#59: Kevin Sloan
Have paintbrush, will travel. Over his career, Kevin Sloan moved around — a lot. But for now, he’s settled in Denver, spinning elegant canvases drenched in allegory and magical pop-surrealism, many of them based in a natural world changed by human history: birds rendered in ornithological detail yet enveloped in blue and white china patterns, or a deer in the snow dressed in a floral print. Wherever he is, Sloan paints his way into national recognition — and now, a solid spot in Denver’s art community, as a member of the new K Contemporary’s artist stable. Learn more about Sloan as he answers the 100CC questionnaire — and enjoy the scenery.
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Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Kevin Sloan: Simply put, Nature. Each day finds me stunned or at least fascinated by something I see or experience in the natural world. She has always been my constant source of comfort and inspiration.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
Walt Whitman, Patti Smith and Stephen Greene (a now-deceased painting teacher I studied under years ago). It would be a small dinner for the four of us, outside under the perfect tree. Walt and Patti, both being poets, would start to work on some sort of spoken-word or sung piece, while Stephen would come at the piece with the eyes of an abstract painter. In usual form, Stephen’s eyes would tear up with emotion as he describes what he’s experiencing, and this will endear him to Walt. I consider all these artists to be poets in some form, and I love the way poets see and transcribe the world. Having them all together, these tender but occasionally fierce misfits, would be so satisfying, and I could thank them for all they’ve given me over the years. We’ll eat salad from my garden with bread and cheese. I’ll also make a pie — coconut cream.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
There is a strong feeling of “us” and not so much competition as in other cities I’ve lived in. I really feel it is a community, and in part it’s due to the constant influx of young artists from area universities. They already have a built-in sense of community from their university years, and I think this carries over naturally. The downside is artists undervaluing their work — both financially and emotionally. I don’t know if it’s fear or inexperience, but I see too many extraordinarily talented artists here basically giving their work away or treating it like flea market or craft-show wares when it’s actually worthy of much more respect.
How about globally?
I’m so happy to see the emergence of really great art from all over Africa finally finding its way to a larger, global audience. A couple years ago, I saw a lot of contemporary art from Africa at Art Basel in Miami and was really impressed and grateful to see something coming out of a culture other than the traditional cultures we’ve seen for the last 1,000 years. I realized that I had no idea any of this was happening, and felt like I’d been living in some sort of cocoon. Nice to be shaken awake sometimes! The flip side to this is the ongoing repetition of artists — famous (or newly famous) names being touted often at the exclusion of lesser names. I know this has little to do with quality and more to do with commerce and influence, but it’s still disappointing to see this in an era with so much access via social media, etc., to all kinds of artists all over the world.
Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?
I try to keep aware of trends because I like to feel I’m conversant with the climate of the times. However, trends by definition are temporary and usually soon forgotten, so it’s best not to spend too much time following them. I always try to see things within a larger arc of history and culture, which helps me discern what might be truly new and useful versus another round of the same old, same old. I’m grateful for the trend in culture at large of the re-evaluation of gender roles and identity. I hope this isn’t a trend but rather a true shift in thinking and feeling. As a gay man, this kind of ongoing evolution means a lot to me, having lived through far less enlightened times in my youth. I hate my Instagram or Facebook full of photos of people’s plates of food.
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as an artist?
That I’m actually still doing this after all these years. Getting to do what I love and need to do each day is an amazing and rare thing. Also, whenever I get the opportunity to teach, I feel great. I love to teach and share what knowledge I’ve acquired with students. I’ve had some really amazing teachers in my life, and feel it’s an essential part of my practice to return the favor as often as possible.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
I would love to travel to the Arctic with someone who could explain to me what I’m seeing and how it’s changed. I think this would be a very sobering trip, but I still want to see and know. Also, I’d love a few more days at the Prado in Madrid. I want to really look and spend as much time as possible with the paintings of Velázquez. I think I could learn a lot more from him. I also want to learn archery; I’m a Sagittarius, so this seems almost a requirement.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I’m a relatively new transplant, so I still like it! I don’t have memories of when it was “better,” although I understand the feeling behind that sentiment. I’ve lived all over the country, from the biggest cities to very small towns, and for me, Denver is the perfect fit at this point in my life. I am, however, deeply concerned about the rapidly escalating cost of living and apparent lack of interest by local government to try and keep some of this in check. I intend to stay, but this trend has the potential to seriously erode the quality of life for many people I care about, including myself.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Jill Hadley Hooper. I met Jill before moving to Denver from Santa Fe, and she has been a steadfast friend to not only me, but the entire Denver art community. She often understates her influence, but her good work on the behalf of artists in Denver will have a ripple effect for many years to come. I want a street to be named after her!
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
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Helping to nurture my new relationship with K Contemporary, my new gallery in Denver. My show there will open February 3, so it will be great to see the fruits of many months of work on display. Also, reigniting my interest in working with clay. I don’t know where this will lead, but I feel it’s time to revisit this medium. And I hope to find more ways to be of service to the academic community in the form of teaching or mentorship.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
This may be jumping the gun a bit, but I think the upcoming expansion of Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf to Denver will receive a lot of attention. I’m torn as to whether this is good or not so good for Denver, but it’s coming and will have an impact. My hope is they will grow more of it here rather than export it from their team and headquarters in Santa Fe. We’ll see if it’s just another amusement park or something that can reflect Denver and its own art scene in some way.
Kevin Sloan: The Wanderer’s Garden opens Saturday, February 3, with a reception from 6 to 10 p.m. at K Contemporary, 1412 Wazee Street, and runs through February 24. Visit K Contemporary online for information. Visit Kevin Sloan’s website to learn more about the artist and his work.