Denver has long held a reputation as a city of the arts, attracting all kinds of artists into a welcoming and supportive community. With several neighborhoods devoted to artist incubators and collaborative spaces, as well as a number of public arts programming opportunities, it’s not surprising that Denver has become a creative hotspot for up-and-coming artists to showcase their work. Here’s a selection of 10 emerging contemporary artists to know about in the Denver art scene.
This Denver native and painter of optical art and illusion-style images uses a combination of fine details and graphic patterns to create what she describes as “a sensational and retinal experience for the viewer.” Anna Charney credits the traveling she did as a child for much of the inspiration for her style, particularly the folk crafts and handmade goods she would find on her trips. Charney attended the Denver School of the Arts and then went on the receive her BFA from the School of Art Institute of Chicago.
Another Denver native, Lucas T. McMahon studied painting at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. This multifaceted artist has shown work in painting, collage, and sculpture, and is especially recognized for his mixed-media installations. If anything McMahon is a consummate explorer, unafraid to ask questions of himself and his work, and in that regard, the answers are always changing.
This Denver native with a BA in Studio Arts from the University of Colorado at Boulder uses “ideas, events, or images from the world of reality” as the basis of paintings “that exist in a somewhat mystical realm.” Donte Janae’s preferred medium is oil painting on wood panel or canvas, to create these lively and vibrant images. Human anatomy, particularly faces and women, are a particular subject of interest.
Sandra Fettingis specializes in sculptural pattern-based installation art, as well as murals and jewelry. Born and raised in Chicago, the Denver transplant has had some major installations, including at the Denver Convention Center. Fettingis uses “bold shapes in visual systems” and purposeful color patterns to “convey the undeniable truth that life/people/environments change and evolve, while remaining the same on some level.”
Thomas Evans (aka Detour) is a distinguishable presence in the streets of Denver. His vibrant murals adorn public spaces around the downtown area and Five Points neighborhood. He’s also well known for his live painting shows and a recent interactive exhibit at The Redline Contemporary Art Center. Detour’s work draws a unique connection between music and fine arts, as well as a focus on urban arts culture and minority subjects.
Sharon Healy graduated from Rocky Mountain School of Art and Design in 2007 and her work has been a regular fixture at galleries in the Santa Fe and RiNo Arts District ever since. She’s also passionate about contributing to local art charities. Healy works within several traditional painting styles with a unique twist; she utilizes a black-and-white acrylic under-painting and an oil over-painting. Her subjects draw from myths and archetypes, where she hopes to “convey universal messages about what it means to be human.”
Michael Ortiz, or ILLSON as he is often best known, works mostly with large-scale murals and street art. He also does graphic work and mixed-media pieces. Ortiz is also the owner and operator of Like Minded Productions, in the RiNo Arts District.
This Denver native is an illustrator who specializes in portraits and custom work. Elle Powell’s light, whimsical style certainly reflects her goal to “spread joy through my work, whether it’s through an unexpected pop of color or intricate and delicate details.” She’s especially interested in the intersection between fashion and art, as well as travel, and has a deep passion for working with clients around the world. She is currently working on her MFA at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Michael Papadakis lives and works in his hometown of Golden, Colorado creating remarkable images, the process of which has garnered him international attention. Papadakis uses a magnifying glass and sunlight to scorch stunning images into wood. He calls his practice heliography and often works out in the open as a sort of performance art. His business, Sunscribes Solar Printing, does custom pieces on anything from fence posts, to wooden tables, and recycled wood.
Jonathan Saiz is a multifaceted painter, sculptor, and collagist. His works—whether large-scale installations or his 21st-century tarot deck called The Fountain Tarot—teem with a sense of the esoteric and unknown. His latest project, “So Wrong It’s So Right”, is both experimental and collaborative. Saiz acts as artist and purveyor, filling the storefront of the Leon Gallery with a different piece of art created by himself and fellow artists every day, and then posting the pieces online and selling them directly to the public.
To learn more about the art scene in Denver, check out the best museums and galleries in Denver.