‘Renascence’ brings top artists together

Will Grandbois
Dean Bowlby contemplates one of his first paintings
Will Grandbois / Post Independent |

The Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities’ “Renascence” show — opening 6:30 Friday night at the Launchpad — isn’t quite a rebirth, since the artists contributing are all well-established. Still, it’s a significant return to a local audience, and the title helps capture the spirit of creativity and collaboration that pushed them all to excel.

Besides, with an all star lineup of Daniel Sprick, Dean Bowlby, Andrea Kemp and Gregory Tonozzi, you’d be hard pressed to choose a headliner.

Sprick is certainly one of the most renowned artists the area has produced. The former Silt resident is nationally recognized as a contemporary realist painter and his meticulous, contemplative work is on display at the Denver Art Museum. Such an artist does not choose his protégés lightly, and by all accounts Bowlby and Kemp have lived up to his tutelage. Tonozzi, meanwhile, is the consummate sculptor of local Yule marble as well as the instigator of the event.

“It’s just old friends getting together,” Bowlby said.

He considers it a chance to show off some less commercially geared work — which is displayed publicly and privately around the country.

Despite his success, he’s loathe to take himself or his paintings too seriously.

“If you have to explain your artwork, you’re not doing a very good job of communicating,” he said. “I find if you can be a little bit selfish and try to paint something that really captures your imagination, somewhere along the line it might say something to someone else. It might not say the same thing, and that’s OK.”

“If you can capture a feel, there’s nothing better, but it’s tough to do. It can only be your own emotions,” he added. “If I don’t know what I’m trying to say, sometimes I just say what I see. It’s ridiculous to worry over whether it’s been done before. If it hasn’t been done by you, then you haven’t explored it.”

Bowlby started out as a construction worker who dabbled in drawing, before he decided to tackle painting and sought a teacher.

“At the time there was no real avenue for learning the type of art I wanted to learn,” he recalled.

Sprick agreed to look over some of his work and provide some guidance.

“We became friends immediately, it seemed like,” Bowlby said. “We’ve watched our kids grow up together. He was one of the first people to hold my son.”

At first, he tried to emulate Sprick’s stark but transcendent realism, but soon found his own voice.

“You’re going to take on some of the characteristics of your teacher, but you can’t think with the other person’s brain or see with their eyes,” he said. “There’s one Dan, and he does a good job of being Dan. He doesn’t need any help, and any copy isn’t going to be as good as the original. You try to do the best you can with your own vision. That’s enough in one lifetime.”

Soon, he began teaching others.

“Dan started this drawing class. He did it for a while, then I’d teach it, then we’d team up,” he recalled. “Andrea started showing up in high school; she was this really neat kid that was interested and serious about putting the work in.”

“I can’t take any credit for her. Dan really took her under his wing, and she’s been doing incredible stuff ever since,” he added. “It was fun watching her grow.”

Kemp recalls being in awe of both.

“They were so great. It’s kind of rare to have that in a small town,” she said. “Dean can do anything. He can do figures; he can do landscapes. He has this great kind of airy quality. It’s very romantic at times, and the people kind of meld into the scenes.

“Dan likes to create tension. People get a lot of shock value of what he’s painting — a lot of skeletons and archaeological finds, but he’s taking the subject and bending it. I think he’s grown a lot — and he was already such a good artist when I was learning.”

In fact, her reverence for her teachers proved hard to shake.

“I think I respected where I came from so much, it took me a bit to open up to other ways of approaching painting,” she said. “In the last 10 years, I’ve started to give myself permission to find my own direction, although their influence is still huge in my work.”

She described her own work as “figurative” and “naturalistic” — “something that looks real, but it may not depict something that would actually occur.”

The show will include some brand new work, as well as some of her favorite selections.

In addition to direct influence, she credits the pair, as well as Tonozzi, her cousin, with inspiring her to be an artist.

“I never really thought you could make a living at it,” she said. “Seeing them do it and not worry about the end result all the time was huge. I’m very humbled to be in it and excited that they invited me to show with them.”

For his part, Tonozzi admires the lines of his peers’ work, but can’t imagine doing it himself.

“For me to take a flat canvas and make something transcendent out of it would be impossible,” he said. “I’m inspired by the team and their excellence. They’re all people that understand that it’s important to stop and smell the turpentine.”

His own paintbrush is a chisel, with the seeds of creativity planted when he first encountered Classical Greek Marble at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. They really began to sprout with help from Colorado Mountain College’s Frank Olsen in the basement of the Hotel Colorado over 40 years ago. The quarry wasn’t open at the time, so their material had to be scavenged from pieces dropped along the railroad bed or in the river.

As he progressed, Tonozzi even purchased a piece of property largely because it hosted a preponderance of cast off marble — including remnants left after pieces were cut for the Lincoln Memorial.

“It took me more than 15 years to really understand the stone and adjust to its idiosyncrasies,” he said. “I want people to feel my work. They shouldn’t be afraid to touch it. It’s so beautiful. I’ve made this commitment, and I have to give the stone its due.”

That means paying attention to the bedding plane — the subtle layers created when the original limestone was formed — and being careful to avoid crushing the crystals in the final layer.

Now that the quarry is open again, he’s had a chance to work with some fresh marble — including some with whorls of serpentine which will feature in the show.

“I’m indebted to the guys at the quarry,” he said. “Without them, I wouldn’t have my canvas.”

As for why he talked the other three into doing a show with him, it’s pretty straightforward.

“I love the energy of the Launchpad — both the people and the building,” he said. “I think the world needs more creative people and less destructive people.”

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