Vin Hoffman

Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art

April 26, 2009
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The Kirkland Museum in Denver, CO houses over 3,300 collections of various modern art. The main theme of the Kirkland Museum is modern art from 1890 – 1975.  Carrying on the theme throughout the museum, it showcases the different art movements of the 20th century such as: Arts and Crafts, Art Deco, Bauhaus, Modern, and Pop Art.  After viewing the museum as a whole, there are three principle collections focused upon: The Decorative Arts & Crafts Collection, The Colorado Modernist Collection, and the studio of Vance Kirkland.

The Original Building & Studio

The Kirkland Museum is the oldest commercial art building in Denver and a National Trust Associate Site.  As it stands now, Kirkland’s original studio home has been renovated and additions have been built on to accommodate the large collections. His original studio still remains the same. The original museum building commissioned by Henry Read in 1872 was constructed as his Students’ School of Art.  Read was one of the thirteen founding member of the Artists’ Club in 1893 which later became the Denver Art Museum.  Kirkland rented this building for his studio and later purchased the building and started The Kirkland School of Art in 1932. The Kirkland School of Art was very successful, and in 1946 the University of Denver offered Kirkland the opportunity to start the School of Arts as it’s Director on the campus. Many of his original students followed him to the University of Denver.  He continued to use the Pearl St. building for his art studio where he continued to work until his death in 1981.  The building was then inherited by Hugh Grant.

Vance Kirkland

Vance Kirkland – (1904-1981) Born in Convoy, Ohio, November 1904 and died in Denver, Colorado, May 1981, at the age of 76. After graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1928. He was the founding Director of the School of Art at the University of Denver (1929-32, 1946-69).  He is considered one of the most important painter/educators in Colorado history.  His work covers a wide array of different art techniques and periods.  He began with his realist watercolor paintings, Surrealism, Hard Edge Abstraction, and Abstract Expressionism which evolved into his world famous Dot Paintings.

Kirkland loved using and collecting decorative art that contained great design elements.  He surrounded himself with art and appreciated it’s value and influence in his everyday life.  A small portion (10%) of the museum was actual items from Kirkland’s’ private collection.  The museums collections were inspired by Kirkland’s’ decorative modern art tastes and continues to grow to this day.

Dot Paintings

To create his famous “Dot Paintings”, Kirkland used an innovative mixture of oil and water for his first layer on the canvas.  He then wiped off the water beads and used the “oil and water don’t mix” principle.  This created random, accidental splatters on the canvas to which the dots were built upon.  His dots were created with different sizes wooden dowels, as he strived for a precise round shape for his dot work.  His color schemes were very alive and vibrant singing of color.  He rigged up four leather straps to suspend himself above the canvas to create the dots without the physical demand of bending over.  The straps continued to be a significant support to Kirkland and his very short stature, standing 5’2”. These straps helped him achieve his unique style of dot painting on a large canvas. This “hovering” technique was also used to keep the canvas flat for the oil and water mixtures.  He used skateboards underneath the canvas to roll the canvas to the location under where he hovered over to create his dot work.  Another reason for the straps was the floating perspective Kirkland got while painting.  Kirkland stated, “There is no up or down in space”.  For the same directional reason he hated to sign his paintings.  He would say, “By signing this abstract painting, I am condemning it to be hung one way for the rest of its existence.”  Many Kirkland paintings are signed twice, along different edges, and he encouraged collectors and museums to hang them all different ways regardless of the position of his signature.

Color Combinations

His color schemes are often said to have a musical quality containing rhythm and beats that you can almost hear with your eyes.  Kirkland loved a wide variety of music specifically jazz music. In a friendly conversation with Gypsy Rosalie, Kirkland was ecstatic to hear how she described her “hearing” of colors.  Kirkland had also this unique gift to “hear” colors.  Kirkland and Gypsy Rosalie were both synesthetic, meaning, as they applied it, they could hear color.  It was later found that Kirkland’s paintings’ color combinations were directly related to classical music.

Kirklands’ Thoughts

Kirkland describes his own paintings as, “explosions in space”.  A reporter once asked him, “How do you know what an explosion in space looks like?”  Kirkland replied, “Prove me wrong.”  In 1982, just a year after Kirkland’s death, the Hubble telescope (ironically made in Denver, CO) sent back images of the galaxy and stars.  The images confirmed that Kirkland’s’ dot paintings were very similar.

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The Psychadelic Experience

April 26, 2009
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The Psychedelic Experience: Rock Poster from the San Francisco Bay Area 1965-71

By: Vin Hoffman

The Psychedelic Experience took me back to 60’s where rock-n-roll, drugs, peace, war, and love were the main social theme.  This exhibit featured an extensive collection of posters, handbills, album covers, and comic art as well as some 60’s appropriate music to listen to.

Darrin Alfred led the exhibit with a lecture about the beginnings of the rock poster era and touched on the popular artists and their styles.  There are over 50 different artists but some of the major contributors were: Wes Wilson, Bonnie MacLean, Victor Mosoco, Stanley Mouse,  Rick Griffin, Lee Conklin, Alton Kelley, and David Singer.

All of the images are loaded with color, text and images.  Many of the earlier posters lacked a balance in composition and avoided using black and white.  Much of the text was heavily ornate and distorted in such a way that it was almost unreadable.  The images were usually based on the music they were promoting. Images of women and band members were also used for the San Francisco subculture making statements of the “make love not war” ideal.  Many artists kept the groovy colors, and text but each had their own significant style.

Wes Wilson was one of the first artists to make 60’s rock posters.  He is best known for his “psychedelic” font which looked as though the text was melting or moving away.  Wilson was one of the first to use nude females in his art which was a bold sexual statement of the times.

Bonnie MacLean was the wife of the Fillmore Auditorium promoter Bill Graham.  MacLean was thrown into poster design after Wes Wilson and Bill Graham had a falling out.  Bonnie is best known for her culturally diverse images, the use of faces and their hypnotic expressions.

Stanley Mouse & Alton Kelley had created their own business called “The Family Dog” and created posters influenced by the art nouveau movement.  They also continued to make band posters for The Grateful Dead and Journey to name a few.

Victor Moscoso was an illustrator for Zap Comics with a style for the vintage look.  He one of the few artists who was a formally trained.  He used his knowledge of color theory and stylized text warping serifs to create his unique style.

Rick Griffin was particularly interested in the surfing subculture in California.  He started designing posters from his home and soon illustrated album covers and comic strips.  He is noted by his centered image, large top text, old west characters, and drug references.

Lee Conklin’s work was that of a surrealist.  His highly detailed posters followed a tradition of images making up larger images.  Conklin’s art is a darker style of warped images that hard to decipher at first glance.

David Singer had a definite grid system to his posters using collage elements within a border.  Singer steered away from the vibrant colors.  He also was inspired by the art nouveau movement.  Singer designed more posters for the Fillmore than any other artist.

Wes Wilson

Wes Wilson

Bonnie MacLean

Bonnie MacLean

Rick Griffin

Rick Griffin

Victor Moscoso

Victor Moscoso

Stanley Mouse & Alton Kelley

Stanley Mouse & Alton Kelley

David Singer

David Singer


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    April 2009
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