Denver’s art and culture community has blossomed in the last few years, giving artists a reason to stay in the city to create rather than finding opportunity elsewhere. Whether that’s fortuitous or intentional, Denverites can get excited to experience a wide range of artistic enterprises this coming year from their local artists. From more traditional styles of oil painting to technological installations, Denver’s artists are covering new ground and gaining attention outside the state as well as within. Here at 303 Magazine, we spent the last month tracking down and talking to Denver artists who embrace their own style and are finding success in doing it, detailed below.
Ladies Fancywork Society
Four spirited, fun-loving and adventurous women make up the Ladies Fancywork Society— Lauren Seip, Jessica Eaton, Jesse Dawson and Tymla Welch. They started their large-scale crocheted installations as rogue artists, “yarn-bombing” various objects around Denver, including the Big Blue Bear and the statues at the Denver Center for Performing Arts. For the last two years, LFS has participated in the annual street art festival in RiNo—CRUSH—with pieces that become landmarks in the neighborhood. LFS is confronted with a high demand for their artwork as the appearance of their crocheted installations spread across the city. This includes a recent collaboration piece at the University of Colorado, Boulder where they outfitted an experimental entrepreneurial space for business students.
LFS shines in their own niche market but sometimes are pigeonholed because their installations are not as understood as pre-established art forms. It’s hard to apply for a project that is asking for a permanent sculpture, for instance, when the crochet pieces are temporary and made of yarn. It can also be difficult to apply for grants or commissioned pieces when LFS needs months to prepare, crochet and put together their art but cannot promise its permanence. “Part of the fun of what we do is making something that people have to make their way out to see because it won’t be there forever,” Seip explained, “but one of our goals is to make our pieces able to stay out in the wild longer.”
This upcoming year will be one of their busiest yet— from collaborating with other artists in different mediums to participating in CRUSH for the third time to networking with business and building owners. In the next few months, LFS will work together with street artist Koko Bayer at the temporary art gallery at 28th and Walnut in RiNo to create a site-specific installation that fits into the nooks and crannies of the industrial warehouse. Between preparing for that and for the next CRUSH piece (because yarn bombing is no quick task,) LFS has been experimenting with crocheted doilies that are used as stencils for spray paint. Local graffiti lettering artist Tuke has lent a helping and expert hand to LFS during their experimentation phase with the doilies and they hope to imprint these around town in the coming year.
Light displays are no longer exclusive to live concerts — they are being used to create ambiance, mood and improve engagement to many other facets of social interaction. Alt Ethos is a talented group of artists and computer programmers who spend their time “cultivating memorable experiences that disrupt and inspire.” Ranging in age from early 20s to mid-40s, Ethan Bach, Zac Layman, Eric Davis, Paul Elsberg and Amy Lynn Herman each bring their own set of unique skills to the group. “We are trying to create things that are memorable,” Elsberg explained. “Why create things that are memorable? So they can help people find meaning, they can sneak back up on them. I think of really good conversations months or years later and it resonates with me in a new way. And I think that the desire to create art or technology, but really an experience, is the same. It’s about creating a disruptive moment that gets you out of yourself and comes back to you over and over.”
These experiences Alt Ethos designs and curates come in the form of virtual reality programs, projection mapping, digital dome projection and temporary light displays. Each one is particular to the experience Alt Ethos wants to amplify or draw attention to, which makes their style hard to pin down. Much of their energy this coming year will be focused on digital dome projection, where they are casting images or videos onto a half-sphere ceiling. Fiske Planetarium, Gates Planetarium and the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery all offer their domes to the nonprofit that founding member Bach started called Denver Arts and Technology Advancement, or DATA.
