Harrison Nealey on Beauty Is, graffiti and the Magnet Mafia

His Magnet Mafia partner may have moved to San Francisco, but Harrison Nealey's sticking with Denver. He's been working on commissioned sculptures for artists at Demiurge, and that inspired him to put together Beauty Is, a solo show that opens Friday, September 28, at Division West.

We recently caught up with Nealey to ask him about the show, moving from magnets to sculpture, and more.

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"This show is sort of what I always wanted to do," Nealey explains, "which was converge my urban involvement with my professional involvement, metal fabrication and graffiti together, so it's always been the concept in the back of my mind. And I had this show come up and decided to go for it."

In some ways it's a departure from the graffiti-inspired magnets that the Magnet Mafia would slap on metal surfaces all over town -- the magnets were flat, and these pieces all have more than two dimensions -- but it's also inspired by the work for which Nealey is known.

"The original title that I wanted for the show was Unfadable, which essentially gave me the idea for the pieces," he says. "More or less the concept of the pieces is, even after the graffiti is gone, the wall has still been touched by somebody, and it's essentially always going to be there, you just can't see it -- it's beneath the surface now. Sort of like an internal scar, I guess. It's always going to be there."

But Nealey ended up going in slightly different direction with the theme. "The show is based off of concepts that graffiti artists and writers might consider to be beautiful," he notes. "So little, strange details, like drips and shapes and patterns -- the new title is based on those details that can be overlooked, but they're still there, and when they're noticed, they're also appreciated.

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"This show is a little more conceptual for me, so the concept for the show is a little more thought-out instead of just putting stuff on canvas, which is what I normally do," Nealey continues. "I do a lot of abstract paintings. So it's sort of scary. I'm excited to show it, but I've never done any dimensional work like this before, other than my day job, which is building sculptures for other artists. So I'm excited to get into this kind of work and continue doing pieces. It's a little more extensive than simply painting, but for my current capabilities as an artist, dimensional pieces have more meaning than flat pieces."

And working at Demiurge gave him the urge to create the pieces for Beauty Is. "I'm a hands-on, dimensional thinker," he explains. "I used to work at a bike shop, and I've worked at factories and places doing mechanical stuff. Although I like two-dimensional art and I want to keep doing it, graffiti is more of a dimensional thing to me. A lot of pieces and murals that go on walls, they all have track shadows and a dimensional aspect, but it's still on a flat wall, so I'm trying to reverse that and come about it in a new way."

So what else in store for Nealey? Lots, we're happy to report: "I'd like to think of this show as the beginning of doing more dimensional pieces," he says. "Taking the time to produce this stuff is sort of tricky, but I think it's pretty fulfilling."

At Demiurge, Nealey is building a sculpture designed for the new Colorado Justice Center -- he'll also have his own public art piece going up sometime soon in Denver, another reason to be grateful he's started dabbling in sculpted works.

And although the Magnet Mafia is on somewhat of a hiatus in Denver, it hasn't gone away completely. "We haven't been doing too much lately," Nealey says, "partially just because life got really busy and making magnets sort of had to take the back burner, but my partner Matt Feeney lives in San Francisco now; he's been working on some magnet projects out there. We're going to keep doing it, but we're on our own schedule and trying to stay true to the whole concept of magnets as street art."

In fact, Feeney was in town just this past weekend, and he and Nealey made some magnets that will be on display Friday at the Beauty Is opening reception, which starts at 7 p.m.

Catch Beauty Is at Division West through late October, and visit http://stereo-abstract.blogspot.com to find out more about Nealey's creations.

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