Painter Peter Illig’s retro sensibility and deep affinity for all things mid-century modern drive his work, which combines realistically rendered found snapshots brimming with emotional life and an unsettled state of near-nostalgia for the lost values of a vanished era. Illig, a retired art teacher who came up as an artist in Denver’s co-op scene, is now represented by Walker Fine Art, marking a bit of a comeback — embellished with neon. Does the artist’s life improve with age, like a fine wine? Sure. Learn more about Illig’s seasoned point of view via his answers to the 100CC questionnaire.
Because I’m a student of history and art history, I can think of a lot of people from the past, such as Leonardo DaVinci. But then again, I don’t speak Italian. Seriously, I would like to collaborate with the art writer and philosopher Arthur Danto on a collaborative curating of figurative art. I aspire to his brilliant but accessible approach to the discussion of art. It would’ve been great to work with the late artist James Rosenquist somehow. I like how he subverted something as old as representational painting into a fantastic contemporary spectacle. I try to do the same.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
I think artist David Salle continues to make epic, thoughtful and visually powerful work, after decades of fame and critical success. I tend to look past artwork that is so intensely personal, austere or formalistic that I (or the public) find it nearly impossible to enter. I like Salle’s ongoing preoccupation with the problem of reconciling one’s individuality with the constant input of images and ideas we receive from the outside, media-dominated world. I relate to that because I am an “assembler” of images found in (mainly American) culture. I know my work is sometimes seen as dark, but really, it’s motivated by compassion for the human condition.
I’m retired after a very satisfying 26-year career teaching art at the high school and college levels. I have a small home business (one of my side hustles), buying and selling vintage electronics and electronic parts; it’s an offshoot of my interest in DIY audio. I also promote and sell my late father Carl Illig’s artwork, an estate he left of his very good, traditional landscape paintings. Of course, my real day job is being an artist, working in my home studio most days.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
The conceptual art form of performative meals. This started with important works such as Michael Rakowitz’s “Enemy Kitchen,” but art students jumped on the bandwagon and thought they were making cutting-edge work, diluting it down to social get-togethers with odd food and calling it a “performance piece.” Very forgettable and lacking context.
I’d start an art institute that had open studios and workshops for young people. Naturally, my own enormous studio would be in there, too. I’d invite artists and art teachers to visit and work with young artists. It would be a place humming with creative energy. RedLine and PlatteForum in Denver and DAVA in Aurora are trying to do this.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Denver is where my home, friends and galleries are. I’ve often wondered what my life would be like if I had settled in another city. I moved here in the early ’80s from Buffalo, New York, where I studied art and art education. Now I often dream of a place to live where we’d avoid cold winters, but I have to admit Denver is pretty nice after trudging through Buffalo’s harsh winters. I won’t harp on the cliché of changing Denver (it is), but I like that it’s a big enough city for there to be room and support for a variety of artists and arts organizations. I have been told by a hundred people or more that my paintings would have been more successful in a coastal city. But I will be here for the foreseeable future.
Apparently, a lot of money is available for the arts at the state and city level, but I wonder how much actually trickles down to artists. Seems like a lot goes to arts administrators’ salaries, the organizations that manage public art and the arts bureaucracy. These organizations are promoting art, but I’d like to see direct grants to deserving, proven, working artists whose work doesn’t sell for big bucks at fancy galleries. Subsidized studio space would be helpful toward that end, as well.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Man, that’s tough to narrow down — I honestly admire the work of so many. I’d say the artist Mark Penner Howell, whose epic realist work is strong and under-recognized. I could list a dozen other painters, photographers and sculptors, younger and older.
My show Metaphors at Walker Fine Art opens at end of April. Meanwhile, I’ll be in the studio, working on a new series, divergent from my past work. My recent series of paintings that incorporated neon signs will be a tough act to follow. My largest painting, really an installation with a neon sign, is now hanging at the McNichols Building in Denver, as part of a show of artists associated with Walker Fine Art. I’d like to be invited into other curated shows this year.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
I’d love to see the younger artists doing smart, well-made work get more recognition, artists such as Christine Buchsbaum, Zach Reini, Ravi Zupa, Nathan Abels, Juliette Hemingway, Susanne Mitchell, Monique Crine, Molly Bounds, Kaitlin Ziesmer and others (“younger” here is a pretty arbitrary term). At this point in my life, I’d rather encourage other artists, not just self-promote.
Walker Fine Art presents Metaphors, a group show including works by Peter Illig, as well as Meagen Svendsen, Patricia Finley, Ana Zanic, Farida Hughes and Andrew Marcus, from April 28 through June 17. Attend the opening reception from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, April 28; additional First Friday receptions will follow in May and June. Illig’s work is also on view in Tectonic Shift: Dynamics of Change at the McNichols Building through May 7. Learn more about Illig and his work online.