Critique Collective

Critique Collective is your source for information and interviews about emerging and established contemporary artists.

Tag: figure painting

The Antic Staatsoper Critiques Contemporary Life through Hybrid Photography

Encountering the Antic Staatsoper’s work for the first time is like watching a romantic date end in heartbreak. The artist, who originally hails from the south of France and currently lives in San Francisco, sets the stage with masteresque, chiaroscuro lighting reminiscent of Caravaggio’s paintings. He fills his images with classical references to various gods and spiritual scenes throughout his beautifully spacious compositions. But then he introduces the critique, illustrating contemporary issues through old figurative, bodily vessels within a digital landscape. The Antic Staatsoper covers material from censorship to perversion and the narcissism of today’s popular selfies in hopes of reviving art’s historically political conversation in a time when many artists are so preoccupied with the new tools at their hands that they forget about content. These pieces take on the contemporary nude, questioning the Puritan covering of the body that can amount to censorship, especially in the digital space. Oddly, the formally romantic setting of this work recalls the reactionary tendencies that the artist critiques, bringing historical context to the forefront of the work.

The Antic Staatsoper’s work can also be found on his website.

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Aborted Goddess of Confidence

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Venus and the Dark Veil of the Censorship


Paul Weiner:
You were born in the South of France before moving to San Francisco, California. Do you feel that your art is influenced at all by geography and the cultures of the places you have lived?

The Antic Staatsoper:
Of course! I’m hungry for all cultures and experiences that life can give me.

On a personal level, I consider myself a lucky guy to have the chance to visit the most famous classic and contemporary museums in Europe. In those conditions, your curiosity is better than any art school. Europe gave me a huge culture, keeping me curious about old and contemporary art or popular and underground culture. I’m still surprised every day by the European culture and its diversity. My art is born in Europe, and I can’t do anything to hide that. I only realized how much my photographs appear European since I have left Europe. I wasn’t conscious of that before. The old Europe raised me, but I felt like a teenager who has read too many books of the Beat Generation, dreaming about things bigger than life, still waiting for a train to come.

I’ve always had a craving to live in the American culture. I’ve played in a lot of indie, rock, post-rock, and experimental bands influenced by American music. Some rock runs in my veins. I’ve eaten up the American literature of the 20th century, adored movies from the counterculture, and finally felt the call of a new kind freedom as a way of expression. I think that my thirst for liberty and the dynamism of my work comes from the United States. This energy, this power that pushes me forward, is my American part. I’m proud of it.

My heart, shared between these two loves, has found a perfect balance. Today, my only dark point remains how to be accepted in the galleries with nude pictures in the United States, even in the fantastic Frisco.

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Perverted Pieta

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Artemis Cutting off Her Hymen

Paul Weiner:
Your works often reference Gods of various different religions and mythologies, as in the case of Venus and the Dark Veil of the Censorship or Perverted Pieta. How do you select the Gods or religions to be used in each work?

The Antic Staatsoper:
“Use what you know” could be my motto. I can’t struggle against my Western culture. I really love the mythology. It seems very human to me. I love the imperfections and the deviant behavior, so simple but true of these gods. There is a real pleasure to play with these creatures. Each character has a specialization. That helps me to focus on my topic. I also like to manipulate their bodies. Their poses, the contraction of the muscles, or the position of each member in the frame can say more than any word can. Also, I need to show naked bodies to remind people that nudity is not pornography. Once again, it’s a way for me to directly ask you some questions about your acceptance of your body as a natural device for communicating with your environment. I don’t understand the prudery today. I tend to see this trend of fearing nudity as the root of many frustrations and conflicts in the world.

I use Christianity too. There are so many things to say, but I didn’t want to walk the easy an outdated path of profanity. Here again, my connections with the painters and sculptors were obvious. Their art take us farther away than the religion they’re supposed to be a part of, like Bach gives you the most powerful perceptions of spirituality with his passions. At the begining, Christianity was the first love revolution of history. But it’s really interesting to see how we have perverted it and used it to abuse others. I show religions as biological systems. This sociological phenomenon is subject to a tragic decay from the dynamic and positive youth to the dark age of its own Apoptosis. However, I think that we cannot ignore the relationship of this system or the people who lead it with their environment. Every religion and their distorted visions could unveil many humorous situations. We are only able to represent our divinities in every religion through our own prism with human or, eventually, animals features. Or, sometimes, religions avoid any representations so as to avoid questions about their origins.

