Visual Arts

Artist and Activist Richard Chamberlain Illustrates the Affordable Housing Crisis

You can find art all over town — not just on gallery walls. In this series, we look at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

“South Westminster isn’t a cookie-cutter community,” explains artist Richard Chamberlain. “It’s a real neighborhood with real people." And real housing problems, too.

Through Coming Home: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow, Chamberlain and other area artists will explore the issues of housing affordability and homelessness. The show goes up Saturday, June 11, at the Rodeo Market Community Art Center, and is put on by the South Westminster Arts Group, a nonprofit providing community service and advocacy on behalf of the arts and artists. Chamberlain, a SWAG member, is organizing Coming Home and will exhibit pieces at the Rodeo.

This isn’t his first rodeo, though. Chamberlain has been dabbling in art since, “Oh, I don’t know, when I was born,” he says with a laugh.
Chamberlain’s grandmother was an artist living in Arizona in the 1940s and ’50s. “I was staying with her in her little adobe house, and she was working on something in oil,” Chamberlain recalls. When his grandma stepped out of the room, the toddler “decided to improve her piece,” he explains. “She wasn’t upset; she was thrilled. I’ve been doing art ever since.”

Chamberlain’s undergraduate degree was in English – with a minor in fine art – and he went on to obtain a master’s degree in mass communications from the University of Denver before combining art and writing in the field of marketing. “I’ve always done art to some degree, but there was a big gap where my creative juices went purely into writing,” Chamberlain says.

Ten years ago he wrote a sci-fi fantasy novel, but he’s since resumed painting and sculpting. “It’s kind of like riding a bicycle,” Chamberlain says. “My head was never really out of art.”

He does a little bit of everything, and lumps his pieces into "several lines of work," he says. “I’m hard to brand.”  
One of his lines is sculptural construction. “I put odds and ends together to make something,” Chamberlain says. “Sometimes I’ll make something from scratch; sometimes its recycled stuff.” For example, he recently finished an homage to a beloved dog, made from rope, corrugated aluminum, broken pottery, stones and such. For a June/July exhibition at 40 West Arts, Chamberlain incorporated water into a piece to fit the show’s Drip theme.

“Another line of work is abstract landscapes,” Chamberlain continues. “They are things that are recognizable as a landscape, but they aren’t like photographs.” He'll do photography, too, but still maintains a focus on form, movement and light that's reminiscent of his abstract acrylics.

“Lately I’ve been getting into figure painting, which combines my interests in figure drawing with color and abstraction,” Chamberlain adds, noting that human figures pose a fun challenge because they’re constantly changing.

Another pursuit is color-field work. Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko are the inspiration behind this. “If anything unites my work, it's an interest in color — how we perceive it and how we respond,” says Chamberlain.

He retired from his last full-time gig – marketing and communications for Colorado State University – two years ago and has been splitting his time between art and community activism, including the shortage of housing in metro Denver. “Even with middle-income people, it's getting harder to afford a place to live,” Chamberlain says. “With the train station coming into Westminster, we’re seeing rents going up.”  

Chamberlain joined the Westminster City Council’s Inclusivity Board and has been working with FRESC, too, to ensure that Coloradans have the maximum opportunity for a good quality of life, including jobs that pay livable wages and family-supporting benefits. “Right now," he notes, "the main focus is on affordable housing.”
Artists might not be adept at building homes, but they know how to build something nearly as valuable: momentum that’s capable of sparking broader community action.

With Coming Home: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow, Chamberlain wants to "draw attention to a serious issue," he says. "The question is what we do after the show ends.”

The show runs from June 11 through July 2, and there will be a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, June 24, with an open mic. “This will be an opportunity to talk to artists and community members who are directly experiencing the housing crisis, as well as community stakeholders,” says Chamberlain, who hopes the discussion will continue long after the show comes down.
For more information on the upcoming exhibition, visit the S.W.A.G. website.
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Jamie Siebrase is a Denver-based freelance writer, and author of the forthcoming Falcon Guide Hiking Wth Kids, Colorado: 52 Great Hikes for Families.
Contact: Jamie Siebrase