In the past, Denver has succeeded in raising artists and creatives but has generally struggled to keep them at home. That kind of upbringing has led to Denver-based artists emigrating from the Mile High toward other artistic havens like Los Angeles or New York. But in the last five years, Denver’s art scene has flourished, fertilizing the ground for emerging local artists to thrive (within city limits) better than most of their predecessors. People in Denver want to support art more now than ever, leading to more attendance at the city’s major museums, during the monthly First Fridays in the art districts and at just about any other art-related function.
This last year in Denver, art was at the forefront of all cultural endeavors. From the re-opening of Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art to the inclusion of street art at major music festivals (like Velorama and Grandoozy) to the incredible announcement that celebrated interactive art collective Meow Wolf will open an exhibition in Denver — it was a huge year. And with all of that momentum, it’s no wonder that some of Denver’s artists are finding their way to the spotlight, both locally and nationally. In order to prepare for another impressive art year, we’ve put together a list of Denver-based artists to keep your eye on in 2019.
Tsogo is a first generation Mongolian-American immigrant, meaning she was born in Mongolia, raised in Hungary until the age of eight and then moved with her family to the US. According to Tsogo, she is “the only actively practicing Mongolian-American woman artist in America” — she is also a DACA recipient. Over the last few years, Tsogo has been quietly working behind the scenes of the Denver art community, bringing to life several projects that revolve around immigrant rights, sexual abuse survivors and the plight of being a woman of color.
In 2019, Tsogo will launch full-force into several projects that are worthy of attention. She’s working on a project called the Healing Yurt, which is part of a larger series called Dream Yurt. Supported by the Mongolian Culture and Heritage Center of Colorado, Dream Yurt is designed to heal wounds and break down social barriers with the tools of art and community that Tsogo has become adept with. She explained, “by engaging/challenging systems of power, the project aims to transform systems of structured oppression and displacement while celebrating diversity, promoting social activism, equal justice, and inspiring social change.” That, in a nutshell, is what Tsogo’s art accomplishes.
Tsogo is perhaps one of the most politically motivated and contemporarily relevant artists in Denver at this time. She represents a diversity that Denver has lacked in the past in many ways and her powerful feminine spirit is a welcome addition to the roster of masculine local artists. In line with her efforts to empower female artists, including herself, Tsogo recently became part of a group of six local women artists called “Women of Many Colors: A Glorious Collaboration.” That group had their debut performance Tedios as part of Joshua Ware’s Urban Aggregate show at Understudy near the Convention Center and plan on showcasing their visual art at a collective show this year.
Another project in the works is a trial for a residency exchange project for artists, where Colorado artists will have a one to three-month residency that imitates the experience of creating within a rural Mongolian yurt. Ideally, Tsogo will push this residency further once the first trials succeed so that artists will actually travel to Mongolia for the exchange. Tsogo will put more effort and energy this year into an animated documentary film titled Untitled Mongolian Film Project — a concept that has been hard to work on in the past few years with her restrictions on travel under DACA. In February and March, two different University of Denver campuses will host Tsogo for “Bridging Cultures: Where has your shoe been?” where she will use storytelling, art, writing and performance to help bring disparate people together. Throughout the summer (from May to June) Tsogo will have a collaborative show with her father, Tsogo Mijid at the Dairy Center in Boulder.
Even though DINKC is a newer addition to Denver, he has been adding his own flavor since his first day. Originally from Kansas City, DINKC (just say “Dink”) has earned the welcoming reception he was granted into Denver’s street art scene and continues to push the limits of his own art with every new wall. And in 2018, DINKC managed to paint an admirable 25 murals and 41 canvases. Earlier this year, we interviewed him to learn more about his process and background, learning that he cleverly uses a mixture of his Mexican heritage, his passion for old-school cartoons and his philosophy about life and death to inspire his art.
This last year he painted at nearly every event that integrated street art — from the smaller RiNo Arts Fest at Urban Cyclist to the first ever Grandoozy music festival — and participated for the second time in the annual urban art festival CRUSH Walls. But he didn’t just play along with the art scene, he actively steered it as well by starting a series of live art “battles” where local muralists competed in a two-hour match in front of a cheering crowd. All of those accomplishments is enough to steer heads toward DINKC, but he didn’t stop there. He managed to apply and receive a grant from Denver Arts & Venues’ Urban Arts Fund which allowed him to paint three sides of the Lincoln Park Lounge in the Art District on Santa Fe — a project that gave him the wall space to experiment with new stylistic techniques (and was his biggest wall to date). And, in whatever spare time he had left, DINKC cranked out private commissions on canvases, sneakers, t-shirts, illustrations and more.
