#24: Travis Hetman
“Have graphite, will travel” could be the motto of artist Travis Hetman, who arrived in Denver from his native state of Minnesota five years ago with an extraordinary talent for drawing realistically, while twisting some unexpected illustrative fun into the imagery. Along with artistic forays into the pinball world for Boxwood Pinball, a hand-built game project with fellow artist Bill Manke, Hetman continues his visual obsession for Tom Waits, the subject of an ongoing series of drawings he sells online from time to time on Tuesdays. As Hetman gears up for a weeklong Tom Waits pop-up at Leon Gallery, we asked him to tackle the 100CCs questionnaire; his answers follow.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Travis Hetman: The “who” part would certainly be my wife, Anna. She’s like the Alma Elson to my Daniel Day Lewis in Phantom Thread, but without the poison mushrooms and stuff. Seriously, though, our journey together through this funny life propels my creative plane. The “what” that keeps me inspired is all the hidden realities and misleading perceptions that make up the human condition. All the classic existential dilemmas — including the idea that there is no meaning or purpose at all — give me the great itch to act and create.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
Just for ease of deciding, I’ll let the dead hypothetically rest and choose from the alive camp. I’ll say Karl Pilkington, Tom Waits and my good friend Alex Dalton. I’d kill to have Karl around just moaning and uttering his hilarity. I think Tom conversing with Karl would be pure gold and the kind of funny that hurts your stomach. My friend Alex (for Denver reference, he runs the Weathervane Cafe) has the best laugh this side of the Mississippi, and he’d just need to be there to see it.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
The best thing is simply that the art scene in Denver is genuine and inclusive. It is actually pretty overwhelming to think about how many brilliant artists there are here. I mean, there’s a lot of talent, and that never hurts. The whole key, though, is that all of those talented people really care about each other and are genuinely interested in what everyone else is doing. That kind of energy and kindness breeds hard work, too, and so it becomes a cycle. What’s the worst thing? Probably that there aren’t more Kevin Hennessey hand-painted signs in place of corporate drudgery in the general visual landscape. There’s a good amount, but we could always use more.
How about globally?
That’s hard to say. It’s difficult to keep track of the daily Orwellian flow of nonsense in America right now, let alone the whole globe. I suppose the fact that we are connected globally is remarkable and can be a very positive thing for the creative realm. The flow of ideas and sharing is important. The creative exhaustion that comes with the increasing pace and quantity of images seems to be the cost, though. I’m thinking of Instagram as an example, in which case the global connectivity has obvious benefits, but on a creative level it can create weird feedback loops and can be downright debilitating if you let it. I think David Foster Wallace, both in Jest and in earnest, posed some really important questions on this subject when it comes to entertainment and art. How much is too much, and how do we decide when to pull back? Stuff to think about.
Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?
I suppose trends are worth following at times. Trends don’t have to always be met with cynicism, but I do think following them should be done eyes open and with a bit of contribution if the trend happens to be interesting. Stealing but with a tip of the cap and with something to add is a great art tradition.
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as an artist?
Just giving it a really solid and honest effort.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
A nice, consistent kick-flip is all I’ve ever wanted.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Love it! The people keep me here, and the mountains ain't half bad, either. The dryness and lack of water gets me down occasionally, but, hey, it’s always something. Denver is pretty great, and I can’t imagine leaving all the wonderful people I’ve met here.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
No favorites! I can’t possibly pick one, so here are some gems: Cornelia and Sydney Peterson of Sacred Thistle are amazing creatives that I can’t believe I get to work with. I think Ravi Zupa and Arna Miller are just stupid good and awe-inspiring. My wife and I are addicted to collecting Kevin Hennessey’s work, and he’s right up there. Evan Lorenzen, Jacky Cordova and Jared David Paul Anderson are all originals that I love. There are so many!
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
I’m just putting up a show with Leon Gallery called Tom Waits Tuesdays, which will be open for just one week. It’s a limited-edition print release and exhibition that’s a sort of culmination of this tradition that developed on my Instagram where I occasionally post a Waits-themed drawing for sale on Tuesdays to the first bidder. It built up to be quite a few pieces, so I’ve made a limited-edition print run of each one and tried to add a few other surprises to make it a fun show.
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Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Let’s say Doug Spencer, because he’s doing super-original work — and wouldn’t ya know he’s a professional framer, too!? He’s a hell of a dude and deserves some eyeballs.
Tom Waits Tuesdays, showcasing Travis Hetman’s affordable limited-edition prints of his Tom Waits illustrations, goes on display for one week only, beginning with an evening reception on Tuesday, June 5, and ending with a closing party on Tuesday, June 12, both at 7 p.m. at Leon Gallery, 1112 East 17th Avenue. Details at the Facebook event page.