Kaitlyn Tucek Launches a Ghost-Town Exhibit, The Lilac Hour

Kaitlyn Tucek's Steven and Jed shows an example of the beautiful moments that exist between people.
Kaitlyn Tucek's Steven and Jed shows an example of the beautiful moments that exist between people. Kaitlyn Tucek
Denver artist Kaitlyn Tucek's latest exhibition, The Lilac Hour, will take place in a ghost town near Aspen.

In the show, Tucek meditates on Long Island, where she grew up, and Denver, where she’s lived for the past eight years. The visiting constraints of the pandemic shed a new light on the two places' distinctions, and her paintings and words pay homage to the emotions entwined with both locales and the people she loves. The show deals with memories, processing grief and experiencing belonging.

“At the end of last year, I was grappling with the idea of being in Colorado and no longer in New York,” Tucek says. But when she traveled back with her immediate family for a three-week stay, it was a “strange situation to long for it so much and to get there and realize it wasn’t the thing I was longing for.”

Instead, she dug into her reasons for living in Colorado: its space and natural beauty. “I tell them about the sky,” she writes in the exhibition. “The sky has been generous to me over time.”
click to enlarge "Dark Sky Spot" reflects Tucek's love of Colorado's open sky. - KAITLYN TUCEK
"Dark Sky Spot" reflects Tucek's love of Colorado's open sky.
Kaitlyn Tucek
The Lilac Hour is Tucek’s largest exhibition, and a synthesis of her previous styles that combine gestural mark making, figure drawing and abstraction. She says the combination of styles is a way to “bring all these elements together that are singular pieces.... These pieces make more sense to me than anything I’ve made before."

Tucek’s poetry is central to The Lilac Hour, and it’s a new process for the longtime visual artist, who's been drawing and painting since she was a teenager. Tucek went to the Pratt Institute to study illustration and graphic design, earned a master's degree from CUNY Queens College, and has since become known for her signature mark making of abstract and representational forms here in Denver. This past spring, after reading a number of poetry books during the pandemic, she took a poetic memoir course with Serena Chopra at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop.

“It was so absolutely freeing to sit down and write and not judge myself,” says Tucek, who loves how poetry can transfer emotion even when the literal meaning remains elusive. At Lighthouse, she notes, “there’s very strong encouragement to understand that things can become a constellation” — that individual ideas can connect and reflect greater ideas.

Tucek also sees writing as a form of preserving memory while understanding that memories are inherently ephemeral. She likens the process to palimpsests — old manuscripts created during antiquity and through the Middle Ages whose original print was erased to make space for new words.

It’s a tool she uses specifically to help grieve the death of her father, who passed away ten years ago from cancer. “What’s challenging, especially not living in the place where we were together, is that I’m losing memories,” she says. “It’s one of the reasons my husband encouraged me to start writing.”
click to enlarge Tucek's words will be intermingled with her painting across the expanse of the Ashcroft ghost town. - KAITLYN TUCEK
Tucek's words will be intermingled with her painting across the expanse of the Ashcroft ghost town.
Kaitlyn Tucek
Although her father was not an artist, he was a maker, and “so much of how I see the world and go about my own practice comes from him,” she says. “Going through grief has led me to being slightly more romantic, appreciating the beautiful moments between humans.”

Writing has helped her better understand those connections, and it has inspired some of her paintings. A number of works in The Lilac Hour depict loving gestures between couples, such as “Steven and Jed,” where two men hold and comfort each other, or “Jon and Lisa,” where Jon rests his head on Lisa’s lap.

The paintings are vibrant and colorful, like the bursts of light that find their way through the old buildings of the ghost town of Ashcroft, Tucek says. “I really played with that in my two-dimensional works — when searching for models and setting up my images.” Further, knowing there’s no electricity in the ghost town's buildings, Tucek worked with her studio lights off to really push the color dynamics so the paintings give off their own light.

Ashcroft was a boom-and-bust mining town in the early 1880s, and Tucek likens its existence to the life cycles she explores in her own work. It’s also the opposite of a white-wall gallery and an ideal location for the play, experimentation and vulnerability she wants to extend from her practice to the viewers.

She hopes the exhibition will provide “a little peace” and a “literal space for people to come and be together” to see the exhibition situated against the expanse of the Western sky. And maybe that space will allow for new and rewritten perspectives.

Ashcroft Ghost Town is located eleven miles up Castle Creek Road (County Road 15), which is accessed from the roundabout at the west entrance to Aspen. The ghost town is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and admission is $5 for adults; proceeds will benefit the Aspen Historical Society.

To learn more about
The Lilac Hour, visit Kaitlyn Tucek's website or Leon Gallery's website. The exhibition will be shown at Ashcroft Ghost Town from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, September 17 through Sunday, Sepember 19.
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Claire Duncombe is a Denver-based freelance writer who covers the environment, agriculture, food, music, the arts and other subjects.
Contact: Claire Duncombe