What sets DINKC apart from many of his peers is his ruthless and cohesive branding. When you see something of his, there is no doubt that he created it. That doesn’t mean his style is stagnant, in fact, in the last year alone certain elements of his work have evolved tremendously. What it means is that DINKC is a brand on his own — a constantly changing entity that remains familiar at its core.
In 2019, DINKC isn’t slowing down, with a hearty list of projects already in the works. He gave us some teasers, saying “a few potential things in the works I can talk about include a Denver Fashion Week collab, short story animations, my first 3D skull character toy, a DINKC mobile van, SOLO CREW collabs, prints through Street Art Network x Peter Kowalchuk, CRUSH WALLS, and my first ever full on DINKC SOLO SHOW, just to name a few.” The solo show will be at Ironton Distillery & Crafthouse Gallery in October, where DINKC will completely take over the space with all the things that he’s been working on — vinyl toys, paintings, drawings, murals and other merchandise. “I can only hope to continue working with this great community and being able to reach new heights through consistent creative hard work,” DINKC commented. “I look forward to continuing to kill it, bring it on 2019!”
Zimmer only just moved to Denver this year, after spending many years forging and curating a different city’s mural scene with the Fort Collins Mural Project. This year alone, she managed to find the time to paint 22 murals, travel and move to Denver to pursue her career as a full-time artist. As the founder and director of the Fort Collins Mural Project, Zimmer focused on bringing large-scale contemporary street art to many of the city’s walls because, as she remarked in an interview with 303, “our motto for the mural project is every wall deserves art because the environment that we have built as humans isn’t very attractive.” But after a decade in the northern Colorado city, Zimmer decided to head to Denver in search of more opportunities and bigger walls. Her first mural in Denver now serves as a visual guardian or totem before entering RiNo on the south side, abutting Broadway. Painted during CRUSH 2018, the mural is created in Zimmer’s iconic style — surreal portraiture. What makes Zimmer one of our artists to watch in 2019, however, isn’t her ability to paint a towering wall with a beautiful piece of art — it’s her motivation to use her artistic ability and resources to help and invite those who wouldn’t normally get an “art education” as she did.
For 2019, fans of Zimmer can find her involved in multiple different projects and should definitely expect more murals. “I am working with Bluprint to make instructional videos on new work I’m calling ‘Hue Heads.’ I am [also] part of a show at the Boulder Creative Collective in May,” Zimmer explained. “The show is the first exhibition I have had in a couple years and I will be doing an installation and some sculptures.” When we asked what she might change from her practice this past year, she replied “I work really fast and long hours on murals and it tends to burn me out. I look forward to finding more balance with my practice. Going slower and taking care of my body.”
If you’ve spent any time wandering around the alleys and graffiti hotspots in Denver, you should know who Haven is. Or at least, you should be able to recognize Haven’s most iconic figures — the pyramid people — because in the last year alone, he’s painted at least 200 of them. These pyramid people all have a unique personality — there are ones with Wu-Tang beanies on, ones with Broncos helmets, ones holding cats or bottles of beer. But Haven doesn’t limit himself to the pyramid people, even though fans of his are happy to see all the different iterations of them on his Instagram page.
His other style portrays an aerial view of a city (usually of Denver) and can be seen in multiple locations, keeping true to Haven’s clever wit. These aerial cityscapes often incorporate landmarks that Denver natives — like Haven himself — would recognize, as well as mementos from Haven’s memory. Even though the entire cityscape is done with a series of single lines, Haven accomplishes it all with a spray paint can, displaying his unmistakable talent and finesse with paint cans.
2018 was a year when Haven became more accessible to people not wandering around in alleys, especially after he completed a handful of commissioned spray paint projects. One that directed more attention toward Haven can be found in Five Points at the corner of 29th and Welton and features the aerial cityscape wrapping around a building. After that, the new Shake Shack in RiNo asked for a similar style inside the restaurant. Another project which happened more recently was his inclusion at the Express store in Cherry Creek Mall, where the store commissioned a few canvas paintings from him, had him paint within the store and also created a stylish video showcasing Haven’s technique.
Although Haven doesn’t have a huge schedule for 2019, he’s bound to be seen more than any other artist, if you are keeping your eyes open as you travel around the city. He already has one show planned for February at ATC DEN gallery in RiNo, which will be a group show featuring other artists as well. But, even without a fully scheduled line up of shows or paid painting opportunities, we are sure that Haven will manage to inspire his fans with his impressive number of hours spent creating pyramid people, aerial cityscapes and whatever else comes out of his cunning mind.
