Out of the Box

UPOP showcases Denverís underground art scene.

Dina Castillo found the perfect job at Denver's Th'Ink Tank Gallery, as gallery curator for a venue where lowbrow art and tattooists mingle freely. But Castillo can still dream, can't she?

Th'Ink Tank is already booked up through 2004 with shows featuring national talent from the underground pop-art arena, and even as such celebrated graphic-artists-gone-awry as Mitch O'Connell and Shag blow through the Tank and make a killing, portfolios from local artists are piling up on Castillo's floor. So many artists, so little space.

"There's only twelve months in a year," she laments. "Our gallery doesn't really let me pull in good local talent." And because there's just not enough room at the Tank, she's created the DC Gallery (short for "Denver, Colorado," not to mention "Dina Castillo"), a place that metro-area artists working in underground themes, from pinups and comic-book figures to graffiti and rock poster art, can call their own. But there's one little hitch: Taking a page from Vancouver's Tart Gallery, a gypsy venue with no permanent home that's run by two upstarts who call themselves the Pop Tarts, Castillo's new gallery camps out wherever and whenever it can. At the moment, it's at the Urban Renewal Salon on East Colfax Avenue, where UPOP: The Best of Denver¹s Underground Pop Culture, an inaugural show curated by Castillo and spotlighting some of the area's best purveyors of the shady genre, opens on July 19 for a month-long run.

Alex Meyer's "Girl With Robots."
Alex Meyer's "Girl With Robots."

Why a hair salon? "I actually get my hair done there," Castillo admits. "They have a huge salon, and one day the owner was talking out loud to me, saying things like, 'I wish I had beautiful art for my walls. I wish I could get more people to come in and see what kinds of services we have here.' It looked like a win-win to me." It's certainly a start. After all, the Pop Tarts often hole up in a record store.

And what's up with UPOP? According to Castillo, it's a street thing -- a slightly wicked, slightly weird, twisted version of commercial art, like the rampant inner child of mainstream popular culture...with its underwear showing. Denver is a healthy market for the stuff, she says: There's an unexpectedly avid audience here, and the sales are good. "When I bring national artists to Th'Ink Tank, they're hesitant about how they'll be received here," she says. "But every artist that's come says they had the best time in Denver."

To give locals equal time, Castillo selected twelve artists for UPOP, including some so up-and-coming that they've already been featured at lowbrow galleries and events. Kirsten Easthope, for example, creates pinup-adorned bowling pins that regularly go for 600 bucks a pop at tattoo shows, hot-rod conventions and ultra-cool galleries across the nation. Also included are fetching nudie pig pinups and robot-besieged beach bunnies by Alex Meyer; tour-de-force portraits of Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe by ghoulish goth caricature artist Phil Harris; graffiti by Ben Thompson; sculptor Vincent Comparetto's industrial light boxes; ironic billboard photography with a message by Jamie Leigh; rock posters by Lindsay Kuhn; and even more forays into subterranean genres and subgenres.

With Lady Luck -- one of pin-painter Easthope's favorite Vegas-inspired icons -- on her side, Castillo hopes UPOP will be the start of great things to come. Eventually, she would like to organize a large, all-Colorado tattooist's fine-art show, perhaps in conjunction with an upcoming tattoo-art exhibit at Th'Ink Tank; she's particularly excited by recent work in which Chicano artists mix images from wrestling culture and comic books. Solo shows by artists in the current exhibition are also possible. It's just a matter of time and place -- especially place. UPOP on in. -- Susan Froyd

 
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