La Cruz first discovered his artistic skill around age eight when he won first place—a dollar bill—in a kids’ coloring contest hosted by the Denver Post. He focused on painting in the style of traditional realism straight out of art school, saying now, “Denver when I was growing up was a traditional, conservative place.” He was surrounded by landscapes and Western art and not much else. Slowly, his focus shifted; he created political commentary and figurative works. He crafted humorous versions of reliquaries (containers for holy relics). During the 1990s, he taught at the Art Students League of Denver while simultaneously running a bilingual radio station in Pueblo. He became the first living Hispanic to have his or her work purchased by the Denver Art Museum for its permanent contemporary collection. Today, De La Cruz says his work is an amalgam of all those years. Technical skill meets whimsical personality. His latest collages merge historical imagery with modern sensibilities (and contemporary technology).
“As a community museum, it’s our role to celebrate an artist with such great accomplishments,” says Museo curator Maruca Salazar. “His unique approach allows the public to relate to his aesthetic and see their reflections in his work through themes of self-identity and socioeconomic issues. His work enriches the lives of our community.”
A lengthy catalog (read: approximately 200 pages) will be available for purchase in conjunction with the exhibition. De La Cruz wrote it himself, spending months scouring archival notebooks from as far back as 1968 to develop a timeline of his works and make a narrative out of his progression as an artist—so far. “This retrospective doesn’t mean it’s over,” he says. “There’s no retirement.”
Details: Jerry De La Cruz: A Road Well Traveled runs October 15 through January 16 at Museo de las Americas. General admission is $5. The opening reception on Thursday, October 15 (6 to 9 p.m.) is free. De La Cruz will also host a catalog signing on Friday, October 23, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.