Born in South America, Mattai is now a Denver-based artist who uses her world travels as the cornerstone for many of her pieces. Mattai has so much steam behind her from 2018 — having participated in approximately 15 exhibitions this year — that in 2019 it is quite possible we will see her popularity expand globally. Her art uses found objects, textiles, antiques, fabrics, painting and so much more to imbue a sense of familiarity in viewers while at the same time questioning their conceptions of the original material. For instance, in one of her exhibitions in 2018, Mattai added her own weaving and painting to a collection of vintage needlepoint embroidered pictures, resulting in a collage of altered history.
“This year has been monumental for me,” Mattai explained. “I learned to trust in the process (of art-making and life), to push myself in ways that I didn’t realize I could, and to not let psychological and physical limitations impede artistic growth. It was an intense year and my most challenging projects I think were my Sugar Bound and Sweet Asylum solo exhibitions. I couldn’t have done either of them in the way that I dreamed them to be without the support of my husband and philosopher, Adam Graves, gallerist, Doug Kacena, and the CVA director and curator, Cecily Cullen.”
One of the most exciting prospects for Mattai in 2019 is her inclusion in the Sharjah Biennial. In 2017, Mattai was displaying work in a show in New York City that attracted the attention of a curator for the Sharjah Biennial — an art event in the United Arab Emirates that happens every other year since 1993, gathering emerging and established artists from all over the world. She was recruited to participate in the Biennial for 2019 and so for the last few months of 2018, Mattai has been hard at work creating her piece. “I have been commissioned to make a large scale installation which juxtaposes approximately 100ft x 10ft of woven vintage sari tapestries, videos of contentious border walls and a prison wall, and a merry-go-round that was migrated from a local deserted schoolyard,” commented Mattai. This piece will fall in line with Mattai’s other work in that it will fuse disparate ideas — like merry-go-rounds and border walls — without feeling scattered. In fact, the beauty of Mattai’s work is that she manages to combine different materials and backgrounds to create something that makes more sense than any of the items ever did on their own.
This coming year, aside from the Biennial which will be taking place March 7 through June 10 (in the UAE), Mattai will also show work in two museum group exhibitions, one is a traveling show and the other will be at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History in California. She will also be in a group exhibition at Pen and Brush in New York. We also imagine we’ll see some of her work in Denver, though she doesn’t have anything in the works for her hometown just yet — which is fine as long as Mattai promises she won’t be leaving Denver for good.
Diego Rodriguez Warner
Originally born in Nicaragua, Rodriguez-Warner grew up in Denver but spent many of his formative years beyond Colorado, going to school at Rhode Island School of Design and Hampshire College and studying printmaking in Havana, Cuba. At the beginning of 2018, he debuted a large collection of his work at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) titled Honestly Lying, landing an exhibition on the main gallery floor. Showcasing pieces from the last five years of his practice, the exhibition proved immediately that Rodriguez-Warner would be a force to reckon with in the Denver art scene. His work is unique — a term that has been reimagined for me after seeing the exhibition at the MCA.
Part of the wonder of Rodriguez-Warner’s practice is that he has actively explored and dissected the process of creating. Just because one technique worked for him doesn’t mean he will continue to use that technique. It is that constant quest for discovery that informs much of his art, and it also spills over into how and where he gathers inspiration from. He is interested in ancient and familiar symbolism — from the patterns and processes of Japanese woodblock printers to the propaganda posters of Central and South America. While he was studying fine art, he noticed the misdirected intentions that artists should always be creating new imagery and new symbolism, leading him to reuse certain “stencils” in his work, like the outline of a leg or a particular image of a nude woman. His pieces are a contemporary commentary on historical moments, through the use of these repurposed symbols and images. But even though they are “historical,” they never feel outdated.
From his participation at the MCA, Rodriguez-Warner became one of the first artists to make art for the Octopus Initiative. How this initiative works is the MCA commissions artists to paint small, take-home sized art and then, through an application process, anyone living within metro Denver can borrow a piece from the collection for up to one year. Rodriguez-Warner remarked about that experience, “that was super fun for me because as a requirement I had to make a lot of work in not so much time so that limited my scale and also limited how I involved I became in each piece. It was illuminating to limit myself and see if it was enough. With the bigger paintings I make — which are often composed of hundreds of gestures — it was nice to see a gesture alone do the same thing.”
Rodriguez-Warner also participated in a group collaboration called Next Stage, situated in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and presented by Meow Wolf that had him working with some other powerhouse names in Denver art — Molly Bounds, Derrick Velasquez, Laura Shill and Dmitri Obergfell. Operated by CU Denver’s College of Arts & Media, in partnership with Denver Arts & Venues, Next Stage evolved throughout the months of its residency, offering visitors experimental performances and other creative experiences.
As Rodriguez-Warner looks forward to this new year, he’s working on creating paintings that are more accessible to his fans and friends than the large-scale panels that were seen at the MCA. “In terms of moving forward with my art, the challenge I’m dealing with now is making paintings for a home. And it’s weird because when you’re living with the paintings, it’s kinda relentlessly aggressive. How do I make the paintings quieter but just as sharp?”
