You can find art all over town — not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.
For new collectors, gallery pieces can be cost-prohibitive. Colorado artists Blair Hamill, Tim Deibler and Mark Nelson recognized this when they created Landscapes in Miniature, a show designed to “make art accessible for people who might want to start collecting,” says Littleton-based Hamill. “We came up with this idea of doing a miniature show. People can spend $150 on an original painting; the concept is artwork you can afford to love.”
Hamill, Deibler and Nelson launched their mini-exhibition at the Stanton Art Gallery, where they hung approximately ninety small paintings they’d made specifically for the show. When the debut exhibition closed, the artists moved the show to Cake Crumbs at 2216 Kearney Street, where viewers can enjoy the works (and maybe buy one) while they sip on coffee and nibble on pastries.
“Landscapes are pretty much what I’ve concentrated on,” says Hamill, who grew up in Arvada. “My mom was in the Arvada Fine Arts Guild, so I started painting when I was five years old.” His mother often showed work in non-gallery spaces, he recalls, including local bars.
“I started painting, and I got the bug to draw, too,” Hamill continues. As a budding artist, he was "a big fan of Hal Foster, who did the Prince Valiant cartoons." Whenever he found the illustrator’s work, he’d study the drawings — specifically how Foster was able to draw both people and landscapes.
In high school, Hamill had some seriously great mentors, he says, including Mark Thompson – currently a teacher at the Art Students League of Denver – and the late Joe Wetherbee, a Wheat Ridge High School legend who was always encouraging students to go into art professionally.
Hamill got the ultimate encouragement when he was in Wetherbee’s class and won a contest to show his work on a special cover of the Denver Post. “That was my first job, so to speak,” he says, noting that the prize was $2,000, which helped pay for Hamill’s first year of school at Colorado State University.
Before long, he'd moved on to the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, where he worked with “a lot of the top-notch artists,” Hamill recalls, and was even instructed by Bill Robles, the courtroom sketch artist who captured the Manson and Aurora theater shooting trials.
Back then, Hamill’s goal was to become a professional illustrator. Still, his teachers “really pushed drawing and painting,” he remembers, and he became experienced in both forms.
After college Hamill went directly to an ad agency — but that business was way too stressful. “It was like being a writer constantly on deadline,” Hamill says. His next move was into publications, working for the Rocky Mountain News and then the Denver Post, where he ultimately headed the paper’s art department.
Three years ago Hamill was at Post sibling, Prairie Mountain Publishing , when he decided it was time to make his exit. “Our staff started dwindling, and I left and started painting fulltime,” he says.
“I had zero paintings,” he continues. “I just started building inventory.” By the summer of 2013, Hamill had amassed enough oils to show his stuff at the Art Students League of Denver — “one of the better shows in Denver,” he says. “There are some very good artists there and some real deals, in terms of pricing.”
With his debut exhibition behind him, Hamill began applying to juried shows statewide; he also got into several galleries, and began displaying his paintings in smaller venues, too, such as Crumb Café. “People have responded very well to the smaller shows,” Hamill says, noting that the emotional response to a landscape can be heightened in an intimate, cozy venue.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Painting landscapes, as it turned out, wasn’t so different from illustrating the news. “There was visual storytelling, and that coincides with painting, which is using a different tool – a brush – to tell a story,” Hamill says. “I think there is a lot of correlation there.”
Dramatic Colorado landscapes are the painter’s specialty. Recently, though, the artist has begun branching out. “Last month I started to do some cityscapes,” says Hamill. He likes to photograph and sketch the downtown landscape at various hours, and paint from those visuals. “I’m looking for ways to humanize the landscape a bit,” he adds. “Some people are attracted to a beautiful landscape untouched by man, but other people are relating to where man is integrated into the landscape.”
Hamill has been experimenting with the shapes of the figures and the light to try to make something that's graphic, but also seems natural because of the human element. He's currently working on a small piece that depicts two people walking up the street near the Wazee Supper Club. “It’s late afternoon and they’re talking, and one man has his arms out explaining something to the other fellow," he says. "The shafts of light coming down almost create spotlights.”
Hamill plans to show a few of his new cityscapes this summer. In the meantime, you can see his work in Landscapes in Miniature through April 24 at Cake Crumbs, as well as the Fort Collins Museum of Art, the Studio Gallery in Estes Park and the Old Gallery in Allenspark. Find more information about the artist on his website.