100 Colorado Creatives: John McEnroe

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#56: John McEnroe

Artist John McEnroe tangles with the challenges of synthetic materials and sculptural process in big, drippy works with minds of their own. Best known for sometimes-ragged installations molded from plastics and polymers and filling spaces in unexpected ways, McEnroe seems to naturally think big. That's reflected in several public art installations scattered around the metro area, from the Dry Creek light rail station to the Colorado Convention Center.

See also: - 100 Colorado Creatives: Adam Milner - 100 Colorado Creatives: Joe Riche - 100 Colorado Creatives: Amber Cobb

And though Westword poked fun at what might be his best-known public piece, National Velvet, a lighted sculpture at the foot of the Highland Bridge, we also named it Best New Public Art in 2009. Big ideas deserve big reactions; National Velvet juggles them both with McEnroe's bold aplomb.

McEnroe's site-specific installation Beauty Does can currently be seen at MCA Denver through the end of September as part of the museum's Biennial exhibitions, so we asked him to tackle another big challenge: our 100CC questionnaire. His forthright answers follow.

Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?

John McEnroe: Rauschenberg is the name that's fast on my tongue, but I would love to work with Philip Guston. His sense of texture and composition are both familiar and foreign, but I see many similarities in the tactile materials I use as they relate to Guston's forms and paint handling.

Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?

I'm fascinated by the Rubell Family Collection and other serious, well-funded collectors of contemporary art. They have the power to create and promote an entirely new aesthetic category based on the artists they acquire, and by proxy, canonize! Both the market and academics pay attention to their choices. Big collectors and powerhouse dealers get to define the blue-chip artists of the future. There is much more to the beautiful messy outlaw art world, but the private collections are very telling of the current story of art.

What's one art trend you want to see die this year?

Art auctions: Artists should not be asked to donate their work to auctions, no matter how deserving the charity. Art auction donation requests put the artist, their patrons and dealers in a difficult spot. There's lots an artist can do to help a charity, but don't ask them to hand over their only stock-in-trade.

Continue reading for more from John McEnroe. What's hot in public art?

San Francisco just used public art dollars to bring a band into the baggage claim at the airport. Using public art dollars to bring experimental, non-permanent works into the public realm is a breath of fresh air. I think Michael Chavez and his great team of project managers at Arts and Venues has the bravery to do more work like this.

A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?

Say thank you, and then share it with other artists. I would like to take my family to the Yucatan and learn to be minorities for a while, learn to be respectful and humble to a world of people that might seem different. In this new place, which is not too far from the beach, I would like to set up a large studio that could handle most any medium. It would be for me to use, and more importantly, as a place to invite artists to come for a residency. They could come and work, or just be. Special consideration would be for artists, or members of their family that are recovering from medical problems. I know personally the benefits of medical recovery that also involves a regular studio practice. This facility could also be a gateway of cultural exchange based on artist's health and supporting professional growth.

What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?

I like an idea I heard in 1995 from former proprietor and grandfather of the Denver Dark Room, Standish Lawder. He proposed a series of 400 micro-loans to Colorado artists of $500 to $5,000. No restrictions would be put on the funds other than a vague statement like "further your art career." Just think what a quick cash infusion would do to boost a struggling artist's confidence and overall productivity.

Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?

Justin Beard. He deserves the mystery patron. Justin is the best I've seen at sewing together concept and image. "Brilliant" is wildly overused, but in Beard's case, it really applies.

What's on your agenda for the rest of 2013 and beyond?

I am completing a large public project for Donald Lipski. He has asked me to make 144 oversized chocolates, to be mounted in an oversized chocolate box. It will be installed on the wall at an arena in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the end of August.

Who do you think will get noticed in the Denver art scene this year?

Amber Cobb. Amber and I are birds of a feather. We use the substance of materials act as principal content in our work, and we also leverage implied narrative to lead viewers down a vague path. Amber has a unique angle, though, and I can't quite put my finger on it. I hope someone gives her a good-size exhibition (attention, Denver Art Museum). She deserves a chance to stretch her legs. I see an edgy exhibition opportunity that could also involve artists like Terry Maker, Matt Larsen, Amber Cobb, Adam Milner and Rebecca Vaughan.

Visit John McEnroe's website for more information. And remember: he's not THAT John McEnroe.

Throughout the year, we'll be shining the spotlight on 100 superstars from Denver's rich creative community. Stay tuned to Show and Tell for more, or visit the 100 Colorado Creatives archive to catch up.

Do you have a suggestion for a future profile? Feel free to leave your picks in the comments.

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