GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Since her creative beginnings, tattoo artist Aften Willcuts has always had loyal fans.
And they have had no problem showing it.
“I have always been extremely supported by my family, friends and teachers,” she said. “And that shows by the fact that almost 90 percent of them have a tattoo done by me or drawn by me.”
As an artist at Spyder Rose Tattoo in Glenwood Springs, Willcuts said she chose her career path because of the distinctive nature of the art.
“Tattooing seemed like a fitting carrier choice since I have always been attracted to the uniqueness of tattoos and the fact that it was a craft, hard work,” Willcuts said. “Something almost one-of-a-kind that not everyone can be.”
Willcuts, 28, said she had early influences in becoming an artist through her parents.
“I have been artistic since I could pick up a pencil,” she said. “My father, Rocky Willcuts, is an amazing realism artist and jack-of-all-trades, and my mom is my No. 1 fan and a free-spirited weaver of upcycled rugs.”
Before graduating from Yampah Mountain High School in 2003, she spent her youth appreciating art, music and dance. She hoped to design graphics for snowboards and skateboards, but found body art to truly express herself.
“I discovered the subculture — at that time — of tattooing and body adornment,” she said. “People often forget that art isn’t just limited to ‘drawing’ or ‘painting’. I’m a sucker for anything with craftsmanship.”
Willcuts, the mother of 22-month-old Harlow, quickly learned her designs also helped others express themselves. Her custom tattoos became a form of art therapy for her and her clients.
“I love the therapy of it and the fact that art can heal on so many different levels and mediums. I’m a big fan of self-expression, clearly, and healing through art. In tattooing, you often find that you become somewhat of a therapist for your clients,” she said. “People often sit down in my chair and say, ‘OK, it’s therapy time.’ I feel deeply honored people trust me enough to confide in me and depend on me to help them feel better about life. Essentially, my job is to help people through art, and that is awesome.”
A self-described ‘carrier of art,’ Willcuts was inspired to start the Roaring Fork Valley’s new Defiance Town Art Alliance this fall to share that positivity with others. The pact of artists has already put together their first show opening today at 7 p.m. at the Grind in Glenwood Springs, where Willcuts has been commissioned to paint cow-themed pop art.
“I felt like I have been very blessed to make art and that somehow I hit the jackpot with supportive and extremely generous people in my life. I don’t feel a lot of people get to say that,” she said. “As sad as it sounds, a good majority of artists are shamed by their families and friends for wanting to pursue being an artist for a living.”
The thought initially angered Willcuts, but she channeled her frustration into making a difference for those may not have had a voice in the valley’s art world.
“That sadness turned into an idea and that turned into a reality,” she said. “I wanted to help people with talent and creativity have an outlet.”
‘Gaslight Girls and Six Shooters’
Willcuts said the response to participate in the inaugural show, titled “Gaslight Girls and Six Shooters” celebrating Glenwood’s Old West foundation, was overwhelming.
“It just started turning in to something actually happening, which is amazing to me,” she said. “Unfortunately I wasn’t able to let everyone interested participate in the first show. I think everyone in the first show is amazing.”
The show, hanging through the month, showcases various mediums including acrylic, watercolor, photography, found art object and mixed media pieces. Artists include Willcuts, Andrew Becker, Noah Robertson, Ryan Johnson, Adam Hughes, Katie Haefner, Tonya Wilson, Hannah Sharee, Sunny Kay McClain, Natalie Terrell, Chaz Peiffer, Tempest Manthei, and Kevin White.
“I really love every one of their styles” she said. “I tried to make sure it was a fair mixture of mediums so that way everyone was diverse in their presentation.”
White is proud to represent the new Defiance Town Art Alliance, which he says welcomes work that might not fall within traditional art boundaries.
“I am so stoked the community is now much more supportive of outsider art,” he said. “I think that without having been on the outside looking in first, many of the artists presenting their work at the show wouldn’t have that burning desire to put it out there.”
White said he immediately said yes to Willcuts’ invitation for showing his art publicly around town. His work, “Bug Gun,” is an acrylic piece on plywood panel gleaned from his love of the Rocky Mountains and snowboarding — a love shared by Willcuts herself.
“The inspiration comes from the idea that kids who grow up in certain situations — poverty, urban squalor and on and on — are never exposed to the beauty that is being in the backcountry overlooking a beautiful landscape and breathing easy for two minutes,” he said. “The painting is a play on words as snowboarders/surfers, including myself, often call their board ‘guns’ without really thinking of the implications of the statement.”
Willcuts’ dedication to promoting art of all types has been an inspiration for White, a graphic designer.
“She is a generator, and her passion is infectious,” he said. “I am a professional artist. I create every day. Until I met Aften, I didn’t realize I had been creating without passion for a number of years. I thank her for re-igniting the flame.”
“I am so stoked the community is now much more supportive of outsider art. I think that without having been on the outside looking in first, many of the artists presenting their work at the show wouldn’t have that burning desire to put it out there.”