The marriage of technology and art comes more easily to the members of Alt Ethos than it does to most. That’s their biggest obstacle at the moment— convincing people that technological art can be just as reliable as the computers we keep in our pockets every day. What puts them on the path to success is their desire to provide education to those who are skeptical or wary, as well as their eye-catching and engaging installations. Just in the first month of this year, Alt Ethos provided unique experiences at two separate parties— the Meow Wolf artist mixer and Moxie’s Dark Fairytale event. Next month they will represent Colorado at a small business showcase in Washington D.C. and as soon as they return they’ll be working (through DATA) on their annual international artist-in-residency program for digital dome projection.
Their largest project so far this year will culminate in November in old town Fort Collins, where they will continually project images and light onto an exterior mural in partnership with Russell Mills Studio. The mural artist will work with Alt Ethos to envision a collaborative design in the hopes that Alt Ethos’ projections may illuminate the mural in an enriching manner as well as light it up at night when mural art is not appreciated as much. “We want this to be a one-of-a-kind experience for people,” Layman commented, “and the challenge of making it permanent is part of the joy of doing it.”
Better known as Detour, Thomas Evans has experienced an explosion of success in the last year, with an exhibition at the Denver Art Museum, a residency at RedLine Contemporary Art Center, commissioned murals all over town and a Public Art One Percent grant to paint a likeness of Carla Madison at the new recreation center on East Colfax and Josephine. His colorful portraits and street art murals receive the most credit, though his foray into interactive sound-paintings and sound installations are reverberating throughout Denver and gaining him attention from outside of Denver as well.
“I started making my stuff touchable about four years ago and I’ve been really honing in on that recently,” Detour explained in his studio at RedLine — a place acts as a kind of laboratory and display for his newest work. “It’s experiential — when you go to a museum and see static art, you’re having kind of the same experience as everyone else. But if you can touch it and play with it, you walk away with your own moment.”
The interactive art Detour is currently making connects several of his passions into one multi-sensory exposure. One of his new techniques uses proximity sensors behind an abstract painted canvas so viewers can wave their hands in front of sections to elicit an audio response. Another popular installation involves long strings on the wall that are plucked to start a “loop” of sound or voice.
To kick off 2018, Detour is showcasing his sound art at a solo exhibition at the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder, The Sound of Red which started on January 26 and will be on view until March 4. He will have two pieces at RedLine’s 10 x 10th Anniversary exhibition— a celebration of the artists who have been involved at the art center in the past decade — starting February 2. At the end of February, Detour will embark on a residency overseas in France for a month, where he will mingle with artists from all over the world and represent Denver— a task he does well at home anyway. Other engagements later in the year may include another residency, this time in Argentina, or a solo show in Nebraska where a curator requested his presence. But Detour thankfully does not plan on leaving Denver permanently and appreciates the artistic community and culture the city has.
Melissa Furness has a lot on her plate — from being a single mom to teaching undergrads at the University of Colorado, Denver — and yet she finds time to create large-scale paintings and installations that are shown by the local gallery K Contemporary. Mainly her work is a mixture of painting, hand drawing, screen printing and lithography. However, she steps beyond those mediums to create projects fueled by her intrigue into history and the contextual nature of objects, including a recent experiment where she collected pieces of bread in Italy and stamped them with black ink onto paper.
“I am fascinated by pushing the boundaries of painting and drawing and placing them in locations outdoors and elsewhere that are unexpected and unestablished while at the same time commenting on narrative histories,” Furness revealed. Part of her enthusiasm for the location of her creations comes from her ardent passion for travel and seeing old things in new ways, which she satiated recently by teaching abroad. She’s also fascinated by ruins and the idea that objects can evolve on their own, especially after they’ve been used for a particular purpose. One of her favorite past projects was when she drew on raw linen and embedded those drawings on a site within the grounds of 12th-century ruins in Ireland (with permission). After 30 days, she dug them up and sent them home, where she reconstructed them into new artifacts that have been exhibited in various forms since.
