Meet the Art District: SPARK Gallery

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Patricia Aaron  Annalee Schorr
Photo credit: Rachel Gomez (Left: Pat Aaron, Right: Annalee Schorr)

As the oldest cooperative gallery in Denver, SPARK Gallery has been around for 33 years, currently resides in its third location and is ideally located on the corner of 9th and Santa Fe Drive - easily visible to passersby. Every month, SPARK features different exhibits and artists and I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Annalee Schorr and Patricia Aaron to learn more about their upcoming exhibits. “Triangulate” and “Honest Work” are both being featured at SPARK Gallery now through March 25th.

1. Tell me a little bit about yourselves.

Annalee: I’ve been working full-time as an artist since the late 1970s.

Pat: I’ve been working in the arts since the early 1990s, starting as a sculptor and slowly moving into painting with a focus on encaustics.

2. How long have you both worked with SPARK and what inspired you to become members of the gallery? What makes it unique?

Pat: I’ve worked with SPARK for 11 years. For me, it’s all about the people; there’s a real depth of people who are committed to the arts on many different levels. I was looking for a place that would accept the type of alternative work that I do and give me room to grow in that space; and what I mean by “alternative” is something that’s not mainstream in commercial galleries. As an individual artist, it’s important to have room to spread your wings and SPARK really encourages alternative work from installations to encaustic. At the end of the day it’s not about selling every piece on the wall – it’s about the experience and developing as an artist.

Annalee: SPARK, Pirate, Edge and CORE to an extent are all artist co-op galleries that are specifically setup for artists themselves to be in control and to show anything they feel like showing. Over the years, we’ve had some pretty insane stuff. Both Pat and I love the idea of not focusing on sales and selling every piece of art. For instance, in this show I’m hanging yarn triangles from the ceiling, floor and around the walls and that’s the kind of thing commercial galleries don’t normally let you do. The summer before last, I did an installation at SPARK where I filled a small room with bundles of mylar, covered the walls with mirrored mylar, and hung stuff from the ceiling. It was a show where nothing was meant to sell. We get more artistic license at SPARK.

3. What attracted you to the Santa Fe Art District over other artistic neighborhoods and what do you enjoy most about the community?

Pat: This is our third location in 35 years for SPARK. When I joined, we were on Platte Street in Lower Downtown Denver. Over the years, we decided to look for another type of space that would have more foot traffic and when we looked into the Santa Fe Art District about 8 years ago, the neighborhood was just starting to form a cohesiveness with restaurants and other galleries. We found this community to be really receptive and lively with First and Third Fridays.

Annalee: Since CVA moved in across the street, that’s been a very nice addition to this end of Santa Fe Drive. It’s unfortunate that there are some galleries coming and going, but there’s a vibrancy that you don’t find anyplace else. Plus the District’s connected and walkable which is great.

4. Tell me about the different mediums that you both chose to work with to create the pieces you’re going to exhibit. Annalee – I know you work with sharpie pens on mylar (but I admit I had to look up what that was) and Pat you opted for more street art ink infused with encaustic. Are these your preferred mediums or were you experimenting?

Annalee: This time around, I’ve done all my paintings on canvas, which I haven’t done in 7 years. I sort of got on a mylar kick and started asking myself “what else can I do with mylar?” So now I’ve gone back to painting and ended up with a lot of trial and error—figuring out how to use a lot of different materials like glazes, rubbing pastels into everything, and then I’ll get out the electric sander and sand everything off. This has been a very experimental time for me.

Pat: My work is a continuation of encaustic paintings that I’ve been working on for about 5 years. I tend to work in series and this one is titled “Honest Work” after the saying “An honest days’ pay for an honest days’ work” and I think it really fits with being an artist. I like working with encaustic and have embraced using ink with encaustic, but finding the right type of ink was important. I’m also fascinated by the different types of street art I see in Denver and when travelling to New York City and Europe. I’ve done some research and attended panels with street artists to understand it on a different level and that has really fed my work. I think this show’s going to be a lot different— more “painterly” with a little more air to the works.

Annalee: I noticed at SPARK today that we got tagged again—maybe we should keep it to go with your art (both chuckle).

5. Back to business. Pat, I love the theme and tie-ins behind “Honest Work.” You compare blue collared labor to hard work and perspiration and the satisfaction of a job well done. Your website says your work “reflects the enduring beauty of aging steel mills, forgotten hometown armatures, boarded shop fronts, and dimmed neon lights” but there’s also a very vibrant and colorful aspect to the pieces despite their chaos. I want to know what’s your process when you paint?

Pat: To be honest, it is very time consuming. When I started using encaustic, I didn’t realize it would be a lifelong love affair because I don’t have any desire to leave. In the beginning, it was one of those mediums that was very difficult to work with because working with warm pigment and wax on a flat surface… or open flame, but now I’ve mastered it. And I love bright colors—so you’ll see that in “Honest Work” because I wanted to bring more color out in these pieces. There is a lot of chaos in the background but that’s more of the urban landscape where I see, in my minds eye - I don’t work from photographs, of the old steel mills, billboards, boarded shop fronts.

6. Annalee - what’s your process? I know you’re interested in the social aspects of our culture and uncovering the realities that lie underneath the surface of what we present to the world. How do you incorporate these themes into your work?

Annalee: There aren’t any political themes in this particular show. In the past, I’ve taken a lot of photographs off of my TV and used those in different ways. The transition from using film to using digital is something I’m still playing with that hasn’t quite transferred into work that I want to show in galleries, but for years I’ve alternated between political photography and pure patterns with geometry. The surfaces of my paintings have a lot of stuff underneath that gets covered up, sanded off and painted back on again, but I’m back to doing pure geometry and on a 2D and 3D level. In this exhibit, you’ll be standing in the middle of triangles while you’re looking at triangles on the wall.

7. Brilliant! My next question revolves around artists that have inspired you. Can you name three artists that have had a big impact on your career— be them dead or alive?

Pat: All three of mine are sculptors who used some type of ink in their work. Anne Truitt, Donald Judd and Louise Bourgeois.

Annalee: Robert Irwin – he’s a California artist, Henri Matisse and Fred Sandback- he is the sculptor who filled the whole Denver Museum of Contemporary Art with yarn. I really stole the idea from him.

8. Is there anything else you’d like readers to know besides you’re your upcoming exhibit at SPARK gallery which is opening March 1-25th?
That Katie Caron and Martha Russo (bottom part of the page) will be doing an installation in the North Gallery titled “Swell” and their part of the exhibit will be exciting too. Also, our artist’s reception is Friday, March 9th from 6-9pm, our artist talk is on Saturday, March 17th and our closing artist reception is on Saturday, March 25th from 1-3:30pm - the public’s invited!


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