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Artist residency brings it All Together Now in the Firehouse Art Center

Firehouse Art Center's summer artist residency culminates in Anderson's solo exhibition, All Together Now

Pelicans swim through neon and pastel clouds stretched across multiple canvases. A snake slithers up to a pair of child shoes. A pair of brown bears wrestle while beside them, a young man flashes a peace sign. 

Images worthy of a dreamscape didn’t just spill forth fully formed from the creative mind of Janelle Anderson. The series of surrealist collages were composed of photos sent to her by the community through her summer residency at the Firehouse Art Center.

Firehouse Curator Brandy Coons said she has enjoyed watching Anderson’s process and progress throughout the residency.

“(Anderson) has such a unique use of space and color, and talking to her about her source images has been wonderful as well,” Coons said. “Her excitement to include the community is contagious.”

As part of the residency project, Anderson solicited photos from the community on a variety of subjects ranging from wildlife and humans to scenes of disasters and upheaval. A total of 29 people submitted photos, with most submitting multiple images. Anderson used at least one image from everyone that sent one in, for a total of at least 40 for the exhibition.

“I couldn’t have painted more images than that, at least not the way I wanted,” Anderson said. “And some elements of the work are going to be a little looser than what I had in my original vision but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

Anderson’s original plan was to arrange all the submitted photos into the collage and develop the imagery and themes, then paint everything. In the end the process wound up much more fluid and dynamic, she said. Some collages would come together, Anderson would paint them, then return to a new collage. Some would need to be rearranged or repainted entirely, which Anderson felt fit better with the nature of the work. 

Coons found the whole project to be fascinating and exciting, calling Anderson’s ability to combine the different elements a form of magic.

“(Anderson) can place a traffic jam and a pair of bears next to each other and you think, yes, that’s exactly where that goes,” Coons said.

The residency was a learning process for Anderson, not just as her first residency or the scope of the project, but with the opportunities to collaborate and explore other aspects of her surrealist work. Learning to paint larger canvases took longer than she anticipated, but it opened Anderson up to a more painterly approach than the smaller, highly detailed works she’d produced prior to the residency.

While working in the gallery, Anderson had opportunities for conversations with people she would never meet otherwise. 

Anderson also led a surrealist collage workshop for Firehouse members, which in turn provided prompts for the Firehouse writer’s group to use for a poetry and prose workshop. Playing with materials and engaging in a creative process with other artists was an unanticipated benefit.

As part of the solo exhibition that caps her residency at the Firehouse, Anderson’s paintings will be shown in the main gallery. In the South Gallery, Anderson got the chance to curate the work on display with artists of her choosing. Three Denver-based artists will move into the space Anderson has spent the past few months working in with works that emphasize communal narrative and memory.

“All these works are very different from each other, but I think they all tie in with imagery going on in the main gallery,” Anderson said. “So I’m excited to showcase their work. And it’s fun to be able to invite friends to show off with you.”

Gabriella Trujillo, Myah Mazcara and Raymundo Munoz will each present a selection of prints and originals. Trujillo’s paintings present place and personality through expressive color and slightly skewed perspectives. Mazcara has narrative works influenced by supernatural imagery, characters and themes to create moody, noir environments. Munoz is a printmaker, conceptualizing endangered species and mortality through fading ink, a technique he calls ghost printing.

Munoz and the others have been friends with Anderson for years through mutual connections in Denver’s art scene. Munoz said he’s made an effort to add Anderson’s work to various group shows over the years, most recently at the Alto Gallery in Denver, where he directs and co-curates.

“I’ve always admired Janelle’s deft illustrative skills and the way she combines imagery to dreamy and complex effect,” Munoz said. “I’m really pleased to see Janelle’s recent body of work painted in residence at the Firehouse. It’s a huge effort that shows the true breadth of her vision, ability and creativity.”

Coons was also impressed with the scale of the finished composition, highlighting Anderson’s use of color and space throughout the gallery to connect the works into something cohesive.

“It’s so rewarding to support creative experimentation like this,” Coons said. “When we say use the space however you want, Janelle really took us at our word, and it’s a pleasure to be a part of that.”

With the theme of “All Together Now” Anderson always wanted the community to see and recognize themselves within the work, through fragments of their images and the exhibition as a whole. The collection will be arranged throughout the gallery, with the walls painted to create a sense of flow that lends itself to a surreal narrative.

“I want people to identify with these images and see their own experience in them,” Anderson said. “It’s almost a story, it starts happy and gets a little darker, and there are parts that are meditative. There’s a flow to it that I hope sparks reflection in their own life stories.”

All told, Anderson created more than 30 paintings in the three months of her residency at her Firehouse, more than she would typically do in a year. There’s no rest on the horizon for Anderson though, she’s already planning her next series of paintings using what she’s learned. Painting every single day for three months helped her loosen up and relax, she said. Where she would get stuck on details in minutiae in prior works, the residency helped Anderson let go and embrace the looseness.

“I think it’s better to make a hundred bad paintings than make a hundred perfect paintings,” Anderson said.

All Together Now will run from September 4 through October 3 at the Firehouse Art Center, located at the corner of Fourth Ave and Coffman Street. Anderson will be in attendance for the opening reception on September 10 to discuss her work with the community.