When I first started painting this mural in my studio, I was experimenting with how to make my mark making larger. I wanted to play with scale, as well as marks in relation to the architecture. I never thought that I would be making my marks in front of an audience of museum goers at the Denver Art Museum.
My demo, titled Sculptural Space, looked at the way that I create 3D work starting from a 2D realm. This, for me, meant that my gouache paintings and old studio drawings were going from flat planes of paper, to large-scale, free standing, false walls.
This also meant that I needed to build some walls. Lucky for me I am friends and collaborators with the great people at ReCreative Denver, and Matthew Shaw, an amazing custom woodworker, was able to help me build these walls from raw wood to final installation. I have minor experience with wood working, going through multiple sculpture classes in college, but preparing walls that were sturdy enough to be moved multiple times, as well as be worked on for six straight hours, take heavy amounts of water, and look good, was not something that was in my skill set.
After building the walls and transporting them from the shop at ReCreative to my studio and up to the roof, it was time to prepare them to live out their full lives. This meant multiple layers of sanding, priming, and filling to get the walls as smooth as possible. I had made them out of plywood for structure and resilience during the multiple times I needed to move them, so they were filled with slight imperfections that would not be found in typical drywall walls. Luckily the weather was beautiful for a December night, and my friend David Brookton was able to come join me, so it was a fun night rather than a task to get done.
Once the walls were done, there was only waiting and painting left to be done.
When installation was completed in the museum, I was filled with nerves and anxiety. I was anxious to get started and worried that I would not have enough time to finish the entire installation. The way that I had planned the demo to go was that the first day would be filled with painting and getting the base layer down, as well as the white top coat that obscures the color. The second day I had planned to begin the sculptural element made from the old studio drawings, and to put the finishing painting touches on the work before it was completed.
As I was creating I realized that I hadn’t gauged the speed at which I worked. I work really fast… I was practically finished with the piece within the first day of the demo. What I was worried about finishing in six hours, was almost completed by hour two. This pushed me to extend the original idea further than what was first conceived. By the end of day one I had the color layer on the walls, had most of the white wash layer on, and had started to add sculptural elements as well, with the result looking like this.
When I returned the next day I almost didn’t want to continue on the wall because I was in love with what was standing before me already. This brought me back to my thoughts on the importance of keeping work non-precious. I was there to create for two days, which meant that even though I was happy with the result of the first day, I needed to keep making the work. The second day, now having a more realistic view of the speed at which I work, I was able to slow down and really enjoy the process, rather than be afraid that I would run out of time.
This was the point in which I started to also really enjoy speaking with the visitors and people who stopped by to interact with me as I worked. Being afraid of the time limit, and setting myself up a to create and finish an installation during the two days, the first day of the demo was hard for me to focus on the people. This is something that I regret looking back, but luckily my boyfriend Aaron was there as my backup, and did a great job keeping people interested and answering questions as best as he could.
I found myself adding layers and layers of content and of material. Mixing the color with the white latex, watering down the latex more than usual to add transparency, as well as trying to mix the sculptural elements into the paint as well.
Another thing about day two: we tried to auction off the piece during the last few hours of its creation. I paired up with my friend and fellow artist Kaitlyn Tucek, who just launched a non-profit with her husband Matthew. Their nonprofit is highly personal, finding its inception because of their daughter Rowan, who was diagnosed with four heart defects upon birth, underwent heart surgery on her third day in the world, and had three more surgeries before she was a year old.
Because of their experience in the pediatric intensive care unit, and experiencing the isolation in which it brings for the mother, they created Create With Heart, a non-profit that aims to create arts programming for mothers and families that are in the PICA with their newborns. They are also working to support artists at the same time, allowing artists to get paid to create and run these programs for people in need of stimulation and companions.
My goal with the online auction (run through my Instagram feed) was to sell the work to some sort of company or business that could house the work and have space enough to enjoy it. The profits from the sale of the work would go towards reducing overhead for me and giving a donation to Create With Heart at the same time. I honestly over-shot my expectations of this auction, having not even one bid on the work, but I have not stopped in my quest to get this work into homes around the country.
After the work was completed it was displayed in the DAM for a few more days before I took in back to my studio. Just the other day I returned to the ReCreative workshop and am now left with a little over 50 square 12” x 12” panels of the walls. Shrinking down the scale, and the price, I am now looking to part with these small works for $15 each, with $5 from every sale going directly to Create With Heart. Some of the panels come directly from the wall, while others have small sculptural elements, and still some I am going back into and reworking on top of what remains from the demo. Each panel is unique and special, and I am excited to be able to offer small pieces of this amazing experience to the public.
My time at the Denver Art Museum was absolutely incredible, and having access to an amazing a staff as well as the gorgeous facilities was such a pleasure. This was also my first time working with a large museum and getting paid to create my own work for them. This is hopefully not my last time working with the team at the DAM and also not my last time working in front of an audience. Though not quite a performance, this experience was something that I will continue to use as a jumping off point as I continue to create my work.
Photos taken by Drew Austin and Katie McTiernan