Denver’s Five Points gallery, RedLine, opened its annual exhibit featuring 29 current and recent alumni resident artists with, Nice Work If You Can Get It, on January 20, 2017. The new exhibit is as an exploration of the reality of making it as an artist through hard work, space and funding.
Nice Work If You Can Get It is curated by Daisy McGowan, gallery director and curator for the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Colorado Springs. McGowan’s goal with the exhibit is to put a spotlight on the work and sacrifices of artists for the general public. Over the course of a year, McGowan challenged the resident artists to create pieces in response to the question: What does it mean and what does it take to sustain a creative life?
In order to answer this question, local artists examined their lives and the struggles and sacrifices made in the pursuit of their art. Each piece is a reflection of the artist’s unique struggle towards defining success for themselves and what it means to be an innovative artist against a pragmatic backdrop filled with bills to pay and the practicalities of surviving.
“Committing to working as an artist demands not only hyper-sensitivity to the truths of the world, but also tenacity, courage and willingness to sacrifice,” states McGowan in her curator’s statement. She goes on to highlight the sacrifices artists often make in other areas of their lives in order to prioritize their art and grasp their individual idea of success in the art world. It can be a daily struggle of survival in a city like Denver where the rental and real estate markets are sky-high and legal marijuana production is overtaking once affordable warehouse space.
Explore some of RedLine’s resident artists’ pieces from the exhibit below and find out how they define what it means and what it takes to sustain their creative lives.
In the piece, “With or Without,” Sandra Fettingis explores the impermanence of public artwork and the struggle to create amidst an ever-changing environment. Fettingis has experienced first-hand the destruction and removal of her art.
“This piece is a reflection of the changes Denver is currently experiencing that has brought both opportunity and challenge to many, including artists, who continue to construct anew with or without fallen pieces of the impermanent past,” Fettingis stated.
Becky Wareing Steele explores the idea that being an artist isn’t something that only happens when in the studio. “[It is] present when I’m starting my morning at home, in the quiet moments between tasks at work; inspiration strikes at any time and often when I’m not focusing on it,” Wareing Steele said.
Wareing Steele’s three box-like pieces in “Art, Life and Work” invite the observer to peek into the spaces outside of the studio where she is constantly creating art long before entering the studio.
Stepping into the unknown and discovering new possibilities are risks that artists must take in order to push boundaries and make a name for themselves. This journey can be along a convoluted path where the right direction is not always clear and obstacles must be overcome.
Thomas “Detour” Evans created “Gravity,” a 3-D interactive piece that allows the viewer to experience sound-bites from the moments of an artist’s life. Crumpling of papers, the scratching of pencils, a professor’s lecture and voices of art dealers can be heard while wearing headphones and touching the individual, brightly colored balls on the forestand.
“To be a full-time artist is to journey into the unknown while having your livelihood depend on success being on the other side,” Evans said.
Walk into Esther Hernandez’s “This Must Be The Place” and experience the topsy-turvy imagination and creativity that shines through the mundane of the daily grind to become something entirely unique.
“Time is money, they say. We all have to work to meet our basic needs, but work and money don’t feed me like art does. And art doesn’t necessarily pay the bills all the time,” Hernandez said.
Andrew Huffman is happy to take on whatever side-jobs necessary in order to continue to enjoy artistic freedom. Huffman’s piece, “Locus-Projection”, is an intricate weaving of string that conveys a sense of meticulous dedication. A dedication that he applies towards his endeavors to sustain himself as an artist.
“Making a living solely off art can be paralleled to strategically gambling with your life. At times, it is hard to predict your next big sale that propels you into next month or next year. I tackle this notion by doing whatever it takes to dedicate myself to my practice,” Huffman said.
For Mario Zoots, being a successful artist is all about the work one puts into it. He embodies the street art life and culture idea that is the phrase: Put in work. “To put in work is to apply personal initiative and responsibility throughout a duration of time, in order to accomplish either a short or long-term goal,” Zoots said.
Frankie Toan amplifies small wounds in “Tower of Hands” in an attempt to make unseen labor visible. Toan questions what bodies matter and what labor is appreciated as he compares his studio work and his behind-the-scenes position at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, along with various other positions he’s held in his lifetime.
“As an artist in Denver, and more broadly, the U.S., I feel it is high time that we question the correlation between work and value,” said Toan. He asks, “What labor do we appreciate in what ways?”
Wandering through Nice Work If You Can Get It, patrons are presented with a giant wall listing some of the jobs the artists have undertaken in order to fund their passion to create. It is extensive, filling the gallery wall from top to bottom and they aren’t the most glamorous of jobs. As one moves from piece to piece, taking in the breadth of intricacy and detail involved in every body of work and then moving aside to read each artist’s statement, it becomes clear as to what it takes to “make it” as an artist. Dedication, passion, talent — yes, those must be present — but when one gets down to it, it takes sacrifice, funding, space and the ability and discipline to put in the work.
The exhibit runs through February 26, 2017 at RedLine gallery as the first in the five-part series of their (Dis)Place exhibitions. Each exhibition will focus on the complicated layers of community, resources and location that make up a “place”. For a mere five dollar suggested donation, one can explore just how each artist has been able to “make it” as an artist in Denver.
All photography by Kyle Cooper.