Of course I don’t forget the other religions. For Venus and the Dark Veil of the Censorship, the idea came from many female friends of mine in Europe who told me they could now get in trouble for wearing dresses or skirts in certain places. Some of them have been threatened by puritans asking them to put on veils. I can not let this be silenced. As I said, the body is the key: less gods, more spirit!

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Troie

Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little about the physical process for making these works. To what extent are they digital versus photographic?

The Antic Staatsoper:
It’s hard to answer. I never considered myself as a photographer. I always have doubts when I see the work of other photographers. Actually, I’m just a frustrated painter who is not able to hold a brush or to mix two different colors to get something consistent. I was very impressed by the Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle. He is also one of my favorite contemporary artists. I had the chance to see the five parts of the Cremaster. I discovered that he was, in fact, a plastician. He shot movies only to set up his scenery. I think that is what I do too. My pictures could be movies or paintings or sculptures or even music because in the beginning, I’m a musician. Photography was, well I have to admit, easier for me to manage. Maybe it’s a kind of sketchbook.

My digital process is based on old painting processes. Yes, it’s very old school. The scenery is the same that you could use for a drawing, a very simple set up and a simple light, as natural as possible. I need the models to express struggle and the instability of the situation, the moment before the conclusion. At the end of the process, I try to be a painter, so I use a digital brush because it is less harmful than a real one. I try to paint some texture on the pictures as if I had made and shaped all these pictures with my own hands.

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Alcatraz

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Narcissus Cloning (The Curse of the Selfie)

Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little about your formal interest in merging classical imagery and contemporary, digital methods of creating. Your Decorum series seem to reference, for instance, 17th Century Dutch paintings such as landscapes by Rembrandt and Vermeer while the Gods series has a Baroque feel about it, perhaps sourcing from Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro scenes.

The Antic Staatsoper:
Three years ago, after a long love story, something broke in my relationship with art. I realized that something was missing, but I didn’t know what.

I needed to come back to the classical imagery. I needed to go back to the true aim of art, a way to reach an upper consciousness, a gate to the spirituality. I wanted something less fed by itself, something less self-centered. I was bored by the “me, myself, and I” inspiration. The second point was technology itself. Today, the technique and technology seem to be more important than the intention and the meaning. These perfect tools distract us from our goal. That’s what was missing for me in contemporary art: a real purpose, a yearning, and a real battle for these values. That is what I found in classic art, a strength and a complexity that can haunt you for days and days. In the end, you get your own questions and maybe some answers. This is an active art. It lives inside you. It brings you out of your material contingencies, above the poor representations of the religion and its false perception. This art opened new doors for me. It gave me a window toward spirituality. I use a classical imagery so as to talk about our world.

I also wanted a Lo-Fi approach like in lo-fi music. The aesthetic didn’t need to be perfect, punching digital imagery straight to her face. But using digital technology was necessary too. I don’t want to be seen as passé.

I started the project DECORUM in 2012. At the beginning, I just wanted to ask questions about our uses of these new technologies in art and not about the tool itself. My first intention was to show the lack of sustainability of the contemporary imagery. I imagined digital pictures rusted in our hard drive. Some of its rotten pixels reveal our world like it will remain after us: empty spaces with simple lights, old artifacts of humanity, an old-fashioned vision, the last sustainable form of imagery, and the lights from a vanishing world.

Most of these pictures were taken in the north of France and Paris. The European painters and their uses of natural light were an important influence. In this back-to-the-roots project, I played with the old imagery and its powerful symbolism fulfilled by different meaning and hidden messages. In this way, I began to ask questions about our behavior. It created a place for new experimentations.

I used DECORUM as a starting point for my work-in-progress, GODS. It would be its birth place.

