Colorado Creatives

100 Colorado Creatives 4.0: Kaitlyn Tucek

Kaitlyn Tucek, “The Monolith Diptych,” 2018, acrylic, thread, graphite on panel.
Kaitlyn Tucek, “The Monolith Diptych,” 2018, acrylic, thread, graphite on panel. Photo: Matt Tripodi
#17: Kaitlyn Tucek

Kaitlyn Tucek’s work is built on a basic foundation of intensive mark-making: lines amassed into loose organic shapes and crossed by swashes of color, sometimes with one thematic foot in the real world — a swatch of land or drawings of the human heart — and sometimes not. It’s illustration gone awry (Tucek does have a background in illustration) and, a portrait of the artist herself, who is concerned with her competing roles as a woman artist struggling to find equal footing in the art world, a mother and a member of the larger community. How is she doing with that existential wrestling match? Pretty well, we think, as proven by her answers to the 100CC questionnaire.

click to enlarge Kaitlyn Tucek in the studio. - SARA FORD
Kaitlyn Tucek in the studio.
Sara Ford
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?

Kaitlyn Tucek: I don’t think I can answer this question in a simple way. The answer can be nothing or maybe
everything. There is no one person or one sense of purpose that compels me to work. I draw inspiration from as many places as possible – just knowing this is what I am good at, looking into my babies’ faces, proving it to myself, feeling a sense of understanding with the world and the urge to communicate these feelings to others. It all makes me work. More precisely, when working on something — for example, an installation I'm working on at Firehouse Art Center right now — I seek out every possible influence. I am simultaneously digesting images by El Anatsui and listening to stories of the individuals who have given me ephemera for the installation. I am spending time wandering around Longmont, looking and taking it all in. For my altarpiece, I am trying to understand the struggles of women throughout history. I am relearning symbolism in manneristic and renaissance works. I am moved to work by everything I encounter.  

Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?

I had a really hard time with this question. I suppose I am overthinking it. If I think of it as “whose brain would I like to pick,” then my answers come a little easier. There are artists I worship, but I think most of the things I want to learn from them I can learn visually — someone like Picasso wouldn’t tell me anything anyway. About others, I would like to know their concepts and how they came to have them. Clyfford Still is a person who fascinates me. He built something entirely new in the art world. He managed to keep working without being a slave to the art institutions. He progressed and focused on composition and expression, and I would love to get his opinion on my life’s work. I would also love to sit down and chat with Sheila Hicks. She has had the most interesting life in the arts. She was trained by both Anni and Josef Albers. She traveled extensively around the world, but she also didn't divulge much about her beliefs and concepts. I would love to know why and how she created in a more in-depth way. But if I can break rules a little, I would love to get a group figure drawing together with a little critique at the end. Imagine Rembrandt, Degas, Heinrich Kley, Alice Neel, Käthe Kollwitz, maybe Tiepolo and who knows who else, all coming together for a figure-drawing session...

click to enlarge Kaitlyn Tucek, “Mt. Ethel Mae,” 2017, graphite, pastel, crayon, thread on paper. - PHOTO: MATT TRIPODI
Kaitlyn Tucek, “Mt. Ethel Mae,” 2017, graphite, pastel, crayon, thread on paper.
Photo: Matt Tripodi
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?

The Denver art scene is open, welcoming and non-judgmental. Coming from New York, this was a dream come true for me. I love the way each member of the community genuinely lacks the nasty, competitive edge you see in other places. I think most people feel confident in their own work and don’t necessarily feel threatened. A week ago we really showed our power as an art community when myself and five other creative women organized a massive art sale and auction in under five days to support Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network. This city of artists and creatives rallied through the web of social media and raised over $13,000 to benefit RMIAN in just a few hours. It all came together because of the connectivity of this community. I don’t think you could ever pull that off in a larger, more isolated city. As for the downfalls, I think we could use a little more art criticism. In order to become a more respected scene, we need a more discerning eye. I say that carefully, because at the same time, I don’t believe belonging to the scene should ever be unattainable. I just believe we need to encourage growth.

How about globally?

I would love to be rid of the highly conceptual art trend. I won’t lie: I like when makers make. I want more stuff.

A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds. What will you do with it?

I would finally get myself a massive studio (maybe a hangar!) and start making work as large as possible.  I have a desire to create very large, immersive installations, and epic paintings reminiscent in size of what Mehretu just created for SFMOMA. I would also take a few courses in things I am less practiced at, like some basic structural engineering. I work out of the bottom floor of my home, and ceiling height holds me back. To be very frank, I would also use some funds for child care, which would allow me a lot more quiet focus in the studio. It can be very difficult to juggle my kids while I work. The cost of materials is always an issue; I can’t even imagine unrestricted funds! Basically I would keep doing what I am doing now, except with so many opportunities for easy growth.

click to enlarge Kaitlyn Tucek, “We Are Not Here to Do What Has Already Been Done,” 2018, graphite and thread on paper. - PHOTO:  MATTHEW TRIPODI
Kaitlyn Tucek, “We Are Not Here to Do What Has Already Been Done,” 2018, graphite and thread on paper.
Photo: Matthew Tripodi
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as an artist?

