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.
"The gallery business can be extremely difficult," says Eric Matelski, a Denver-based artist and art curator who doesn't believe that art should be relegated solely to galleries and museums. While Matelski says he strongly supports galleries, he's come to realize just how hard it is to keep a gallery running. "Existing businesses that want to support art and are passionate about it but don't have to worry about artwork keeping their lights on are a great avenue for artists," Matelski says. That's why he's dedicated the past decade to helping fellow artists hang their work in non-gallery settings.
Matelski left Chicago in 1992 and came to Denver to attend the Art Institute of Colorado, studying industrial design. "After graduation, I promptly took up a career in restaurant management," he says, laughing and then explaining how he'd gotten burned out on art, largely because of how trying -- and tiring! -- it can be for an artist to get his work out there. It wasn't until he joined a punk band that Matelski found a renewed interest in art.
Matelski was in a band for about five years. During that time, he realized the power of cross-promotion and the benefits of being in a community environment. "It is more powerful to do things supportively," he says.
Matelski's transition into curating was "purely accidental," he says. "I do a lot of live painting at events, and so I was knocking on doors, getting music venues to let me come paint when a sales rep said Dazzle was looking for somebody to do just that," Matelski explains. Soon he was painting live portraits of the lounge's house bands and musicians every Friday, occasionally selling the pieces. Before long, the owner of Dazzle mentioned his desire to support artists and acquire new art that could be changed regularly. "So almost immediately I started getting my friends to show there," says Matelski. That was eleven years ago, and Matelski's curating business has evolved tremendously since then. "I took on all of the Pasquini's restaurants soon after, and then I got to the point where, two years in a row, I had hung over a hundred shows," says Matelski. Booming business is all well and good, but Matelski worried that the quality of his work might suffer if he continued on such an ambitious trajectory, so he scaled back -- but just a bit. "Technically, curating is nothing more than handling a collection, but I wanted it to be more than that," Matelski says. His unique approach to promoting artists is to place their works in unexpected environments, where they can be seen by the demographic groups he is targeting.
Keep reading for more from Eric Matelski.
For his latest show -- which hosts its public viewing from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. this Thursday, March 27 at Trilogy Financial Services at the Colorado Center, 2000 South Colorado Boulevard, Tower One, Suite 11100, Matelski was particularly excited because the company is so committed to local artists. "This one was not so much about matching painting to furniture, but more to the environment itself," Matelski explains. "They have a ton of beautiful, natural light and were looking for local artists and also work that said 'Denver' in the artistry." Trilogy intends to rotate its selection every few months, which means some of the art will reflect a change in seasons, too. The new exhibition will feature the work of five Denver-based artists: Patricia Finley, Chris Schranck, Greg Thow, Laurie Maves, and Megan Jones. "All of the artists featured are extremely hard-working and dedicated," Matelski says. Most of the artists Matelski works with are local, though he occasionally uses out-of-state artists he met while traveling. "But even those tend to be artists who started in Colorado, moved, but still enjoy showing in Denver," he says. And while many of the artists are emerging, Matelski's curation also involves longtime artists. "I've been excited to work with guys who are strong veterans in the Denver scene -- those like Mark Friday and Phil Bender," says Matelski.
He also likes working with restaurants, because they tend to attract regular customers who notice the artwork more than they might if it were hanging in a gallery. Even the seasoned pros recognize and appreciate that, Matelski says.
One of Matelski's favorite spaces to show art was the West Washington Park Garden, the oddly named lawn near the Art Students League of Denver. "I work with Denver Urban Gardens, and I've done an event with them in the past called Art Farm," explains Matelski. For the last few years, he's helped turn the garden into an art gallery, using natural foliage to create walls. It's a tricky business, since most of the art he's curating wasn't created as outdoor art and shouldn't be out in the elements.
Matelski still finds time to make his own art, too; curating isn't nearly as stifling to his personal work as such things as home ownership and his day job. "This has been an inspiration," he says, noting that the more he sees what others are doing, the more creative he feels.
For more information on Matelski's work or to contact him, visit his website.
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