Serious artists need serious buyers

Tue, Apr 20, 2010


Between 1930 and 1960, the population of the Colorado Springs’ not-quite-Metropolitan area averaged around 40,000 souls. During that period, the region experienced a now legendary flowering of the visual arts.

Lured to the region by the availability of seasonal teaching gigs, nationally prominent artists came to Colorado Springs and often remained here for many years. The Fine Arts Center lived up to its name by providing modern, inexpensive studio space to artists, and Colorado Springs cheerfully welcomed the free-thinking libertines who made the arts community.

Springs residents did something besides welcome serious artists to town. They bought art.

In that small city, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of local collectors who provided a steady market for resident artists. Working from that base, the George Nix gallery became a nationally prominent showcase for regional artists. Here’s an excerpt from Time magazine, dated Sept. 13, 1948.

“There is a general and valid acknowledgment that the better the painter the dumber he must be, and out of this dumbness the critic is born and makes hay. French-born Jean Charlot wrote that bitter-seeming remark … Last week his paintings and colored lithographs were packing people in at Colorado Springs’ George Nix Gallery (including museum buyers from as far away as Washington, D.C. and San Diego), while Charlot himself expatiated (sic) on art in the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center School (which he directs)…”

“Charlot is content to stay within the few blocks that hold the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, a Roman Catholic Church, and his white frame house on Boulder Crescent. Colorado has, of course, other attractions for Chariot. “Since I came to this outdoor-loving land,” says he, “I am engaging in contemplating fishing. That is to say, I am contemplating it.”

Simple truth; artists can’t easily live in cities where there are few local collectors. We still have dedicated collectors of serious contemporary art, but nothing like the numbers that our present population of 500,000 would suggest.

That’s why two of our city’s most prominent painters, Tracy and Su Felix, left town several years ago and settled in Denver. Both Colorado natives, they were deeply involved in the local arts community. But, as Tracy told the Denver Post two years ago,

“There’s a great gallery community in Denver. People buy art here, and there are devoted collectors.”

The couple currently has a joint show at the William Havu gallery, a long-established contemporary arts venue in a spectacular post-modern building. I can’t afford Tracy’s work nowadays, but I’m glad that I was smart enough to buy a couple of his big, gorgeous landscapes back in the early 90’s when they were priced for the virtually non-existent Colorado Springs market.

Empty pockets notwithstanding, I went to the show’s opening last week with my daughter, a Denver attorney, and my son-in-law.

Tracy and Su have thrived in Denver. Their work has gotten deeper, richer, more assured, and assuredly more expensive. And, Bill Havu noted, they’re not the only Colorado Springs émigrés whom his gallery represents. Colorado Springs native Jeremy Hillhouse, who died last year, was featured in a retrospective exhibition during February and March.

“And do you see that mobile hanging from the ceiling?” asked Havu. “That’s by Robert Delaney. You must know Robert.”

Robert, like Tracy and Su, was once part of the Colorado Springs art scene. He moved to Denver during the 80’s where he and his partner, Colorado Springs native Michael Paglia, run an iconic South Broadway store, ‘Popular Culture.’

You must know Michael – he’s the art critic for Westword.

So, I asked Havu, who are the devoted collectors who sustain and support artists such as Tracy, Su, Jeremy, and Robert?

“It’s a very diverse group,” he said, “in fact, there are a lot of young lawyers like your daughter who come to the shows – and they buy art.”

So if you really want to have a lively, interesting and vital scene in our little burg, go buy some art! And if journalists were as well paid as lawyers, I’d buy some too…

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5 Comments For This Post

  1. Kimberly Faye Says:

    This piece should make front page of the Gazette! It is a sad commentary on our community to loose great artists to other cities in surrounding Western States.

    Ironically, this article precedes a going away event that will happen this week for one of our local musicians/artists who plays with the Symphony, Philharmonic and Chamber Orchestra. A little over a year ago, Kelly Jeppesen debuted his first album at the FAC while revealing his talent as both a composer and abstract artist. He went on to produce a show at Stargazers and preformed a charity event at Cottonwood where his art received rave reviews. For many months, several of his pieces were on display at Nosh. The problem is, no none bought any of it even though local television, radio and print publication interviews touted Kelly as an emerging artist to keep one’s eye on!

    In a few days he will leave Colorado Springs to seek fame in the Northwest where artist/musicians have gained recognition and remuneration for their gifts and talents.

    When great artists are forced to move elsewhere in order to fulfill their purpose in life, where does that leave the rest of us? For those of us who love the vibe of an artistic community, there is only one choice. We are forced to follow.

  2. lance green Says:

    i’ve had TWO solo shows here- one at smokebrush and one at rubbish. one person bought a little 12 x 12 at the smokebrush show and i think i sold a few small paintings at rubbish. what a total waste of time, materials and energy.
    i’ve heard every excuse in the world, but it simply seems that art is NOT a priority- barely even a consideration here in COS. i closed down a very successful gallery and moved here from l.a. because of the big “art district” that was supposed to happen back in 2004, and i’d have to say it was possibly the biggest mistake of my life. colorado springs is a place where people dabble, but as far as serious art? a few real established artists, but Very few. and art buyers? just about nada. but- plenty of lame excuses or just a total lack of interest- people don’t even look at the website!!! thank god for taos, santa fe, and scottsdale!!!

  3. lance green Says:

    sorry for the rant. frustrating times in the gallery world. apologies.

  4. limewire Says:

    shoot nice story dude.

  5. Sharon Says:

    As a gallery owner, collector and promoter of visual arts, my experience is different from your comments. There’s a lot of truth in your commentary but some missing facts. First, of the 500,000 residents, a large percentage is military and many are retired military. This alone impacts the art community and not necessarily favorably. If we removed the actual number of military from our population, the marketplace for artwork is much smaller for the number of artists competing here and tourism is way down. Cities with several million in population, where there is no military, struggle with the same issues we experience. The art world, specifically the visual arts, has changed considerably with the Internet in the past ten years and competition has become fierce in this industry. People are more mobile today than ever before and have options everywhere they travel. Savvy collectors know how to shop and how to identify good art. I would argue that Denver has a thriving art community and artists are finding it a more profitable location. Artists who make a serious living do not rely on one location and market their work to different cities across the country and around the world. I have many successful artists in my gallery and a six digit income is not unheard of – but they happen to market work through many galleries across the country. Perhaps a discussion with a Colorado Springs gallery owner would uncover a different view than that presented in your commentary. Colorado is not considered an Art Mecca in the art world and it is difficult on all levels to make a living here as an artist or art promoter. But we love living here and a skilled marketer will meet the challenges to bring fine art to Colorado Springs and perhaps change the perception about what is available and why it is important to buy locally. By the way, art is not just for high-income (lawyers) earners. Visit Hunter-Wolff Gallery and we can place art in your home that costs less than what you might pay to play golf on a private course. The key is you have to love art and make it your priority.