Currently, Furness has a piece in Colombia as part of a show curated and organized by the international artist collective Artnauts. Artnauts shows are typically focused on politically sensitive issues in complicated locations and Furness likes participating in those because it forces her to confront themes she would normally avoid. Furness is also a regular contributor to Pink Progression exhibitions with Anna Kaye and was involved in the Women’s March in addition to having displays at the Denver and Boulder Public Libraries. Beginning February 3, K Contemporary will showcase some of her painting/screenprints in the project space for a show titled Herstory Paintings and Furness is already working on a solo show she will have in the gallery’s main space in February 2019.
Fouhy is a photographer, a prankster and a collector of words among other creative hobbies. Though his full-time job is in advertising in Boulder, he spends his free time curating funny and curious websites, images and installations. Six years ago, he started posting photos on Instagram that captured various words or phrases from signs, graffiti and other public settings, which he recently put together into a book, Collecting Words: Very Short Visual Stories.
While he spent countless hours photographing random words, he also found time to “mess around on the internet.” Through his advertising career, he was opened to the world of digital art, which led to his first single-serve website, “Invite Fouhy to Thanksgiving”— a submission form for people to literally invite him to their Thanksgiving dinner. That led to a series of similar websites, “Be Fouhy’s Valentine,” “Drink with Fouhy” and “Drive with Fouhy” as well as a few even more ridiculous URLs like whattimeisfrasieron.com, eddiemurphylaugh.com and michaelboltonkennygridingdolphin.com. “The world needs easier access to something like being able to click a website to hear Eddie Murphy laugh,” Fouhy joked, though the intention to create a minute of happiness is serious and real. These websites are only good for one purpose, which puts them on the same level as most art, though their humor and cheekiness set them apart.
The next project on Fouhy’s mind has to do with bathrooms and urinals in particular, though he wanted to keep the specifics to himself. “I’m drawn to words and language, but I’m also intrigued by the design of a place, especially one that is used so frequently,” Fouhy commented. It’s no surprise he is somewhat elusive about his intentions and upcoming projects, considering part of the wonder of his creations comes from the surprise of it. More immediately, he will display a few of his photos from his Collecting Words project at The Ad Art Show at Sotheby’s in New York during February. The best way to keep up with Fouhy is on his Instagram, where all of his odd-ball artworks originally started and where he would announce any new single-serve websites.
At GRACe (Globeville Riverfront Art Center), Emma Balder has a container outside her door for other people and artists to deposit pieces of their fabric waste or leftovers that she calls the “textile recycle bin.” For the last few years, she has been enveloped in using these remnants as the main medium for her art, creating fiber paintings that are both delicate and ethereal, as well as some larger fabric installations. Balder started using textile waste after she participated in an international artist residency where she observed how much a group of artists generated unused scraps of material and an Indian artist provided her with a bag of trimmings from a clothing tailor in India. She called these first fiber paintings “pinglets.” From then on, she collected and used any size scrap as part of a piece of art, from the smallest single thread you might find snagged on a tree branch to pieces of fabric that must be cut out of patterns from fashion designers.
For the last few years, Balder has installed the large piece Peace Tent at the music festival Sonic Bloom and plans on putting it back up again this summer. The exposure from other people taking photos of their experience with and under Peace Tent should catch other festivals’ attention (especially festivals that expound beliefs about sustainability) seeing as it’s both entrancing and recycled.
For this next year, Balder will be in a residency program in Paonia at Elsewhere Studios where she plans on creating larger fiber paintings and working on a site-specific piece that will be a fabric portal (think Alice-in-Wonderland meets Stranger Things.) The small— and affordable — fiber paintings Balder creates are available for purchase on her website or at her studio in Globeville.
Over the last few years, Jonathan Saiz has been popping up around Denver with shows and ideas that are almost revolutionary in their deviance from the typical maneuvers of artists in an art gallery world. A few years ago he created an exhibition for Leon Gallery that emulated conspiracy theories, part of which included a wall of tiny square oil paintings called The Database. These miniature oil paintings were priced at $20 and became an instant hit, with Leon selling over 400 of them. In December of last year, Saiz went further with the success of these minis, building an art vending machine at Understudy near the Convention Center. He sat inside the kiosk and re-loaded six windows with fresh paintings on a daily basis, selling them at $20 each again, but this time asking for people to leave an email address to pay him in the future.
