Colorado Creatives

Another 100 Colorado Creatives: Gretchen Marie Schaefer

#68: Gretchen Marie Schaefer

Artist Gretchen Marie Schaefer, another TANK Studio member with roots as a RedLine resident, explores issues of mortality, decay and rebirth in two and three dimensions, building installations that take off from where her drawings leave off, using and reusing materials from one work to the next. Leading a busy life that includes coordinating the visiting artist program at the Rocky Mountain Collage of Art + Design, Schaefer still finds time to generate and regenerate works for exhibits at a variety of gallery venues. Learn more about what motivates and inspires Schaefer via her answers to the 100CC questionnaire.

See also: Another 100 Colorado Creatives: Andy Juett

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

Gretchen Marie Schaefer: I've found that I'm only interested in collaboration with people I know really well. I've collaborated on a few projects but the only successful ones in my mind were with my brother-in-law Ryan McRyhew. It works because we know each other and each other's work so well, and we've been making things together for fifteen years on and off. I'd rather just hang out with brilliant, exceptionally curious people like Marie Curie, or Carl Sagan or any scientist that has the ability to explain very complex ideas to non-scientists. It would be enough just to spend time with them, over drinks. Our conversations would seep into my work.

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

I'm reading On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross right now. I also enjoyed a recent Radiolab conversation with Alison Gopnik and her perspective that things are precious precisely because we know nothing is permanent. I'm attracted to ideas around death, cycles and reiterations, and rejecting the desire for static, unchanging impermanence. My work has explored these ideas for some time, but only recently does it seem to be coming into focus.

My father worked in palliative care for 25 years, and bring-your-daughter-to-work day included being with people who were dying. Also, when I was in college, my grandfather became ill very suddenly, and I held his hand at his bedside while he died. That experience, being with an actively dying loved one, is something I think about often.

In my work I'm drawn to images that connect to death and exposed bodily interiors, and I continually use the objects I make in many iterations, cycling them through many different lives. So my ears perk up when I hear conversations around these ideas. I'm also captivated by line and connection, so the work of Sarah Sze, David Altmejd, and Julie Mehretu are always on my mind.

Continue reading for more from Gretchen Marie Schaefer. What's one art trend you want to see die this year?

Asking artists to create work for little or no compensation, or talking about artists as purely "gifted," which to me dismisses all of the work, commitment, finances and training invested in being a professional artist. This occurs repeatedly to me and artists I know, and I'm increasingly less conflicted about saying "no" and turning down projects that I feel devalue my professionalism, especially for the promise of exposure. I don't think people do this intending to be rude or cause offense, and you have to evaluate each circumstance in terms of what you feel is a fair exchange for you and your work.

Also, there are a number of organizations and individuals that do not ascribe to this pattern. Still, I do think there is a general perception of artists as hobbyists and gifted daydreamers, and people forget or don't realize that making art is work, takes time and expertise, and has real monetary value. I want to work to change this perception. And I'm so grateful and optimistic when I see people and institutions counter this tendency and provide fair financial support of artists.

What's your day job?

I'm the Director of the Visiting Artist, Scholar, and Designer Program (VASD) at the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design.

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

I'm wary of a blank check like that because it would inevitably be attached to strings that might prevent it from being a positive thing for me. I'm more interested in fair exchange. However, my husband Kevin is one of the most generous and ethically grounded people I know, and he has wonderfully holistic, generous, and sustainable ideas if we came into a lot of money.

They include continuing to work at our day jobs, making art (he's a writer) and helping others (he's also the Team Lead Outreach Worker at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless). He would set it up so that the money fostered creative freedom for us, while also creating opportunities for other artists, people struggling with mental illness and the poor. Still, I don't trust that a mystery patron would just let us do whatever we want, it would always be their money after all, so I'd probably say, "no, thank you."

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

Create funded opportunities for artists, especially in the form of residencies, and make more connections regionally. Send Colorado artists out into the surrounding region and bring regional artists into Colorado in order to expand and enrich the creative landscape here. There are a lot of self-funded opportunities for artists in Denver that I'm grateful for and have benefited from, but I think the community could invest more in its artists. The community will be happy with the return on these investments, I am absolutely sure.

And I'm optimistic when I see things like RedLine's recent grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation For the Visual Arts funding their artist-in-residency program, opening the opportunity to more artists and signaling a meaningful commitment to artists and their work. I trust that Denver loves its artists and more good things are to come.

Continue reading for more from Gretchen Marie Schaefer. Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?

Sorry, I can't pick just one. Louise Martorano is an invaluable mentor and friend. I'm also inspired by all of my fellow TANKers at TANK Studios and the community we've created there.

And I always get excited to make art after spending time with my sister Kristi Schaefer, brother-in-law Ryan McRyhew and my good friend Alicia Ordal, as well as seeing performances by Colin Furguson Ward and Stefan Herrera (Alphabets). They all engage in performance art in a way that is so different from my work and practice, and I think they are brave in ways I am not. They push me to push myself and take risks. Everyone on this list make me want to make art.

What's on your agenda in the coming year?

Working on the next year's VASD Program lecture series investigating identity at RMCAD. And, always, making new work.

Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in 2014?

I think the recent RMCAD grad Lucas McMahon is an insightful artist with great work and lots of promise. I'm looking forward to Joseph Coniff's upcoming exhibition of new work at Rule Gallery later this summer. Both Matthew Harris and Conor King have new projects and plans in the works this year, and I also hope Ryan Riss gets some well-deserved props too.

See work by Gretchen Marie Schaefer in Attract / Retract / Attract, a three-person exhibition with Theresa Clowes and Sarah Wallace Scott currently on view at Vertigo Art Space through August 2. Learn more about Schaefer and her work online.

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.

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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd