“Unfurl” Gives Artists Permission to Paint Outside Market Constraints

The practical aspects of a professional artist’s working life can overshadow moments of true creative freedom. For many, making it as an artist requires working closely with galleries, carving out a collector base, and building a brand around their work. It’s no secret that many of the painters we now herald as geniuses were long dead before their experimental works were received with any sort of acclaim.

Mia Bergeron is sensitive to the constraints placed on fine artists in today’s market. Trained in Florence in classical painting and now working in Tennessee as a professional portrait artist, she saw an opportunity to explore the meaning of “true creative freedom” within her trade. The Denver-based Gallery 1261 seemed a natural fit for such a project; the art space’s mission intentionally eschews the limitations enforced by sales quotas and aggressive marketing strategies. The resulting show that Bergeron curated, titled “Unfurl,” collected the works of 24 invited artists from the United States and Europe. They were encouraged to contribute works that stray from their normal practice and to work with with themes and materials they normally wouldn’t. 

Many of these artists, given the guest curator’s area of expertise, come from backgrounds in portrait painting, and most share her penchant for photorealism. The resulting collection, in which these artists have the opportunity to stretch, unwind, and experiment, contains assemblage and a mix of traditional and the surreal subject matter. In Imitations Unframed (2015), the oil painter Rose Frantzen drapes a finely wrought portrait of a young girl in resin, vegetable fiber, oil, and found materials, creating an organic canvas reminiscent of a decaying forest. The Norwegian Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen, known for his Scandinavian noir paintings of shadowy figures, further obscures his subjects, rendering them almost beyond recognition, in his Blight and Flux (2015). Felicia Forte, a 2015 BP portrait award winner, forgoes portraiture altogether with her “In the Interim” series (2015)—mundane still lifes rendered in fuzzy, rose-colored hues—works that draw on her distinct and emotive painting style to transform quiet moments into nostalgic tableaus.

—Molly Osberg


Unfurl” is on view at Gallery 1261, Denver, Aug. 21–Sep. 26, 2015.


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