For this project, I chose contrasting imagery. I want you to feel the struggle even in the lighting with only one light above each character, the light of spirituality. The contrast is in the Manichean symbol of their battles. Gericault and Il Caravaggio are my masters, of course. The language of their bodies and the strength of their scenery were decisive and definitely helped me to initiate the project. The body, the pure, naked body in all its beauty is the perfect interface between the material and spiritual world. Only a natural light can express this union, this dialogue.

At this time I realized that I was horrified by a world which is falling again in a new obscurantism and puritanism. Just read the news, and you will get an idea of what I’m talking about. But the thing that scared me the most was the lack of opposition from the world of art. I don’t think that most of our creative producers are really involved in these conflicts.

I needed something powerful in order to ask my questions to the world.

The topics are various, but they all lead to the same basic issues: the misunderstanding between religion and spirituality, the new behaviors between generations, the new medias and how they modify us, large corporations and mass-media, society and entertainment, new relations, empathy, love, fertility, creation, and our ability to reach universal peace. Together.

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Atlas Abandoning Our World

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Cassandra vs. Pandora

Paul Weiner:
How did you begin your Gods series and what emotions are you trying to evoke?

The Antic Staatsoper:
After having launched the Decorum series, I realized that I created a new universe, a Tabula Rasa where I could experiment with more ideas.

I’m very slow at work, and it took me more than 3 months to complete each picture. Each time, I let my ideas becoming clearer, collecting information to enhance the accuracy of my purpose. I stretched all the interrogations and statements I had in this universe until I got the scenario of the scene. It was the starting point.

Decorum is my Mount Olympus. I filled it with characters coming from mythologies and old beliefs. These characters, these gods, were created as a mirror of our own behaviors or trends, playing with distortions to gain more efficiency. Their symbolism still works in our world, but sometimes the conclusions seem to take unexpected paths.

My first God was Altas. He carries the world on his shoulder, but why should he continue? Do we deserve this privilege? All these Gods evolve live in a blurry world in tandem with our world.

I never intend to give emotions through my pictures. I would like to be able to play with your emotions, but I don’t know how. Emotions are correlated to your own life, so they are different for each person. At each exhibition, the feedback always surprises me. The viewers most of the time describe my pictures as disturbing, erotic, provocative, or mesmerizing, and the reasons were always different for each picture. Rather than giving emotions, I prefer to ask questions. My pictures represent the last step before your own conclusions are made. You could guess how it will end, but the conclusion will be your own one.

I would like after seeing my pictures that you keep them in mind, wondering if you agree or not. Are my questions relevant? Does this picture bring you other questions? Do you feel a new need? Maybe this is the kind of emotion I want you to feel.


Please view the Antic Staatsoper’s website and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Beautiful Figurative Paintings and Conceptual Masterpieces by Pablo Mercado

Pablo Mercado is a Spanish artist living in Berlin who holds a Masters in Art, Creation, and Research from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid and BFA from the Universidad de Bellas Artes de Sevilla. In 2013, his artwork has exhibited in the Freies Museum Berlin, Säulensaal des Berliner Rotes Rathaus, and Museo Arte Contemporáneo (MAC) in A Coruña, Spain. Pablo Mercado has also exhibited in various galleries throughout Germany and Spain. His artwork is available online at http://www.pablomercado.es.

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lomo1

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Paul Weiner:
Do you think that it is more important for artwork to be conceptually strong or aesthetically strong?

Pablo Mercado:
That is an interesting question, which I have often discussed with artist friends. I think we should find a balance between the two ideas, but, for me, the aesthetic is very important to communicate with the spectator. In a world saturated with information, it is important to draw the spectator’s attention to tell them something. You have to establish a dialogue with the spectator, and the first step is to say “hello” with a scream. Well, that scream, to me, is the aesthetics. However, if there is not a strong concept behind it, the conversation between the work and the spectator becomes trivial and superficial.

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recall painting

Paul Weiner:
I definitely agree with your idea about saying “hello” with a scream. Do you think the same kind of “hello” can also be produced through conceptual shock? What if artwork is so erotic or violent that it attracts attention?

Pablo Mercado:
I think that conceptual shock is a part of the conversation. It is deeper than that. Personally, I do not like erotic or violent art when it is used just to attract attention and not because it is necessary for the concept. I find it superficial, or maybe too easy. I prefer a more subtle way to do it, something a little bit more cryptic that makes the spectator question himself.

