#50: Drew Austin
It’s easy to think of Drew Austin as some incarnation of the many-armed Hindu goddess Kali in a human artist’s body. There’s no other feasible explanation for how this young man, fresh out of art school, gets so much done. But all joking aside, Austin’s clearly a hard worker with a community-minded ethic, who’s always ready for the next challenge. A doer? For certain — whether he’s doing a live demo at the Denver Art Museum, creating a multimedia installation for charity, curating a show by women artists he admires or volunteering as an artist-in-residence for the Wayfaring Band, a nonprofit offering experiential adventures for young people living with cognitive and developmental disabilities. How does this complete package do it all? With curiosity and gusto, as you’ll learn from his answers to the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Drew Austin: My muse changes all the time, but I usually find inspiration from nature, stemming from Montana and now living in Colorado. This has had a large effect on my work, my boyfriend, Aaron, our relationship and how that plays into my art, as well as language, science and psychology. I try to keep my mind open, though, and let it wonder and be curious constantly.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly. These three have just been such an inspiration for my work that I would love to have all three of them in one room to talk shop. I cannot imagine the thoughts that they would have. Also, gay artists are just rad people to hang out with, so that's an added bonus to the mix.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
The best thing about Denver’s creative community is just that: the community. Everyone in Denver is just so inviting and willing to let you become part of their life. All the artists here are open to sharing their experience, helping each other along the way and bringing each other up. I don’t find competition as prevalent here as you hear about in larger art epicenters around the world, and with such tight community and such amazing work being created in Denver, I have high hopes for what we can make happen here.
The worst thing? That we have such a tight community but lack the means (or the drive) to extend beyond that circle. Art is supposed to be seen by the world and effect change, but right now it feels like we're creating art for other artists.
What made you want to make art in the first place?
Growing up, I always had a camera with me and was taking photos or making short videos with my friends. I was introduced to the wide range of art forms in high school and haven’t looked back since. My family was always very artsy, though; my uncle is a Steadicam operator, great uncle is a muralist, and many of the men throughout my family are photographers, as well. Most of my family plays guitar, too, and my brother and sister-in-law are both jazz saxophonists, so I have deep art roots.
Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?
I think they are worth exploring. Trends develop for a reason, so if you can latch on to a trend and use it in your own way to support and grow your practice while also finding something that people are drawn to, why the hell not?
I love the trend that the color pink is currently in. I think pink is such a fascinating color and has a really interesting history and association with gendered ideas in our society. There is so much to explore with this color, and the general public has started to adopt pink as a symbol of a generation, which I think is so interesting.
The trend I hate I touched briefly on above: art for artists. I really believe that for art to do anything, it needs to reach that larger audience, and while we are all striving for that to happen, I don’t think we're trying hard enough to extend our reach, myself included. There have been a few shows popping up around Denver lately about which I feel like the work doesn’t hold any meaning visually. Without knowing the artist, their process and their thoughts and ideas, there are absolutely no entry points, so with this tight community we have, all of our fellow artists are understanding our ideas and intentions, but so what? Artists are the ones who get it. We don’t need to tell our message to other artists; we need that message to reach the public.
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as an artist?
My biggest accomplishment so far was being able to graduate as valedictorian from Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design and within a few months be at the Denver Art Museum, making art in front of an audience. That was such an incredible opportunity for me, and I felt very fortunate to be creating in that space.
I think this is going to be overshadowed by a group show I am curating in August, though. I am attempting to bring together female artists of all ages, career levels and backgrounds to give them a collective voice. If everything goes as planned, August 2018 will definitely be my best accomplishment as an artist and curator.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
So much travel. I gain so much from visiting other places and meeting new people, and really want to get back into traveling and backpacking. Canada, the Dolomites in Italy, and Iceland are my current bucket-list items.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Love it. After growing into the city after moving from small-town Montana, I can’t help but love this place. So much to do, so many people to meet, and the vibe is always just great. The opportunities to build and develop community and explore outrageous ideas are endless here, because there is always someone in Denver that is on board.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Ramon Bonilla is someone who has been on my radar since the second I stepped into his RedLine studio a few years ago. His work is so simple yet so complex, and is just visually stunning. He showed off his curatorial chops last year at RedLine, as well, and I was blown away by the diverse group of artists he chose, who used that space like nobody’s business. On top of that, he is an incredible man and such a caring, hardworking individual who also has the cutest studio dog. I think Ramon was probably the first Denver artist I began to collect, and I cannot wait to see how his work grows and develops over the next few years.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
#allofthethings: I am working with New Genres Collective based out of RMCAD to put on a performance at Counterpath in March, as well as to participate in both the Currents New Media festival in Santa Fe and a performance at Denver Art Museum later this year.
In addition to that, I am curating a two-person exhibition at ReCreative Denver in April, as well as a five-person group show in August. I am also working with RedLine and the Temple to activate that historic space with projection and new media later in July.
As for my own personal art, I am collaborating with Nathan Hall for a performance piece in May titled Contact, and will be showing in Lakewood in a group show later this year. Those are the only things that are concrete, but I have plenty more irons in the fire as I work on proposals and other large projects that I hope to announce later this year.
I also just launched a personal project called Studio.Public in which I reach out to creatives around the world and do short interviews, followed by a blog post via my website. I am using this as a platform to introduce my friends and fellow artists to the work that I find extremely interesting, but also using this as a chance to learn more about the person behind the work they do and learn more about the process that goes into creating their work. Currently I am focusing on fine artists, but I intend to branch out to creators of all types.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
This is a difficult question, because these three women are already noticed, but I don’t think they are noticed enough. Regan Rosburg, Jessica Kooiman Parker and Kaitlyn Tucek are some of the most thoughtful, hardworking artists and curators that I know, and while they are gaining traction, I don’t think they are getting enough right now from the Colorado art community.
Not only does Regan create visually stunning work, but she has curation skills that are f@*&ing incredible. Axis Mundi was curated last year by Regan, and she managed to connect artists around the country, connect ideas around the world and connect three physical spaces throughout Denver, all the while pulling off her largest installation. Regan is constantly thinking and making, but is also so conscious of her effect and her contributions to the natural world.
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Jessica Kooiman Parker is such an innovative thinker and hardworking woman, curating for Firehouse Arts Center in Longmont while raising her son Oliver. She is truly a dream curator, working for the artists, not for herself. She pushes artists to think outside of the box and create work that has meaning for the artist and for the viewer, and challenges the typical functions of the art world as we know them.
Kaitlyn is a powerhouse woman, creating intense, flowing, emotional works of art and taking care of her two children, as well as starting a nonprofit with her husband. She just mounted a huge show at ATC|Den that is somehow haunting, sensitive and straight-up powerful in both content and technique, all at the same time. I see big things in Kaitlyn’s future and am so excited that she will be making work for the exhibition I am curating in August.
Drew Austin will participate in an exhibition and performances with the New Genres Collective on Friday, March 16, at Counterpath, 7935 East 14th Avenue, and on Friday, June 29, as part of the Untitled Final Friday event at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway. Check the NGC website for updates.
Learn more about Drew Austin, his work and additional projects online.