Another 100 Colorado Creatives: Conor King

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#34: Conor King

Conor King is a photographer, first and foremost, but he’s so much more than that: He’s also part of the structure that keeps Colorado’s photography community developing, with his work at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center and previously at RedLine, where he served as an artist resident. With a crew of like-minded RedLine alumni, King helped found Denver’s Tank Studios — yet he still finds time to curate shows with a discerning eye for technique and content, as well as teach at the University of Colorado. As Month of Photography 2015 gets under way and our focus turns to photographers, here’s King’s 100CC questionnaire.

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

Conor King: Oh, when it comes to collaborating, I don’t think I’d a very good person to work with. I’m a very visual person making photo-based work, and I often have a very specific idea of how I want my art to look. Collaborating with others requires me to translate my visual ideas into verbal language and something gets lost in that translation. Plus, I am a pretty detail-oriented guy, and I think that I would be a frustrating partner.

That said, I do enjoying working next to other artists and have had a chance to do so at RedLine, Tank Studios and while on the Exhibition Committee at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center. I have a studio at Tank that is just steps from Margaret Neumann’s studio. I always enjoy stopping in her studio to see what she is working on. I think that I am just beginning to understand her art-making process, which is much different than my own, but it is influencing a new body of work that I’m developing.

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

Simon Starling. He is inventive, and his work asks us to look at our world, its materials and its connections. I enjoy the ease with which his work crosses mediums from sculpture to performance to photography and enjoy his mixing of art with science and physical reality. I also admire the complex and thoughtful works of Tacita Dean and applaud her public efforts to keep film, which is necessary for her filmmaking practice, in production. As a photographic artist, I use both analog/film and digital mediums, and I want to be able to continue to do so, because each process offers its own possibilities and encourages different ways of thinking about and making artwork.

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

An art trend, I’m not so sure. A trend in photography — I wish people would take and share fewer photographs. Maybe this is just me getting older and a step toward becoming a curmudgeon. However, I think it is fair to ask: How many photographs does the world need? With the over-saturation of photographic information these days, I don’t think people actually stop to look at images anymore. 

What's your day job?

I split my time between working in the studio, teaching at the University of Colorado and caring for my five-month-old son.

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

The offer of unlimited funds from mystery patrons is a common dilemma that I and many artists have had to face! Joking aside, it is fun to think about this hypothetical. 

With unlimited funds, I would do a few things: make changes to my studio by purchasing a building for Tank Studios, hire an artist assistant and dedicate more time to art making. Outside the studio, I would start an organization for artists and clone Louise Martorano so that she could run it, while continuing her important work at RedLine. (So actually I would do three things —I would also put money into human-cloning technology.) 

I think artists (visual artists, performers, musicians, writers, etc.) need time, studio space and materials. Many artists could devote more time to art-making if they didn’t need to hold down a second job. This organization of mine would purchase artwork from artists, as it is one of the best ways to support artists, and show that work in public venues to expose a larger population to original contemporary art and help to promote the artists. It would give many small $500 to $2000 grants to help artists with exhibitions, tools, etc. I think Yes Ma’am Projects has the right idea with their micro-grants. As artist studios have always been vulnerable to changes in the real-estate market, from New York’s SoHo to Brooklyn’s Greenpoint to Denver’s RiNo, this organization would also purchase studios for artists to help provide more permanent work space. Recently Denver’s strong housing market and increasing number of grow houses have lead to a decrease of studio availability. 

That said, I wish that our system was not so dependent on a capitalistic structure. I think that financial support of the arts in America is too closely tied to the ability to sell in a market-based society. I see the arts as avenues where we as a society can experiment, question, create, fail, experience and communicate. These ventures are not necessarily monetarily profitable but are important to pursue as a valuable part of our culture. My worry is that as businesses comb through our culture in search of profit making ventures, the arts, sciences, nonprofits, etc. will lose funding as they are judged on their financial worth over their cultural value. To increase arts education and appreciation, we in the U.S. should study historical funding models and some of those seen in Europe.

Denver’s arts, however, are fortunate to have funding from organization like SCFD and Colorado Creative Industries, and Denver’s artists are fortunate to have supporters who take it upon themselves to help artists: people like Laura Merage, who thanks to her vision to start RedLine changed the trajectory of my art career; Mark Sink, who thanks to Month of Photography has helped to show and promote my work; and Ken Hamel, who is invested in Denver’s art community and runs denverarts.org.

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

Helping the arts is a multi-faceted job. I have lived in Colorado since 1998, minus a few years in Brooklyn, and am very excited and encouraged by the growing strength of Denver’s arts community. I think the best way to support the arts in Denver is to support local artists. The community at large can help by buying artwork, going to performances, attending lectures and openings, going to concerts and speaking about local artists to help spread the word about what is happening in Denver.

Denver has seen an expansion of arts coverage from Colorado Public Radio, adding to valuable coverage we already see from Westword and the Denver Post. Denver has also seen the addition of new art spaces like Dateline, Svper Ordinary and Processus that add to the conversation already established by galleries, museums and centers like CPAC. Denver has also seen the founding and expansion of spaces like RedLine, Ironton and Tank Studios. However, we need to do much more to secure the arts as Denver grows. I think Denver’s art institutions and organizations need to educate their members about living artists and encourage them to collect from local artists.

At the turn of the twentieth century, artists, architects and developers worked together to create many live/work spaces for artists living in New York. Spaces such as Gainsborough Studios, Vermer Studios and Westbeth were built to support artists. I hope that as Denver grows, funding and tax breaks could be provided to encourage the integration of affordable studios and live/work spaces into future developments.

Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?

I have long enjoyed the work, ideas and community efforts of Don Fodness. Denver and its artists are better off thanks to Don.

What's on your agenda in the coming year?

I currently have a solo show titled Seeing, as I am on exhibit through March 29 at BMoCA at Macky. The show is comprised of a selection of 40- by 50-inch photographic works from my Portraits series. On March 14, Role Play, a show co-curated by Rupert Jenkins and myself, will open as one of three Month of Photography shows curated by the Colorado Photographic Arts Center. The show is hosted by RedLine. Also opening that night at RedLine is Playing with Beauty, curated by Mark Sink.

I recently self-published two limited-edition studio books. One reveals some of the behind-the-scenes Photoshop work that I did to complete my Portraits series. The other focuses on Forms, a new series made from shredded work prints, and each book contains a unique handmade form. These books and some other attractions are available at my self-publishing website.

This summer I will return to Anderson Ranch to teach a Digital Photography Bootcamp for Teens as well as lead some classes at CPAC.

Who do you think will get noticed in the local art community in 2015?

Hannah Green. I think this young photographic artist will become more familiar to the art community in 2015 and 2016. I have taught art to college students for more than five years and in that time noticed that artists need to critique their world, have a reason to make art and need to have drive. Hannah has all these key elements, and I am looking forward to seeing her future work.

Work by Conor King can be seen through March 29 in Conor King: Seeing, as I am, presented by the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art in the Macky Auditorium Gallery, CU-Boulder campus. At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 5, King and fellow artist Gretchen Schaefer will host an expert talk at Macky CPAC’s Month of Photography offering, Role Play, co-curated by King with Rupert Jenkins, opens Saturday, March 14 at RedLine with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m.; it runs through April 25. Learn more about Conor King and his work online.

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