Paul Weiner:
Do you find exhibiting in Germany to be different from exhibiting in Spain? If yes, how?

Pablo Mercado:
I have only shown in two German cities, Leipzig and Berlin. But, essentially, I think the public has no boundaries. We can talk about different audiences, but not because of their nationality. In Berlin, there is a great interest for art and especially in the openings.

Paul Weiner:
Describe your interest in the human memory.

Pablo Mercado:
Three years ago, when I moved to Berlin, I became interested in the aura of melancholy that surrounds this city, as well as the taste for the past with flea markets, vintage fashions, and analog technology. This idea that previous times were better is a postmodern characteristic that has always interested me very much. However, the human brain is full of defense mechanisms that make it impossible to give a true picture of the past. The brain interprets and selectively forgets memories to survive. I am very interested all these mechanisms and the idea of selecting fragments that retain and others that are hidden somewhere.

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Substitution

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Substitution

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Substitution

Paul Weiner:
Interesting. Could you explain or define a few of these mechanisms or processes for memory?

Pablo Mercado:
I have several works based on these mechanisms, for example, Encoding, Recall, and Substitution. The human brain has two mechanisms of defense against trauma or negative memories. These mechanisms are suppression and substitution. Suppression interrupts the recovery of memories, and substitution replaces unpleasant events with others that are more enjoyable.

In Substitution, I started from two puzzles based on two well-known works in art history. One traumatic work was Five Deaths from the series Death and Disaster by Andy Warhol, and the other was A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat.

I deleted traumatic parts from Warhol’s image and inserted fragments of Seurat’s work. Thereby, the recumbent bodies crushed by the car are replaced by reclining figures and the river of the Grande Jatte replaces the trail of blood. However, because the pieces of the puzzles are not the same size, I cut and modified both until they fit properly. The result is imperfect, full of little mistakes that come with works of the naked eye, but with deeper observation it clearly shows errors in the system.

Encoding

Encoding

Encoding

Encoding

Encoding

Encoding

Paul Weiner:
Tell us about your project, Encoding, and how you came to the idea of creating a sculpture to represent the process of creating memories.

Pablo Mercado:
Encoding is the brain’s ability to transform information into items that can be stored and recovered during the evocation process.

The memory of a complete experience consists of fragments of memories that are stored in different regions of the brain. Thanks to the hippocampus, which recomposes stored memories, these pieces of information are reunited from disparate parts.

In this recovery process, the brain reinterprets and modifies the memory, so the more times something is remembered, the difference between the original memory and the current memory becomes greater.

This series of works refers to the process of recovery and how the past may not be exactly as we remember it. That is, our idyllic conception of the past is unreliable.

In this installation, as in other examples of my previous work, I started with a vintage object to fragment and then suspended the parts in the air by fishing lines, creating rhythms that are reminiscent of smoke patterns. In this case, I have included the recall process. Therefore, the memory is fragmented and reassembled again in a new memory with modifications and with parts that do not fit correctly.

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Lomopaintings

Lomopaintings

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Lomopaintings

Paul Weiner:

Do your Lomopaintings deal with the same idea as Encoding, as far as memory goes?

Pablo Mercado:
The Lomopaintings series was the beginning of my current line of work. In those works, there are models abstracted in time and space. They were like empty presences with the idea of a loss of faith in the present or the future, and the shelter in the past are two of the bases of these paintings. From these paintings, I came to be interested in the topic of memory. I try to talk about what means to take refuge in the past when our mechanisms to remember are so precarious.

This series of paintings mimics the aesthetic of lomography, or obsolete technology, as the new mobile devices, iPhone, smartphones, etc., do. It is just a way to use a melancholy analog medium, painting, considered obsolete.

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Please view Pablo Mercado’s artwork online at http://www.pablomercado.es and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Jonathan Wright’s Dynamic Painting Exploration

Jonathan “Jono” Wright is a figurative and abstract painter living in Denver, Colorado. He holds a BFA from the Metropolitan State University of Denver and has also studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Boulder Academy of Fine Arts, and the Studio Art Center International in Florence, Italy. Jonathan’s work is available online at http://www.jonowrightart.com.


