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Colfax Centered in Art of the Open Road


In the pursuit of Manifest Destiny, the US carved its name into 2,680 miles of land from coast to coast. The strong culture of road tripping that emerged soon after was inevitable; artists of all stripes have long been enchanted with the network of roads and highways that connect the 48 continental states and countless walks of life.

"Art Jeep" by Bradley Dean Ramsey welcomes visitors to 40 West Gallery | Photo: Taylor Kirby CU Sentry

“Art Jeep” by Bradley Dean Ramsey welcomes visitors to 40 West Gallery | Photo: Taylor Kirby CU Sentry

The 40 West Gallery recently honored this rich national tradition with “The Art of the Open Road,” an installation that aimed to pay homage to Colfax’s specific manifestation of American wanderlust.

The 40 West Gallery is home base to the 40 West Arts District, a project that sprawls across the stretch of Colfax flanking Casa Bonita. Its mission statement is to “champion the renaissance of historic West Colfax” through community-based art and events. “The Art of the Open Road,” which ran through Aug. 27, was its latest showcase of local artists.

The gallery’s storefront is set apart from its industrial surroundings by whimsically painted sidewalks, multicolored walls, and, most noticeably, Bradley Dean Ramsey’s “Art Jeep.” The Jeep itself is hard to recognize beneath the hundreds of plastic figures that adorn it: Innumerable franchises and cartoons are represented on the vehicle’s hood and roof, and any metal that remains uncolonized has been treated with a wash of spray paints and hand-printed textures.

Where Ramsey’s “Art Jeep” offers a contemporary take on American road culture—one that’s abstracted, eclectic, and loud— the artists featured inside prefer to communicate through more traditional forms. Tony Quartana’s “Long Day” captures a cool-toned sunset seen through a side view mirror; it’s a composition that speaks to the momentum and energy of travel in tandem with the peace of a long, empty road.

Some artists can’t avoid reiterating Denver’s association with the likes of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, but others find their voices with a less romanticized approach: “Sunrise Over Union Bridge,” a photograph taken by Barbara Gal, finds beauty in grit. It frames a smoggy Denver cityscape through the wire hatching of a Lakewood bridge. Rather than acting to detract from the picture, the smog diff uses the colors of sunrise into something that can be appreciated—even if only for a brief moment during a morning commute downtown.

While the exhibit might have been improved by honoring the routes and roads of Colorado more exclusively, its forays into national and overseas locations work to earn their wall space. Susan Blosten’s “Night Train Paris” is a large canvas of a city neighborhood that calls and recalls the attention of gallery attendees. Its acrylic paints are enhanced by multimedia embellishments: Blosten uses wire to draw the eye to train tracks, gold foil to make ornate domes pull their weight, and glitter to draw attention to the network of electrical wire pulling the whole piece together. Its citizens are pasted-on paper dolls and its windows are sometimes brooches, plastic bits, or sandwich baggies. It should be a model of over ambition, but instead it works, capturing the messy vibrance of city life.

Other pieces depict rain-slicked, Pacific Northwestern roads, Midwest iconography like the St. Louis Arch, and unidentifiable desert scenic routes. What pulls the far-reaching exhibit together is centering Denver at its heart. As current residents know, all roads apparently lead to Colorado, and that these locally-based artists have seen so much of the world speak to the diversity and range of experiences that are driving people to find a new home here.

Taylor Kirby
Taylor Kirby

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