A native Denver Westsider and artist who left for the underground arts-sphere of Austin and San Antonio, Esteban Peralta is a man committed to communities both cultural and creative. When he finally circled back to Denver and moved back to the Lincoln Park/La Alma neighborhood where he grew up, he saw the displacement of artists by redevelopment we’re wrangling here in Denver in the present, but decided to forge ahead and open a gallery in his garage, not far from the bustling Art District on Santa Fe, which some people would call a gentrified strip. Peralta’s community-minded stance led him to poll his neighbors before taking the step to build out Peralta Projects, and after getting an overwhelmingly positive response, he moved ahead with plans for an inaugural show juxtaposing artists from his Denver and Texas communities. As he prepares to mount that show, Blue Note: Vacant and Diffused, we asked Peralta to share a little bit of his story, via the 100CC questionnaire.
Esteban Peralta: It’s a toss-up between a chilaquiles plate from La Chapala Restaurant in San Antonio, Texas, and Marilyn Minter.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
Guillermo Gómez-Peña. I have to say that I was not a fan of him or his work when I was younger, but his work really was revolutionary for the time. Dude scares the shit out of me — in a good way — and I'm shocked he's still alive.
Pedro Reyes. His "Palas por Pistolas" was huge for me. A lot of really important work coming out of Mexico right now.
John Duncan. Raised in Kansas in a strict Calvinist household. Made some really important sound and performance work in the ’70s and ’80s. Got chased out of Los Angeles over his “Blind Date” and moved to Japan to direct some super-interesting porn under the name John See. I did an interview with him years ago for another project, and it left a lifelong impression on me and at least a couple other artists I know. The explanation he gave me during the interview around “Blind Date” was probably the only explanation I could conceivably accept. It was the first time he had ever spoken publicly about the work. I was honored he trusted me enough to do that. The nature of the piece probably isn't fit to print, but if you are familiar with the extreme performance art of the ’70s and early ’80s, then you probably have an idea.
The best thing is meeting the really talented and authentic people who really care about their work and who carry themselves with a bit of self-awareness and humility.
The worst thing, and I'm just gonna say it, are the clueless socialite collectors, gallerists and dealers who breed chaos. They're insufferable.
How about globally?
The Denver art scene is just a microcosm of the global scene, I think. Every scene likes to think it's the center of everything. Same truly authentic people intermingling with the same insufferable people, and we have to tolerate each other because I guess there's a need for both in the art world. It's very dysfunctional.
My favorite is when they convert an authentic artist into an asshole. These artists are the source of many of my lamentations. There seems to be this misconception that in order to succeed as an artist, you need to kiss these people's asses, and I can't understand it. I did an interview a few years back with Italian artist Monica Bonvicini, and she described an interaction she had with a couple of New York art dealers at the 1999 Venice Biennale. They fucking ran out on her and left her with a very expensive hotel bar tab after she told them she wouldn't show with them. These people are just fucking assholes.
What made you choose art in the first place?
Hate to be cliché, but I don't know that it's a choice.
I've been on a hiatus for a couple years as an artist, but I think it's about the firsts: the first finished piece, the first compliment, the first show, the first sale of your work, the first review. I think the rubber meets the road at criticism, because it can become a negative or positive reinforcement, or both, in a lot of circumstances.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
I made my peace with God, so to speak, a long time ago, so I tend not to think too far ahead. I've got a two-year-old daughter who is testing what I think I might know about life at 47 years old. Funny how sure we are as twenty-something parents — the dogmatism. At 47, I've got a wealth of just shitty decisions I've made as a parent to my two grown sons that I can draw from.
Creatively, I'd like to see how far I can take the Peralta Projects and what kind of impact the space can make on the creative community in Colorado and potentially regionally. There are things and people in places like Wyoming and southern Colorado who have the potential to provide some added focus to Peralta Projects.
Hopefully, I've got a ton of new mistakes still left in the tank. Informed mistakes are the best.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Love it, but leave it every once in a while to regain some perspective about life. The problem with Denver is that it's very isolated. Walls start closing in on me at least once a year here, and I have to get out and back to Austin. I'm lucky to have that outlet — a place that is just as much home as Colorado — but I know a few people who don't. It's difficult to keep perspective here. Denver can have a bit of a Stepford Wives/philistine vibe to it at times. We lose good people when that happens. Dan Landes is an example.
It's currently a toss-up between Theresa Anderson and Sommer Browning. Both so talented and such authentic people.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
The plan is six shows at Peralta Projects, with a beginning to some community-outreach efforts focused on the Westside.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
I'd like to see Antonia Fernandez get more exposure on an institutional level. She had a great piece at the recent Pachucos y Sirenas show at Museo de las Americas. She reminds me very much of a younger Vincent Valdez. Valdez is a Texas-based artist whose work and perspective I admire. I do see Antonia taking a similar track. I don't know that she can do that in Denver. Hate to say it, but there are not a lot of formal opportunities or support for artists of color in Denver — especially if they're from Denver. A lot of the time, they're making work they wouldn't normally make just to get their foot in the door. Maybe she can do a residency at Artpace in San Antonio just like Vincent did. Antonia, if you're reading this, look up Artpace and Vincent Valdez.
The inaugural exhibit at Peralta Projects, Blue Note: Vacant and Diffused, opens Friday, July 6, from 6 to 9 p.m. in the garage at 747 Elati Street, with works by Denver artists Theresa Anderson, Amber Cobb and Dustin Young, and Texas-based artists Hector Hernandez, Cruz Ortiz and Kristy Perez. The exhibit will remain on view on Sundays in June from 1 to 5 p.m. and by appointment.
Learn more about Esteban Peralta and goings-on at the gallery at the Peralta Projects website, or on Facebook or Instagram.