In late spring, as Colorado was locked down over COVID-19, Colorado-born and Denver-based artist Lindee Zimmer was busy working in Westword's new office at 1278 Lincoln Street, painting a large mural titled "We Are the Earth" in a conference room. The colorful piece depicts a woman in nature.
Zimmer designed the mural while in India. "I was volunteering at a school there. India has a lot of color, and they embrace it," she says. She decided to follow suit, with the goal of creating a bright, happy space, even during bleak times.
As COVID-19 wrecked the Denver economy, all but essential businesses were shuttered, so Zimmer had to make do with materials she already had, mixing colors by hand.
"I didn't buy any paint for that mural," Zimmer says. "I just used paint in my studio and mixed it. It was kind of unpredictable. You're using so many different colors. There's maybe forty colors in that mural, which means there are forty different brushes."
As Zimmer worked on the piece, she struggled to get the exact shading of the yellows, oranges and aquas she had in mind. "When you're mixing colors, you mix an amount that you think is going to color whatever it is," she says. "Then you get to a point where you're like, 'Oh, no, I have to do four coats, and now I don't have enough paint.'"
The resulting image, in what would otherwise be a white-walled meeting room, reminds us what it means to connect to nature and the world around us. Even in the city, we're part of a larger world.
Westword caught up with Zimmer ahead of her participation in the annual Crush Walls event, which runs from September 14 to 20 this year, to find out more about her approach to art and what she has coming up next.
Westword: When did you know you wanted to become an artist?
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Lindee Zimmer: It has been something I wanted to do my whole life, whether or not I knew that was possible. It came into scope in the last five years. To be an artist is such a broad term, but I knew I wanted that to be my full-time profession. I think everyone's an artist, and everyone can be an artist, but my whole life, I have wanted it to be my profession. When I was like five or six, I started thinking about careers and what I wanted to do.
What is your favorite thing you have created?
The mural that I painted last year on the back of Odell's in RiNo. It's called "Love Is Love," and it is just representing all types of people and that people should be able to love who they want, no matter their gender. I like that piece because it accomplishes exactly what I wanted it to.
Describe a moment that you were most proud to be an artist.
I feel the most proud recently, as in the last couple months. I've been donating portions of my mural money that I earn to different organizations or for Black lives or helping people who are out of prison. Also, I have just been able to do some mutual aid. I'm proud that my art, that has been created out of my heart and soul, is able to help other people in this hard time.
What is an experience you had that contributes to who you are as an artist today?
I was very fortunate. When I was in high school, my art teacher announced to the class that there was a gentleman looking for students to paint the mural at the Boulder Public Library. He got a grant to paint at the library, and a bunch of high school students from all around Boulder came together to come up with a concept to paint over the summer, and we even got paid! That was about seventeen or eighteen years ago. That kind of planted the seed.
It had a city element, and we had quotes in there, and a mountain element. We blended a bunch of different scenes together. We all had different styles blending together.
What is your favorite part of your career as an artist?
Being able to beautify spaces that would be forgotten, and my ability to make art accessible for anybody. That's why I consider myself a public artist and an art advocate. A lot of the time, art isn't taught, and when it's out on the street in a public setting, everyone gets to have it be part of their narrative and their lives. It's a lot different than going into a gallery. In the last year and a half, I have been able to focus a lot on diversity and bringing specific people's stories to the forefront, bringing voices to more marginalized people through art.
What exciting projects do you have coming up?
I am most excited about a big mural I am painting on the Whole Foods at Ogden and 11th. I'll be painting a big mural there at the end of September. I felt really fortunate that I had a lot of creative input, and there was a message of connecting the community with food. I got to highlight a lot of important people in my life. I have a couple of interns I have been mentoring to help me on that mural, as well.
What goals do you have for your career in the next five to ten years?
I would like to work more with youth and use my skill set to bring other people's voices into the murals and be more of a facilitator and an organizer. I also have really lofty goals, like some sort of after-school [program] or nonprofit that would cater to youth development through murals and helping kids who don't have access to art, which is a lot of kids. [I would like to] work with youth more. I have my background in teaching and education from Colorado State University, and I would like to have it be less focused on my ideas and be more of a facilitator to help other people.
Do you have any other interests, hobbies or passions besides art?
I've been working pretty actively on activism, specifically with people who are unhoused. We have a huge issue with that, and everyone deserves a home, especially in this time. Access to basic needs like housing, food, water. I spend my time doing that. Basically human rights and civil rights. I spend a lot of my time protesting and trying to be a better advocate and a better person so we can all have a better future, not just a small amount of people.
Why is Denver a great place for art, and how has the art scene here helped your career?
I didn't really ever expect to be so successful or so busy. There are a lot of people here that are so supportive of art. Denver has money to be able to support these things. You go to other places, and it's just not as viable to be a full-time muralist. When I planned on moving out of Fort Collins and I looked at Los Angeles or Detroit, which are also art-focused places, I ultimately came back to Denver. I was just kind of surprised at the amount of representation and excitement. It's a symbiosis of a lot of different things.
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What is a mural that has been impactful for you?
A mural that was really impactful for me this year was a memorial portrait of a woman named Dominique Fells, who was murdered in Philadelphia in June. She was a Black trans woman, and I did a portrait of her on the Tennyson house, and it was a really emotional piece. I did this portrait not knowing where my voice was or what to do. I painted her, her family saw it online, and they came on her birthday to the mural, and I met up with them. Them being so happy to see her honored and painted after having a terrible thing happen to someone they love was very emotional. Black trans women have a life expectancy of 34 years because of so many issues they deal with. I feel honored to bring a little bit of peace to that family.
I hope that more people think about how they can individually make an impact. You don't have to move mountains. It's small, tiny seeds that everybody can plant to make the world a better place.
Find out more about the artist at Zimmer's website.