Paul Weiner:
What are you currently working on?

Jonathan Wright:
Currently, I’m working on a collection of abstract pieces that are 12”x15” for a boutique called Moxie. I’m really excited about this project, as there is a sense of collaboration with fashion, something from which I find a lot of inspiration. Hopefully I’ll be able to strike a balance between true aesthetic exploration and commercial viability.

Paul Weiner:
Since you’ve studied art at various programs in Boulder, Denver, Philadelphia, and abroad, which of these experiences has shaped your artwork the most?

Jonathan Wright:
It’s hard to say which educational experience has shaped my practice the most, as they all play a part in my current approach. For example, my early interest in graffiti and the training that I got as a teenager from Elvie Davis gave me a real appreciation for drawing and having a sense of attention and elegance to line quality. The training I got in Phillly gave me an introduction into how to paint the figure and how to mix colors. What I got from Metro was a sense of approaching art making in an elemental way such as line, volume, composition, focal point and so on.

Having all these different experiences presents me with the challenge of unifying my vision, which is something I’m learning about right now in my practice. I feel like I have a good technical foundation and a decent level of skill, so the question that is in front of me now is what do I really want to paint. What really turns me on? Also, what is commercially viable? So there’s a balance that has yet to be found.

Paul Weiner:
As an emerging artist, would you say that you feel limited or not by the commercial art market? Do you feel that the commercial level of art gets in the way of your attempt to unify your work in the way you would like to?

Jonathan Wright:
I would say that I feel influenced by considering the retail viability of my artistic ideas. Sometimes I make work that I strongly intend on selling, such as still-lifes or landscapes, while other times I make work that is focused on exploring something just for my own enjoyment.

What I’m finding about Denver is that it seems to be a market where you have to ride the razor’s edge of producing work that is decorative enough so people feel comfortable hanging it over their couch while simultaneously being edgy enough that it still has a spark of authentic exploration. That’s a tough road to navigate. Sometimes this dynamic feels limiting, but it can also feel like an interesting challenge. It really depends on where you want to take your career. If you want to be really avant-garde than your retail viability will probably be minimal, so you make your living doing something else. I suppose I’m trying to ride that razor’s edge of selling interesting and beautiful work.

To answer your question about unifying my work I would say that yes, this dynamic does make it hard to find unity. It takes a while to sort through all the educational influences and all the art market influences to come up with something I truly want to focus on that’s also commercially viable. But I feel ok with that. I think that’s what a true artist has to cope with.

8 vision outside of the oasis Niya, 2012, acrylic on paper, 36x48

9 loulan, 2012, acrylic on paper, 36x48

Paul Weiner:
Take us through your process for starting a new painting and developing a concept.

Jonathan Wright:
My process begins with an aesthetic impulse like a color or a form. It can come from nature or other art, such as painting or dance, something I’ve sketched in my book, or maybe something I’ve seen on the street. Oftentimes I find inspiration from fashion or textiles.

One thing I think is interesting is when multiple artists begin putting out similar aesthetics independently, as if they are responding to a similar impulse floating around in the culture that they then explore independently of each other.

But back to me. I begin with an impulse and sketch it out. However, my process and interests are kind of bipolar at this point. Sometimes I like to hone my skills and make highly realistic work, while at other times I’m interested in exploring something non-objective. Thus, depending on what I feel like making, whether it’s realistic or non-objective, my approach is quite different.

If I’m going to paint something realistic, I’ll use Photoshop to collage an image from which to reference. Then I begin the classical process of painting with oils, starting with an underpainting and continuing with opaque layers of paint. If I’m interested in exploring something non-objective I like to use acrylic on paper. With this approach, the medium is really forgiving, and I can edit, destroy, and create as I go along.

In all honesty, I find the non-objective approach more interesting as far as process goes because there is more that is unknown and more to discover. However, I still really like the results I can get when painting realistically. So one of my long-term problems, and remember it’s the problems that keep us going, is to get comfortable enough with my figure painting that I can incorporate the destroying/creating dynamic into that process. Artists like Alex Kanevsky, Kent Williams and a host of others are inspiring to me in this vein.

