Julie Puma arrived as an artist via a circuitous route through higher education, finally settling into a practice of contemporary realism and portraiture, as well as service as a professor at the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design. Her most recent work is a sign of the times: Inspired by Snapchat imagery and the face-to-face cyber-communications achieved through FaceTime and Skype, the work in her solo exhibition opening September 1 at Auraria’s Emmanuel Gallery captures the momentary pictures we see of each other on our phone screens, asking questions about the state of human connectivity in a new world.
Connect with Puma as she answers the Colorado Creatives questionnaire in a more old-fashioned way.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Julie Puma: I would have to say (even though it is very hard to choose) my muse has to be Alex Katz, the American painter. He was always true to his aesthetic, painting over 250 paintings of his wife, Ada. Not only do I love his style, but his subject matter resonates with my own. There is nothing pretentious or gimmicky about his work. I’ve often thought of going to his studio and sitting outside, waiting for him, but that sounds like stalking, now that I write this.
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Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
I would love to sit around a table, with Alice Neel, Jenny Saville and Alex Katz. These three artists are my inspiration. Portraiture is such an intimate process, and finding like-minded artists to discuss this process is imperative.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
The best thing about the local creative community is how it has grown and expanded. The worst thing that has happened is that, as it’s grown, it has become more competitive. I am sad for all the artists and galleries whose plans were disrupted due to the COVID pandemic.
How about globally?
What’s exciting about the global art community is the diverse mediums and places to exhibit. As the social climate becomes more political, so does the art world. Art is not just work to hang on walls or sit in the middle of a gallery. Art is everywhere, and with COVID, more and more opportunities to exhibit digitally are becoming available.
What’s your dream project?
I’ve always wanted to open a studio space for artists with its own gallery space. Last year I founded an art collective — The Man Handlers Supper Club with artists Sandy Lane, Tsehai Johnson, Patricia Mclnroy and Susanne Mitchell. We plan to exhibit in 2021.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
Provide more funding and affordable work spaces for artists. We need more RedLine and Black Cube spaces and organizations. As the art community grows, so does the need for more exhibition and studio spaces.
Denver (or Colorado), love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I love Denver! I am a native Brooklynite, and sometimes I wish for the excitement and opportunities that New York provides, but Denver will always be my home. This summer I participated in the School of Visual Art, NY’s Artists Residency Project. This residency was completely online but was life-changing.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Marsha Mack's work intrigued me the first time I came upon it. She really engages all the senses, and her content is so fresh and innovative.
What's on your agenda now and in the coming year?
I feel very fortunate to be included in the current exhibition Pink Progression: Collaborations at the Arvada Center's galleries, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women's right to vote.
Additionally, my solo exhibition Julie Puma: Urgent Importance at the Emmanuel Gallery is a dream come true. I have always loved that space, and with COVID, we were unsure it would happen. Luckily, CU Denver approved the exhibition, and the show opens September 2. Jeff Lambson worked hard to make this happen during this crazy time, and I am so grateful.
I plan to continue my series Urgent Importance, #thankshealthheros and exhibit the paintings in 2021.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
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Jovan Brock (instagram @zhayday13) is a current student at Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design. His performance works during the protests concerning police brutality and George Floyd are gut-wrenching and powerful. He is someone to take note of as he emerges on the Denver art scene.
The solo exhibition Julie Puma: Urgent Importance opens on Wednesday, September 2, at 6 p.m. with a virtual reception via Zoom, and runs through October 9 at Emmanuel Gallery on the Auraria campus. To visit the gallery by appointment, email email@example.com and see further protocols online.
See Pink Progression: Collaborations by timed reservations, through November 8, at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada.