A native of Sterling, Mary Mackey is no stranger to Denver—though she spent several years living in Europe and the U.K., gaining experience as a photographer, she returned from her travels to Colorado to become a gallerist at the Mackey Gallery, a Denver art-scene mainstay in the ’90s. From her long-ago start in photojournalism, Mackey went on to also explore contemporary painting, printmaking and more recently ceramic art, but throughout her career, she's always understood the importance of community in art-making — the sharing of ideas and techniques among the like-minded. Her latest venture, Urban Mud, a new, all-purpose venture on Santa Fe Drive with gallery space in front and a cooperative clay studio in back, is the true extension of that belief, envisioned as a place to work and exchange camaraderie and skills.
We asked Mackey to outline her spin on the changing art world by answering the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.
Westword: What or who is your creative muse?
Mary Mackey: Well, I have so many, but the one who has been influencing my work the most in the last couple of years is Jeff Wenzel.
I started to take ceramic classes again after a ten-year hiatus from Jeff at the Art Students League of Denver. And now it is the main medium I’m working with. That is why I’ve moved my painting studio to a smaller area and have invested in constructing a ceramic studio for myself and others to use at 530 Santa Fe Drive.
Jeff and I have collaborated and been in each other’s lives now for over 25 years. He was one of my first artists I represented back when I owned the Mackey Gallery. Now he has been a teacher and creative muse for me in the last couple of years. He pushes me to go beyond the level that is my comfort zone and makes me reach for places that I might not go on my own.
What three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party and why?
Joan Mitchell, because she’s not only one of my favorite artists, full-stop, but because being a woman in the 1950s had to have made life really difficult. David Sedaris, because he is one of the funniest people I’ve ever read, and I would just love to spend an evening with him. Lastly, my mother. I would like to tell her about all the things I’ve accomplished since she passed away in 2013. She was such a big supporter of my first gallery, and I’d love to show her my new one.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
Denver has always had a very large and vibrant alternative gallery and art scene, but has struggled to support the higher-end galleries. With this new gallery, Urban Mud, I’m hoping to find a way to attract a new, maybe younger set of clients who not only appreciate contemporary ceramics, painting, photography and mixed media, but who will collect them, as well.
As an artist and gallerist, how would you size up the current climate in the local art world?
Denver has always had an exciting group of young artists, and still does. But I feel that the larger institutions have not taken our local artists very seriously — it seems to me that you have to be from somewhere else to get noticed by our museum curators. We used to have all-Colorado biennials at the Denver Art Museum. The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities puts on a great show every year called Art of the State.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
I have had my work shown in many places in the world, but I’m still striving to get my work, whether it be my paintings, photography or now my ceramics, in well-established galleries in England, Germany, France and on the coasts here in the U.S.
What’s your dream project?
I’m living the dream, as they say. But I think maybe my dream project would be to curate really great art shows from all over the world. I think back on all the shows I curated for the Mackey Gallery, and that is where I got most of my satisfaction from owning a gallery. I’ve missed finding great art and being able to show it for the first time and having an audience who appreciates it.
Denver or Colorado, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I love Denver now, but as a young person in the early ’80s, I felt stifled. I felt that to get noticed in Denver I needed to go away and be in bigger markets for art. So I picked London and Berlin. Great places for art, and I did learn a lot.
And I still encourage young people who are from here to go out and discover the world, and then come back. Now Denver is full of exceptional young people, and I love the city’s energy.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
I have so many, and it’s hard to pin down. But one does come to mind who I feel is a big reason why Denver has been put on the map, at least in photography, but for much more as well: Mark Sink. I’ve known Mark since 1991 and got to know his whole family. He has tirelessly promoted artists of all walks of art here in Denver and has had a big influence on me. The Month of Photography soon will be something that happens all over the country and spearheaded the Month of Printmaking. I was thinking it might be great to start a Month of Ceramics.
What’s on your agenda in the coming year?
I’m lucky enough to be doing it right now. I have a beautiful building in the Art District on Santa Fe, and I’m creating a new contemporary ceramic gallery called Urban Mud. I’ve got many great artists lined up for the next year, including ceramic artist Judith Cohn, who was an artist of mine back at the old Mackey Gallery days. She will be our first official artist when we kick off the grand opening of Urban Mud on July 19. And not all of the art shown in the gallery will be ceramic. I will be including other art mediums, as well.
I’ve also been working on a shared ceramic studio space, where artists can get together to learn, teach, collaborate and encourage each other to strive for places that they might not have gone alone.
My experience with the Art Students League of Denver was such a wonderful experience for me that I wanted to create something similar, but on a much smaller scale — to create a space that is welcoming and inviting for artists who want to meet and engage in a creative outlet.
I want to encourage people to come and try clay, whether it is on the wheel or hand-built, and explore the process of transforming clay into art. We have memberships at full and associate levels, workshops and artists talks.
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Who do you think will or should get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
I don’t know that much about them, but I think Meow Wolf will get much attention from the press and arts community. They are building a very large site-specific building, so I’ll look forward to seeing what happens.
Urban Mud, 530 Santa Fe Drive, starts off with a bang on Friday, July 19, from 6 to 9 p.m. at a grand-opening reception featuring a solo exhibition of ceramic sculptures by Judith Cohn. Cohn’s show runs through August 30; Urban Mud’s gallery is open from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday or by appointment at 720-271-9601. Potential members can learn more about joining the Urban Mud studio co-op online.
Learn more about Mary Mackey and her work online.