As far as “concept” goes, that term is something that I find terribly inadequate to describe the nuances of what visual art communicates. Painting especially is incongruous to this notion. The information that develops in a painting during its creation comes from the merging of the physical world of the materials and the subjective world of the artist.  During this process, one has to let go of expectations and conceptual rigidity. Some initial impulse to create is needed, which could be conceptual, but you have to release your expectations and just let go at some point. In my opinion, art is most interesting when it presents something fresh and unknown, which is kind of antithetical to conceptual art.

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the lake 5

Paul Weiner:
I like the idea of bringing abstraction and figure together for the sake of dynamism. To that extent, how do you feel about Anselm Kiefer’s way of melding expression and figurative art?

Jonathan Wright:
Although I haven’t studied Anselm Kiefer a lot, I would say that he is fairly post-modern in that he is drawing from representational painting and sculpture in a way that activates their culturally collected meanings. He utilizes that history and then adds some expressionism into the mix. And he is successful with that mixture. It’s been a while since I’ve seen one of his works in person, which I expect is more impactful than on the page or online, but I believe it must deliver quite an impression. But, in speaking to the representational/non-objective dynamic, I think it’s a really vibrant solution to the legacy of Abstract Expressionism, which kind of became too subjective, too limited.

There’s a long history at this point of artists negotiating this terrain, from Willem de Kooning, Diebenkorn, and Neri to contemporary masters like Sangram Majumdar, who totally blows my mind. In the case of Majumdar, he transcends representation by dancing with materiality, illusion, and, most important of all, spontaneity. It’s his ability to include it all, so to speak, that’s so interesting. He harmonizes  the result oriented approach of realism with the subjective spontaneity of Abstract Expressionism.

Another aspect that I see within this dynamic of what we could call form and formlessness is that it speaks to the transience or impermanence of our time. On the one hand, there is a lot of fragmentation going on in the collective psyche and on the other, we see that nothing lasts forever, which is a very Buddhist point of view. It’s a tumultuous time, which is being reflected in this aesthetic device.

6 record keeping 3, 2012, oil on paper, 9x9

7 record keeping 2, 2012, oil on paper, 9x9

Paul Weiner:
What do you find most appealing and most frustrating about the Denver art scene?

Jonathan Wright:
I think Denver has a specific flavor of energy that is unique and interesting. I’m not sure if I can really articulate it, but is has everything to do with geography and history. It’s dry and dirty and a bit outlawish. This is Denver’s strength, but I don’t think it can ever be pinned down.

That being said the art culture here can definitely feel out-of-touch and a bit late on the scene. Denver is kind of catching on to the ideas that originated in the big art centers five years prior. This, in my opinion, gives no one in this town the right to be snobby or exclusive because the people running the show here aren’t all that tapped in anyways. So Denver’s isolation is a strength and a weakness. It’s got an underdog vibe, which is invigorating, but also an air of exclusivity based on insecurity. Take it or leave it, I guess. Overall, it does provide a good emerging art scene, someplace to get your feet wet and perhaps continue to show even after one is more established.

It’s great. It’s home.

Paul Weiner:
You mentioned how Denver is a great place to get your feet wet, which makes plenty of sense. Are you considering making a move to a larger art market like New York or LA at some point?

Jonathan Wright:
At some point, I think it’s inevitable if you want to keep going with your art, as I do, to make that move. Some artists have stayed in Denver and have made a good name for themselves; maybe Phil Bender would be an example. But, yes, I would like to make a move to the West Coast within a year or so. Like New York, there’s a lot of great figurative work going on in LA and other styles of painting as well.

This whole thing has a lot to do with money. There’s simply more money in LA or San Francisco, perhaps also a more sophisticated market, not to mention a more diverse demographic. That equals a more vibrant and commercially viable art scene. I’m excited

to get a few more exhibitions under my belt and to develop a stronger artistic identity before I make the move. That being said, I would never turn my back on the community here in Denver. I’d still love to show here if the opportunity were to arise.


Please view Jonathan Wright’s artwork online at http://www.jonowrightart.com and like Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

Subscribe to the Critique Collective newsletter for additional content, faster updates, art tips, and insider information absolutely free.