“If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck …” The nation’s leaders once declared that Mexican propaganda made it “communistic”. So perhaps the commentaries on public art can be applied to most artists: our media portray them as caricatures, metaphors and symbols; once you’ve been on their payroll, their true attributes often elude us. (Nixon was always a critic of Art Lou, the abstract expressionist artist of 1943-14.)
Yet in my experience of Barry Rose, the Denver-based artist who, on July 21, will hold his open air exhibition of public art all over town for 10 days, he is closer to what people think of when they hear the word “artist”. If it’s sculpture you’re looking for, look elsewhere. If it’s a piece of street art, study the post-impressionist work of Pissarro or Matisse, or consider the dozens of contemporary art institutions around the globe. If it’s decoration, dip your toes into the casual gold and glitter of Party5 in Japan or France, or the Pieter de Hooch paintings you may have seen at Marlborough Gallery or the McNichols building in Denver.
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More likely to catch your eye, and my imagination, is the artist’s dedication to their work, their profession and the feelings, interests and adventures of the surrounding community. Rose lives, works and works more than 40 hours a week on the drawings, paintings and sculptures that fill the currently comprehensive exhibition at the Stichting Sturm and Dingestudio (Sturm and Dinge Publishing Company, Amsterdam), the Netherlands’ largest publisher of public art.
This is the first time Rose has had a gallery exhibition in his home town, in front of his own work. He knows how important his presence is, and he’s spending his 10 days building awareness for himself and for public art around Denver.
Which brings me to public art as art and art as experience. Rose doesn’t conceive of art as mere representation – hence the curated exhibition made up of his art and ideas about art. Artists have been using public art – in the streets, parks, libraries, and cemeteries – to emphasize social and political issues since Shakespeare’s time. Art makes a social statement; public art makes a physical statement. Rose regards art as an expression of thoughts, emotions and experiences, which forms the basis of his art.
“If it can bring me joy, it could do the same for somebody else,” he says. “Art helps shape my identity and my town.” And, yes, Rose’s work does “widen the circle of life” in that it literally transforms in public. It’s about addition – the difference in life added with another person.
His artwork reveals that he absorbs other people’s ideas and experiences, thoughts and feelings. Being in love and being comfortable with people is something he’s experienced more than once; he calls it his process of associating with other people. It’s “celebratory of life and its completion.” It’s also about the difference in time between you and someone else’s experience. “You grow, yet you don’t sit still,” Rose says. “You realize that time doesn’t stop.”
Public art change and update the way we perceive our cities. Rose sees it not as government-imposed abstractions, but as an art movement in the streets. “Every design element is thought out by the artist.” People on your street are your public art: ask around and see what’s new and different. At this time of year, especially in July, it looks like it’s hard to tell the difference.