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.
Lonnie Hanzon has shown his work in downtown windows, gardens, galleries, museums — even a funeral parlor. His upcoming exhibition, From the Chest, is a first, though. “It’s an art show in a toy store,” Hanzon says. “Not just any toy store, but a Denver institution.”
From the Chest runs June 4 through July 6 at the new location of the Wizard’s Chest, a castle at 451 Broadway that Hanzon helped design from the inside out. He'll be the first artist to display work at this Wizard’s Chest, and the images on display will comprise another first: Although Hanzon’s done sculpture, multimedia work and paint, he’s never before shown his drawings to the public.
“It’s going to be a bit of scavenger hunt because of the building," he warns. "It's ginormous."
“The images are literally ripped from 35 sketchbooks and pulled from piles and drawers in my studio,” says Hanzon. Small works on paper and canvas will be “scattered throughout the store,” he adds. “Three main bodies of work emerge in the show: There are people, places and things — more specifically, imaginary friends, scenes from never-built productions and unrealized inventions.”
Hanzon doesn’t consider himself a blue-chip artist, though critics and fans would disagree. Through his company, Hanzon Studios, he and his partner have done design and visual merchandising work for the Wizard’s Chest since its debut, in 1981. But Hanzon's work stretches far beyond Denver; he's told stories through art installations worldwide. Clients range from Houston Zoo Lights and HGTV to the State of Colorado to Neiman Marcus (Hanzon has contributed to the retailer's renowned fine-art collection).
In Denver, Hanzon say's, he’s probably best known for “The Evolution of the Ball,” a 23' by 42' arch activating the Wynkoop Street entrance to Coors Field.
The artist has made a name for himself internationally, but he’s still partial to his home town. Hanzon grew up near Buffalo Creek, Colorado, and went to high school in Wheat Ridge. “I hit the street pretty quickly,” he says. “I got out of high school at seventeen and started working.”
Hanzon entered the art world as a street performer. “I was one of those horrible clown magicians,” he says with a laugh. Eventually he started doing people’s costumes and moved into design; in the interim, though, he was also a Baskin-Robbins mascot and during a two-year period delivered more than 2,000 singing telegrams in Salt Lake City, California and Colorado. “I’ve always worked,” Hanzon says. “You do what you do to stay in the arts.
“I really didn’t start thinking about drawing until I had to,” he continues. That would be in the early ’90s in California. “I had an amazing thing happen: I found myself working for Lucasfilm and was surrounded by these amazing artists,” Hanzon says. He learned to draw out of necessity, for commercial work.
Fast-forward a couple of decades. “A few years ago, I blew out my right hand,” Hanzon explains. He started doing an exercise known as left-handed blind drawing, in which he’d draw with his left hand while his eyes were closed. “And that’s where all of the imaginary, subconscious characters come from,” Hanzon says, circling back to his upcoming exhibition at the Wizard’s Chest.
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Hanzon’s been known to geek out on the science behind left-handed blind drawing. The left brain is often considered the analytical side, while the right brain is seen as the creative side. What psychologists are discovering, though, is that the right-left brain dichotomy can also be understood as representing new versus old. The brain's right hemisphere controls the muscles on the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the muscles on the right side of the body. “It makes sense that the left hand, then, would draw more imaginatively,” Hanzon says.
Hanzon has since had surgery on his right hand and has regained full use of it — but he says he still can't start a drawing with it.
Drawing left-handed forces Hanzon to use his right brain, and closing his eyes forces the artist to sketch without editing. The drawings “start out very scribbly,” says Hanzon. When his left hand is finished, Hanzon opens his eyes, and gives his right hand license to edit — or clean up the drawings, as Hanzon explains the process. “I’ll add stuff with my right hand — stuff like objects that I know how to draw,” he says. He also incorporates color with open eyes to help clarify the pieces. But how they start is still a mystery.
“These are truly imaginary friends. I have no idea where they come from,” Hanzon says, adding that he's excited to see his hundreds of sketches hung together. “Maybe I’ll discover a connection between them.”
Hanzon's reception runs from 6 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 4 at the Wizard's Chest, but you can see his design work all over the store any time. Read our 100 Colorado Creatives interview with Lonnie Hanzon here; for more information on Hanzon and his work, visit his website.