Converging creative journeys

by David Holub

Durango is a town heavy with transplants: people who come here for school and stay, those who vacation here and return, people lured by their thirst for the outdoors, or beckoned by the gravitational pull of serendipity.

For so many of us, Durango is a place we’ve found, or did it find us?

That is the story of five Durango artists – Tim Kapustka, Dan Garner, Dan Groth, Shay Lopez and Tom Kipp. They found this place, found friends in each other and have seen their art flourish here. Additionally, they all graduated high school in 1994 and either turned 40 late last year or will sometime soon.

The convergence is the basis of a new show, “So Far: Reconstructing 40 Years.” The show was derived with loose parameters, but the impetus was for each artist to take a look back, to think about what it means to turn 40, to reflect on where they’ve come as people and artists, to think about how their work has changed and evolved and how the cultural zeitgeist and coming of age in the mid-’90s has influenced their lives and work. Then, they would curate and cultivate art to reflect this.

“So Far” opens Friday with an opening reception from 5 to 9 p.m. at Studio & (1027 Main Ave.) and runs through Feb. 28.

DGO asked the artists to speak about their process in preparing for the show and how their art has changed in the last 20-plus years. Their experiences in the context of their art reflect personal growth, technological advancements, refining and mastering technique and vision, and artistic and intellectual maturation, all of it documentable through the tangibility and physicality of art.

How has your art changed in the last 20 years and what influenced these changes?

Tim Kapustka: My art has changed mightily. First off, 20 years ago, I didn’t even know how to do what I am doing today. Literally. I didn’t know anything about using a computer as a tool. Now it is my main tool. So that is a pretty black-and-white example. Another one I can think of is that it took me a good long time to develop the courage and vulnerability to finally admit I was an artist and that is what I wanted to be. A long time, decades. And now that has happened, the growth that I’ve been able to show is quite drastic. So the ability for me to get better at what I do is something that has been unleashed.

In the last 20 years, my art has gone from drawing caricatures of my friends to doing what I do now. What influenced this? Everything. But some things specifically: The Internet, the 1984 Detroit Tigers, the color brown, rivers, oak trees, Canada, Alf, Magnum PI, music, potato salad, Scrabble.

Dan Garner: I am now able to let go of the process more these days, especially in drafting. When it comes to hand engraving, I certainly have better skills than when I first picked up a burin, burnisher and stylus. What hasn’t really changed all that much is my love of small things. I still think of my art as something that one has to get close – very close – to see and appreciate. When one has to break the barriers of personal space to interact with art, we’ve transcended the forces of isolation, a small miracle.

Back in ’94 or ’95, my art was very, very minute. I would be able to fill a postage stamp with a little scene or an abstract line drawing, or some tiny psychedelia. These days, I have greater confidence in my line quality and no longer have to use minute scale to hide deficiencies. I still adore the minute, however. The beauty is in the details.

Another thing that has changed is my sense of subject matter. I graduated from high school with the keen sense that I really did not know all that much about anything. From college and beyond I took it upon myself to educate myself about just about everything: taxonomy, horticulture, wooden instrument construction, celestial navigation, small engine repair and on and on. I am still intensely curious, way more so than I ever was in high school and the wonder and curiosity shows up in my art more these days than it ever did in ’94 or ’95.

Shay Lopez: I’ve come to feel much more free in my pursuit of experience. I’ve learned that as an artist, it’s not necessarily my job to execute a learned skill or even to follow and adhere to a certain technique or medium. It’s my job to explore, to develop skills and techniques and grapple with the oftentimes difficult adventure of discovery.

Tom Kipp: My art has changed completely in the past 20 years. Back then, art was more fun. I could just sketch out some bullshit and not think twice about it. I was learning art fundamentals and wasn’t worried about a final product. I would do a simple, small, ballpoint pen sketch in the middle of a page of a sketchbook, call that page finished, then move on to the next page. There was nearly no emotion for the art I was making. It was just to pass the time and to have fun. In a way, I miss those days.

Now, however, I look at things much more differently. I struggle over getting angles and perspectives correct, drawing things two or three times until they look right. I will put a lot of thought into a piece before I even begin sketching, sometimes to the point of getting stressed. The emotional payoff, however, is much more significant now than it was when I was 18. There is a delightful feeling that comes with nailing a watercolor fade, or achieving just the right balance of black and white on an illustration. It can be mildly euphoric, but I didn’t understand that when I was a teenager.

Those changes have been influenced by drawing almost daily during the past 17 years as a professional tattooer. That’s a lot of time and a lot of practice. Another huge difference now compared to then is how I view process and product. At 18, I was all about the (finished) product because I didn’t understand process. I could breeze through a museum and just look for images that struck me as appealing. Now, it is the opposite. I creep through museums and galleries at a snail’s pace wondering, “HOW did he DO this?”

Dan Groth: As I move forward in my art career, it is helpful to look back and see my evolution from the early/mid ’90s incipiency of my creative ethos to the present time. Toward the end of my high school years, my sketchbook output reached a level of spontaneously controlled chaos. Outside the classroom setting, I was at the height of my game – unselfconsciously creating crazy post-modern conceptual art with paper and a pencil. My “official” art, even into college, was rather stilted and forced. I matured as the years went on and grew to excel in numerous genres of art. After college, I had a bit of a slump that was resurrected, again, by sketchbook art. I think I ended up veering toward pen-and-ink as my preferred media as a way of putting my sketchbook art into a more permanent/respectable representation. When I decided to focus on actually becoming a Capital-A “Artist,” I doubled-down on pen-and-ink, even as I yearned to use color and to recapture the flow and spontaneity of watercolor. Pen-and-ink was a solitary, contemplative mode of production that led me to some success, but since 2013 I’ve been branching out into different media while keeping the aspect of pen-and-ink, which connected the micro- with the macrocosm.

What was your approach to this show?

Kapustka: For this show, I decided to do an illustration for every year of my life. They are all vector illustrations and depict a wide variety of things from over the past 40 years. I plan to hang these pieces in chronological order, forming a bit of a timeline for my existence. Sounds heavy, when I put it that way.

Garner: My approach has mainly been one of musing on the narratives that have shaped me, whether they be stories from my childhood, those that enchanted me as a young man, the ones I tell my own kids or the meta-narratives that seem to run like a vein through them all.

Lopez: As I tend to work in a lot of different media, I took it upon myself – perhaps a bit overambitiously – to put my diversity on display. The core of my work for this show is the written word, contained within five different handcrafted books. Each book is an essay or grouping of essays which loosely fit a theme: Friends, Music, Home, and one book is a collection of sketches. To accompany the literary component are different visual pieces, one a sculpture, one a painting, another a photo and finally a video.

Kipp: I am focusing on two distinct periods of time: when I was 18, and now. When I was 18, photography was my art of choice. I thought I was going to pursue photography as a career. I have chosen to show photos I took and printed when I was 18 years old, all shot on film and printed in a darkroom. None of these photographs have ever been displayed, and few people have ever seen them. I am also including four new paintings made for this show, specifically.

Groth: I have been experimenting with a new medium of art recently that involves cutting up watercolors and then pasting them into completely different, fully-realized works of art. I have been increasingly fascinated with the concept of collage, both in visual and musical art forms, and the idea of creating raw material for the express purpose of collage-ing was intriguing to me. I have fully immersed myself in this art form, which requires me to destroy that which I have created in order to make something better. In the process, I have had to re-recognize the fact that life is ever-evolving and that sometimes one needs to break more fully with one’s past.


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