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Outsider Artist Jay Marvin Gets Real About Trauma at Niza Knoll Gallery

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You can find art all over town — not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

In 2009, well-known radio talk-show host Jay Marvin went through a debilitating health crisis when doctors nicked his liver during gall bladder surgery. When a virus subsequently attacked Marvin’s spine, he lost a rib and part of his hip in a ten-and-a-half-hour operation. “I had my entire life ripped out from underneath me at the age of 57,” recalls Marvin. The ordeal left him feeling destitute, especially when the radio personality was forced to walk away from a long-term career.

“Everything changed,” Marvin says. “Now I live a life of isolation. I’m on an oxygenator, and I don’t get out much.”

A health trauma of this magnitude doesn’t just exacerbate physical ailments. Marvin, who had battled depression most of his life, attempted suicide soon after the surgery debacle.  “I’m open about my mental health,” explains Marvin. “I’m a bi-polar manic depressant, and I battled it and have been under a doctor’s care for over thirty years.” Marvin credits his current, Denver-based doctor and his wife, Mary, for saving his life. Art, too, has been a much-needed lifeboat.

Marvin isn’t as agile as he once was, given his health. “I laid around for about a year, not knowing what to do with myself,” he says, adding that while he'd created art long before his surgeries – he’d even shown at a few galleries in Chicago, San Diego, Pittsburgh and Florida, and done an album cover for Americana singer Tom Russell – making art always took a backseat to doing radio. 

Then, on a particularly bleak post-operation day, Marvin’s wife told him to start painting again. “You know, she’s always right….” he remembers thinking “I bought some paint and started again.”

Now he has his first show in Colorado, which will run from May 29 through June 11 at Niza Knoll Gallery, with an opening from 4 to 7 p.m. on May 29.

If you’re familiar with Marvin’s radio career, his art might surprise you. “I have a very raw sense of humor and a very noir outlook on life,” Marvin explains. “My paintings are exactly the opposite of that: They are intended to make people smile and think a little bit.”

Marvin paints animals – mainly dogs – along with angels, desert landscapes and iconography representing heaven, life and other universal-yet-unknown concepts. And he transfers the intensity of his personality onto canvas using bright acrylics. “I like loud stuff,” he says. “Always have.”

As befits an "outside artists," Marvin is mostly self-taught: “I fooled with art when I was a kid, but the greater pull was radio,” he says. Besides, he continues, “I never was well-behaved in school; I got kicked out of art class a lot.”

Today, art’s more than a hobby or second career; it helps Marvin cope. “Not all the way, but it does help me,” he explains. “It gives me a reason to get up in the morning and stay sane — art, and my Mary.”

Marvin is showing his work with that of Iranian-born artist Abbas Khajeaian, a professor who suffered a stroke and lost the use of his right side. While searching for a new way to spend his time, Khajeaian discovered mosaics, and renovated his entire patio into a garden of colorful tiles.

Khajeaian continued creating – even teaching – mosaics until the physicality of the craft became too taxing, and he turned to painting instead. The artist says his abstracts are inspired by Persian poetry, philosophy and the colors of Iranian life.

In addition to the opening reception, the duo will be on hand for a discussion on their art at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 10. 

Follow Jamie Siebrase on Twitter.

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