In the coming months, the artist will be working on a few paintings for a group show at the Museo de la Americas in March. Although we don’t know exactly what Rodriguez-Warner has in store for the rest of 2019, we know that whenever he is involved in a project, exhibition or installation, we will plan on seeing it for ourselves.
A Colorado native, Ziesmer has displayed work at countless galleries around Denver, including a recent one at Sally Centigrade. She is fueled on whimsy but articulates with such wit in her art that it sometimes feels more science-fiction than fantasy. Her illustrations range from practices in patterns to humorous explorations of pop culture — and no matter what she’s creating, the essence of her personality can always be found in it. She often attributes much of her inspiration to movies of her childhood, and when you share similar childhood experiences with Ziesmer, the reimagined nostalgia of her work is endearing and endlessly fascinating. Some of her most well-known work blends iconic figures — from Buster in Futurama to R2D2 and C-3PO in Star Wars to raptors that remind us of Jurassic Park — with other symbolic elements. She also tends to mesh animal heads with human or anthropomorphized bodies, creating an instant conflict with the viewer’s first impression.
Although Ziesmer is no newcomer to the Denver art scene, she certainly seems to be gathering more momentum recently and admits that 2018 was her busiest year to date. Her work, which includes prints, original paintings, buttons, candles, stickers and enamel pins (to name some of them) can currently be found in 10 local boutiques or galleries. One of those, Helikon Gallery & Studios, is also where she now works in a studio — her first venture into working beyond the confines of her own house. She also created enough new work in 2018 to produce two solo shows. This month, Ziesmer will send a few pieces to the LA Art Show through Sally Centigrade — a gallery she has had a long and fruitful relationship with. Other places to find her (aside from hunting for her merchandise at local shops) will be at DiNK (a comic book and art expo) and Denver Comic Con, in the “Pop Culture Con” section. And, according to her goals for 2019, we might have the pleasure of seeing a Ziesmer mural in Denver before the year is over.
Secret Love Collective
Technically, Secret Love Collective is a group of artists, made up of Katy Batsel, Lares Feliciano, Piper Rose, Frankie Toan, Genevieve Waller, Katy Zimmerman and Lauren Zwicky. Started in 2017, the group has spent their time together fabricating site-specific installations that incorporate all of their mediums of choice — sculptural, visual, performative and auditory — and more. They are one of Denver’s own immersive art companies, where each installation or show is more of an experience and a chance to engage with those around you than a time to look contemplatively at fine art. They love costumes and dance parties and flash mobs and parades — and no matter where they go, color bursts at the seams. They are a group that is undefined by labels or genders and therefore are uplifting of the LGBQT+ community. They engage enough fans and supporters, they are now considering opening their own brick-and-mortar.
“Queerness is brimming with transformation, self-inquiry, acceptance, celebration, diversity, and intersectionality. We hope that people from all backgrounds and lived experience find their personal freedom and magic is supported by our art,” the collective noted. “We encourage all people to explore their potential and creative life expression; we are champions of that mission.”
In March 2018, they had their first true exhibition in Breckenridge titled Anniversary which celebrated the first year of the group creating together as Secret Love Collective and was held in conjunction with the Breckenridge Pride Festival. During the summer, they kept themselves busy with a series of smaller events and installations, including one at the Meow Wolf corporate social responsibility meeting. But that was only a warm-up to the takeover of Understudy in October called Spooky Valentine, where the collective completely transformed almost every inch of the space with their handiwork in various mediums.
Secret Love Collective’s goals for 2019 are almost as varied as the individual members. They are planning to “[create] more platforms for queer artists to show and sell their work and get to know each other.” They are also hoping to organize and bring about a “biannual, LGBTQ+ month of art in Denver.” But those are broad goals that will likely come to fruition more organically than they expect, especially with the full list of installations and events they already have planned. On January 25, the group will take over the Denver Art Museum during one of their monthly Untitled at the DAM series.
“It became so clear to us that teenagers and adults from the queer community are longing for these spaces — so many came to Understudy in October to make art with us and be part of our parade and dance party! It would be a dream to provide a year-round venue for exhibitions and events, bringing even more people together and working towards a network and platform for queer art and activism in Denver,” they said. On March 10 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., the collective will create a small immersive installation for ArtHyve’s Art+Feminism event. And one of the projects they are most excited about? A DIY queer art festival in the fall, where the collective will create platforms for other queer-identified artists to show and sell their work.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better year as a collective,” the group all commented. “We feel so lucky to have had the opportunities we did, and to be building on these shows and community. We also feel extremely grateful to be making art and community with such badass people and artists.”