The heart installation in my solo show at ATC/DEN back in early 2018 was a huge accomplishment for me. I visualized that install very early on in my process, and I was determined to make the viewer feel and experience it in exactly the way I imagined. I couldn’t have been happier with the use of Laura Krudener’s space and the way the install worked. I think it meant even more to me considering it was such a personal story about myself and my daughter. I only hope I can continue to create works that can move the viewer and engage such a large space in that way.

You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?

I usually start to conceptualize new ideas when I have at least 70 percent of my current work completed. My thoughts evolve, and I begin to pin them on a board of some kind while I continue and complete the things that came before (and usually informed the new ideations). That being said, I can’t say I have a bucket list. I want to do a lot more traveling; I want a museum show; I want to learn a number of techniques. But that can easily evolve, and I have a hard time pinning something down before realizing what I might need for growth in my work.

click to enlarge Kaitlyn Tucek and daughter in the studio. - SARA FORD
Kaitlyn Tucek and daughter in the studio.
Sara Ford
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?

Love it! Denver has been so good to me and my family. I have grown so much more here in just a few years than I could have ever imagined. I stay because I have never felt so much support for what I do; I feel my patrons and friends genuinely want me to succeed. How could I ever replace that? I also stay because it is easier here to raise a family. Having a career, getting around and bringing my kids to openings — it's all easier. I once heard Max Kauffman answer a question about his art-opening hours by stating that he wanted to give everyone an opportunity to enjoy and browse the work. I actually heard him as saying it for parents, to make it easier to bring their kids along. My mind was blown. I was so happy to hear that. He is actively working toward inclusivity. I love that. 

Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?

Caleb Hahne and Diego Rodriguez Warner. They produce work that is informed, intelligent and elegant, and overall, I haven’t seen anything like it before. I have a hard time with trends. I think it is much more impressive to try to find your own way, disregarding the idea of style and popularity. They are also both highly skilled at the figure, which always grabs me. On the flip side, the one artist I am lucky to be friends with and am deeply impressed with is Drew Austin. He has done so much, and he is still so young. I cannot wait to see what he does.  

click to enlarge Kaitlyn Tucek, “A Hive of Words That Won’t Settle,” 2017, - acrylic, book covers, graphite on panel and wall. - PHOTO: MATT TRIPODI
Kaitlyn Tucek, “A Hive of Words That Won’t Settle,” 2017, acrylic, book covers, graphite on panel and wall.
Photo: Matt Tripodi
What's on your agenda in the coming year?

Oh, boy, I feel busy right now. I am completing a large altarpiece for Thread/Bare, a group show of female fiber artists curated by Drew Austin that opens August 3 at ReCreative Denver (see below). I am also working on a body of works on paper and paintings of abstracted forms that speak to the weight of motherhood. I will be showing those pieces in December at Alto Gallery, alongside sculptures by Lindsay Gustave. I am working with a group of female artists and diving into white privilege and the idea of identity, although that might be coming in 2019. I am also currently the Artist-in-Residence at Firehouse Art Center in Longmont. The project there is probably my biggest endeavor to date: I am taking the few months to walk around the area of downtown Longmont and gather ephemera from people. I have to ask them for their trash; it's an interesting experiment in vulnerability for me. I am taking all of these papers and objects and collaging, weaving and constructing a large-scale installation that will fill the entire space at Firehouse. My hope is to create a sense of ownership and engage people in the community who don't feel comfortable in the art world or at openings. I am idealistically thinking I can bring many people together at this unveiling, making space for them to search for their contributions while also manipulating them into feeling good. I have high hopes for this one.  

Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?

Keep an eye out for whatever Drew Austin does, as well as Lindsay Gustave. That woman has some pretty fantastic installations up her sleeve.  

See work by Kaitlyn Tucek in Thread/Bare, a group show of women working in the fiber arts curated by Drew Austin, opening on Friday, August 3, at ReCreative Denver, 765 Santa Fe Drive. (Austin launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund all exhibit costs, including stipends for the participating artists, which ends August 2. Learn more and donate at

Kaitlyn Tucek is also currently artist-in-residence at the Firehouse Art Center, 667 Fourth Avenue in Longmont. See her in the studio through August on Thursdays and Saturdays; Tucek’s completed installation opens on September 5 and will be on view through October 6. Learn more at the Firehouse Art Center website.

Get to know more about Tucek and her work online.
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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd