“Now I could see Denver looming ahead of me like the Promised Land, way out there beneath the stars…” -Jack Kerouac, On the Road
In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, anyone with their finger on the pulse of American art and culture was familiar with Denver as one of the main axes of Jack Kerouac’s road-tripping adventures memorialized in On the Road. Kerouac and his Beat friends loved Denver, and many of them regularly patronized places like El Chapultepec and My Brother’s Bar.
Nearly 60 years later, Denver has earned its place as a beacon of the arts in the Rockies (watch out, Santa Fe!), as that “Promised land, way out there beneath the stars.” While it is not as obvious as New York City or Chicago and not as loud as Miami or Los Angeles, Denver is a significant player in American arts and culture, and it is evolving even as you read this article.
This city has been undergoing its renaissance for some years now, and art is at the core of Denver’s new identity as one of the country’s most coveted cities to visit and live in. Artists are responsible for the existence of RiNo and the resurgence of neighborhoods like Berkeley, and much of the content of those “Things to do in Denver” lists is arts-centric––it is no wonder that Meow Wolf chose Denver as its third location!
There are several calendar squares designated for the arts, such as First Fridays, September’s CRUSH WALLS and November’s Denver Art Week. But the following three artists are reminders that Denver is consistently enlivened by its art.
Kristen Hatgi Sink––Electrified by the Marriage of Beauty and Conceptualism
If you visited the Gildar Gallery last Summer, you probably encountered the image of a girl with milky-white skin holding a lamb surrounded by citrus trees. The piece is a part of a Kristen’s Milk exhibition, which is a group of highly aestheticized pieces that simultaneously employ symbolism from classical European art and critique Western power structures. The stark whiteness of symbols used in Milk conjure that “lily-white” notion of white privilege, false empowerment based upon skin color and systemic cultural whitewashing. Milk’s photographs are purposefully beauty-centric, so that they directly comment on our perception of classical beauty, which is equated with whiteness even on a global level. The use of the lamb functions as a generous nod to messianic imagery and demands that the onlooker ask herself questions of slaughtering and sacrifice that create tension with Judeo-Christian historic rituals.
Conceptual symbolism that at first appears as the amalgam of beautiful décor is exemplary of Kristen’s aesthetic. Her art is not the photoshopped digitalization one may readily expect from photography nowadays. She explains that her work is an experience akin to performance art; take, for example, all that went into her obtaining the milk for Milk as well as how she discarded it all after. Similarly, yet slightly more obvious is how she procured the honey for her performance-based exhibit at MCA Denver, Honey and what happens to it after the exhibit is taken down. In this case, the honey––symbolic of environmentalism and prosperity––is being distilled by the Family Jones Spirit House for a special liquor Kristen will help create.
Kristen, who works in intense bursts of creativity, has moved away from her earlier wet-plate process, which was a gesture towards one of her aesthetic inspirations, Julia Margaret Cameron. Kristen does not quite know how her aesthetic will evolve, but she does know that the evolution will be painful, because pain is inevitably entangled in the creation of new art. What she is certain of is that you can expect to be simultaneously elated and offended by her art.
Derek Friday––Powered by Running
When Derek is designing, he is thinking about running; and when Derek is trail running, he is thinking about design. In both venues, he is on a self-motivated journey towards refinement, a journey he describes as a constantly pushing his body and mind. He fluctuates between manically typing into his iPhone’s Notes before he forgets his next idea, sketching and list-making in his Moleskine (which is covered in stickers of cool brand designs like that by Boxcar Coffee Roasters), and manifesting his strokes of creativity funneled through the digital realm of graphic design.
While he describes himself as a goof, a spirited wanderlust, he is an artist, as he is constantly in a creative state, whether he is on an airplane to Germany or trail running somewhere in Indian Peaks Wilderness. In his job title and according to the award he won from the Society for Experiential Graphic Design, he works in environmental graphic design as an Identity and Place-Making Specialist. His aesthetic is Swiss minimalist design that he describes as restrained yet bold, timeless and contextually relevant. He explains his work as that of a coder who employs the minimalist mentality when coding websites. Derek thinks like an architect, but he is part of the movement that is expanding architecture to the realm of branding and identity creation/formation, which considers colors, patterns, sounds, smells and all things tactile (e.g. fabrics).
Proof that Derek lives in a constant creative state: his Instagram, brimming over with posts of designs he refers to as “creative distractions.”
Gretchen Josten––Fueled by Color
Freed from the shackles of corporate advertising, Gretchen reveled in her move to Denver in the early aughts. She bought and painted a desk for herself and became conscious of how much she enjoyed the process, so she started a small furniture flipping company for which she would buy vintage pieces, paint them monochromatically and re-sell them for profit. Her company now known as Yonder House started off with a few rentals of 30 ornately-backed chairs she had painted white. Word got around to the wedding planning circles, and now, Yonder is one of Denver’s most eclectic yet chic, quirky yet artistic event décor companies. In September, Yonder House even gained distinction by Harper’s Bazaar as one of the Top Wedding Florists companies in the country.
Artistry is at the core of everything Gretchen does, from conversations with brides and/or corporate event planners to the acquisition of new pieces (such as last year’s snazzy new chandeliers) to the careful cultivation of a memorable aesthetic experience for party guests. She feels like she understands how a music artist must feel when asked to play their hit from several years ago, when they are likely more excited by their newer projects. While Gretchen gains inspiration from color, mood boards and Pinterest pins, she is exhilarated by marking everything she does with her own unique artistic twists. So, if you work with Gretchen, expect for her to ask several questions about why a certain photo appeals to you: Is it the texture of the flowers? the colors? the feeling it gives you? She will empower you to not just re-create the images that speak to you, but instead she will help create something individual to your vision. Because Gretchen thrives in the space of unique and new.