Saiz believes in the democratization of art — or in other words, cutting out the middlemen between purchasers of art and the artists themselves. His bravery seems to be paying off, and the joy of owning a piece of original artwork from an artist whose largest pieces cost over $50,000 has now been opened to pretty much anyone in Denver.
Currently, Saiz is collaborating with another local artist, Wes Magyar on a project called 7000 Reasons. The duo will paint up to 7,000 portraits— passing each painting back and forth to finish it together — that can be purchased at a flat rate of $143 online until July. With the intent to make people happy in a time when simple pleasures seem to have lost their luster, the portraits are all painted in vivid colors and with an air of goofiness. After that, Saiz will illustrate a Buddhist kids book called CRASH, then he is planning on painting 54 gem and mineral paintings before the year is over. All of these are ways he makes his art accessible to the masses without compensating its quality or individuality.
Other Artists You Should Know
Scott Young: Known for his neon, argon and krypton-lit artwork, Young is back in the studio after a busy end of 2017 with a solo exhibition at K Contemporary and a spot at the L.A Art Show. Look up at the Museum of Contemporary Art and you’ll see the most iconic piece by Young, Wish You Were Here/Her. Part narcissist, part romantic and fully aware of the nuances of the modern relationship, Young delivers work that is accessible and thought-provoking. He also creates an atmosphere unparalleled in other galleries, with the gas-lit tubes buzz while blues, pinks and reds shine across the walls and floor.
Knomad Colab: This light-installation duo has been ramping up their public art portfolio with multiple projects across the city, rather than focusing on the rogue and temporary projects they originally became known for. Using LED lights with varying designs and colors of gel filters, they create a digital mural that can be very adaptive for different settings. With the completion of the 38th Street Underpass last year, Knomad started work on another piece to improve visibility and figuratively brighten a space with the P.S. You Are Here Grant for the Broadway Partnership that will be installed in the coming months.
Anna Charney: After painting the massive mural on Santa Fe, Charney also participated in CRUSH, getting one of the spots in the main parking lot on Larimer Street between 26th and 27th. Before these adventures into the land of mural painting, Charney stayed in the studio painting on canvas. One of her fans called her art “digital taffy” and it correctly captures the sense of her work having texture and movement. During the upcoming winter months, Charney will be working on canvas paintings and prints again in her studio, before gearing up for another summer of painting outside and on massive walls.
Koko Bayer: Known around Denver for her photography until a few years ago, Bayer uses her grandfather’s original artworks to create posters that she wheat pastes on vacant walls and objects. One of the benefits of using wheat paste — a mixture of flour and water that acts as an adhesive — is the ability to duplicate a design and spread it all over, rather than taking hours or days to finish one mural. Bayer’s iconic work can be seen in various locations around Denver, most notably the aspen trees and hand with an eye in the middle. She is also currently acting as a curator for the temporary art gallery, B-Spot at 28th and Walnut—and some of her well-known aspen tree wheat pastes can be seen decorating the outside along with murals by Ozjuah Sepia. Her work was also recently featured on the cover of the RiNo Field Guide.
Dmitri Obergfell: After a residency with RedLine starting in 2014, Obergfell saw a busy few years within Colorado and beyond. Just last year he showcased work in L.A and Ohio, created a piece for Black Cube’s Drive-In series, and participated in the Mi Tierra exhibition at the Denver Art Museum. He’s a sculptor in some ways, but he often drafts his concepts and sends the designs to fabricators. Represented full-time at Gildar Gallery, Obergfell’s work approaches two main influences on his life— Latino culture from his father’s side and his own interest in mythology and existentialism. Obergfell will be one of the many artists at RedLine’s 10x 10th Anniversary exhibition beginning February 2 and in March, Obergfell will travel to Brussels for a show. He is also represented by Montoro12— a gallery in Rome.