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Magical realist Kevin Sloan goes public with Denver mural


Acrylic artist Kevin Sloan exhibits annually in Naples’ Gardner Colby Gallery. A magical realist, his allegorical paintings on canvas depict the intersection of the natural and man-made worlds. Each work is vivid and richly drawn. Sea turtles, whooping cranes, toucans, parrots, fish and larger mammals populate his landscapes. His images are so vivid, so three dimensional, they seem to jump off the canvas and into the room. To say the least, they make quite an impression on everyone who sees his work.

Lots have. Sloan is collected internationally. But he recently had the opportunity to take his work public. It happened when he was contacted by John Grant of Public Art Services.

Grant was representing Continuum Partners, which was in the process of redeveloping the old University Hospital property in Denver. Among the buildings being rehabilitated was a multi-story concrete parking garage with a couple of blank walls just screaming for artwork capable of engaging the surrounding community. Continuum had in mind an eye-popping mural with a naturalist/environmental theme. Grant immediately thought of Kevin Sloan.

Through his work, Sloan expresses a profound respect for and abiding love of nature that is tempered by a keen awareness that balance in the natural world is tenuous, at best. He typically conveys this perception by balancing his subjects precipitously on thin, narrow tightropes or by causing his subjects to balance themselves on everything from a house of cards and a stack of books teetering in a wheel barrow to an inflated beach ball. He aptly employs the metaphor to underscore the ecological balance the planet is struggling to maintain juxtaposed against the financial equilibrium each of us fights to restore in a post-recessionary economy.

But Sloan rejected Grant’s initial overture out of hand. Sloan is a studio artist, and while he occasionally paints on fairly large-scale canvases, he’d never tackled anything approaching the size of a mural. And what Grant had in mind for the Continuum Partners parking garage was no ordinary mural. The blank wall in question was more than six stories tall!

But Grant wouldn’t be fobbed off so easily. He quickly pointed out that all he wanted Sloan to do was render a painting that captured the requisite theme. He would then commission two experienced mural painters to upscale Sloan’s composition into a 65-foot square exterior public art centerpiece.

As you might suspect, that put an entirely different spin on Grant’s proposition. Sloan accepted.

“Living in Colorado and the West, I think the issues of the environment at threat, in peril even, are in the foreground because we see the difference between the wild, natural world and the manmade world,” Sloan recently told Denver Life Magazine’s Susan Fornoff. To present that narrative, he reimagined a black bear made of delicate china balancing precariously high above the Denver cityscape on an orange extension cord that’s about to become unplugged. It’s symbolism that readily speaks volumes to most, if not all, Coloradans.

The West’s largest carnivores find themselves in a delicate and precarious state in many places, but particularly in Colorado. Urban and suburban centers increasingly encroach on the bears’ traditional habitat. Rising temperatures have shortened the bears’ hibernation cycles, keeping them active for longer and longer spans of time. And dry conditions associated with climate change have adversely impacted the bears’ natural food sources, prompting them to forage for human food in trash cans, campsites, cars and even homes. On top of the hundreds of “nuisance” bears killed by homeowners or euthanized by government wildlife managers, the state issues thousands of permits to hunters, who kill upwards of a thousand more bears each year. While black bears are not currently threatened or endangered, nobody is comfortable with what’s happening with them.

Once Sloan completed his painting, he turned it over to father-and-son muralists, Chris and Will Krieg. Using software, they scaled up a reproduction broken into portable sections. It took them just six weeks to complete the mural, which they painted in the heart of winter in single digit wind chills atop a 50-foot swing stage.

Now finished, the mural joins a host of others taking shape across the country and around the globe. Cropping up in inner-city ghettos, barrios and shanty towns worldwide, community-centered street art and mural parks serve as powerful tools for celebrating shared values, reclaiming the aesthetics of depressed and unsightly neighborhoods, and communicating site-specific historical stories to residents and nearby workers. In both the Americans for the Arts’ and Florida Association of Public Art Professionals’ 2018 years-in-review, murals dominated the public art landscape on both a small and large scale.

Kevin Sloan’s first foray into muralism adds to that conversation.

Perhaps it will not be his last.

May 14, 2019.



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