Dairy Arts Center launches first-ever all-gay exhibition ‘Prismatic’ just in time for Pride
May 25 – Almost 45 years ago, the first rendition of the Pride flag was created by artist and gay rights activist Gilbert Baker. The flag, which has been hand-dyed the colors of the rainbow and sewn together, was designed to represent the spectrum of sexuality and gender that exists among humans.
Baker’s use of the color spectrum in the flag has remained an iconic symbol of the LGBTQIA+ community ever since. Alongside Pride Month, which is widely celebrated internationally every June in remembrance of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, the Dairy Arts Center honors the queer community with “Prismatic,” an exhibit curated by director visual Drew Austin.
The exhibit is Austin’s theory of color (or lack thereof), as well as the Dairy Arts Center’s first-ever all-queer exhibit presented for Pride Month. The result is a visually moving exhibition divided into two parts: a monochrome black and white gallery and a vibrant, “prismatic” exhibition made up of dozens of works.
We caught up with Austin to find out what “Prismatic” is (in his own words, since this reporter failed high school physics and knows nothing about refraction).
Austin said what grounded the exhibit was when he saw the work of CU School of Medicine LGBTQ studies professor Carey Candrian, who is dedicated to promoting gender equity. healthcare for older LGBTQ communities. Candrian’s project, “Eye to Eye: Eye to Eye: Portraits of Pride, Strength, Beauty,” features black-and-white portraits of older women from the LGBTQ community who “grew up when going out meant risking their health, job , their housing, their families, their friends,” Candrian wrote in his description of the exhibit. “To stay safe, many have remained silent for years. Stereotypes and stigma have filled the void of silence.”
Austin said these portraits gave him the idea to explore black-and-white works for the project.
We also spoke with featured artists Nathan Hall and Levi Fischer to get a glimpse of some of the pieces in the exhibit.
Q: Tell me a bit more about “Prismatic”. Is this an exhibit you’ve had before in conjunction with Pride Month, or is this a new concept? What was the inspiration behind this exhibition?
Austin: This is actually the first all-gay exhibit ever at The Dairy (that I know of) and we’re thrilled to be able to showcase such a diverse group of artists and individuals. The idea came from my own personal artistic practice and my interest in light and shadow…
The exhibition is divided into two sections, a black and white section and a color section, with works consisting mainly of monochrome works. I use light as a metaphor, thinking of light and shadow as the tools we use to define and shape the world around us, but when you look closer white light is actually a conglomerate of all colors and contains infinite potential, much like our personality.
Our gallery space has seven gallery walls, so the connection with the rainbow, pride month, light, all fit together perfectly for this super fun exhibit.
Q: Are all the artists featured in this gallery from Colorado?
Austin: Most of them are, yes. My goal was to exclusively feature artists across Colorado, but I had a few contacts from my own network that I really wanted to bring to Boulder, so there are a few featured guests, like Jesse Egner, who currently works in New York, Padyn Humble, who currently works in Berlin, and Robert Martin, a recent CU Boulder MFA graduate, who currently works in Wisconsin.
Otherwise, all artists are based here in Colorado and span north and south from Boulder to places such as Fort Collins, Steamboat Springs, Lochbuie, Littleton and Brighton.
Q: Tell me what has been the most rewarding part of curating this exhibit.
Austin: I both invited specific artists to participate in this exhibition and organized a public call for applications. I love surprises and all the new artists I learn from through an open call. There are a few artists in this exhibition who are exhibiting for the first time and it is truly an honor to be able to welcome them, present their work and give them a professional artistic experience in front of the large number of patrons who pass through the Products dairy every day.
For me, the Dairy allowing me to explore and showcase our queer community is one of the most rewarding things about being a curator. To be able to hang the work of many queer artists on the walls to celebrate our humanity and our richness is such a pleasure and such an honor. The opening reception was filled with so many new faces, that’s how the community grows. I am happy to be the steward of building this new community.
Q: What do you hope people leave after visiting “Prismatic”?
Austin: I really hope people will connect with the job, any job, and want to know more about the person behind the job. One of the driving forces behind this show is that the work is not categorically “queer”. I intentionally gave almost no direction on the content of the work, only the formal qualities, like color, when selecting the pieces, so the range of subject matter, content and medium is quite striking. Queer artists have such rich, dense, and layered practices that often don’t skew the “queer” stereotype, and that’s really what I wanted to show with this exhibition.
Artist and composer Nathan Hall’s work ‘Contract’ is featured in the black and white portion of the exhibition, while digital artist Levi Fischer’s pieces ‘Soho Apartment’ and ‘Alchemy Ritual’ are in the colored part.
Q: Tell me a bit about your journey as an artist, your journey as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. How did these two paths intersect?
Hall: I trained as a classical composer, but I’ve also worked in art museums and galleries. Much of my musical training prepared me for life in academia or through institutions, but in reality my life has been more multidisciplinary than that.
As a composer and queer artist, I took my first step in 2011 by bringing my own sexuality into the “classical” world with a piano and bondage piece called “Tame Your Man”. I realized that there was a whole world to explore in the connections between our identities as queer people, our interests, our relationships and their relation to “classical” music.
Fischer: I was born and raised in New York—Manhattan—and went to the Pratt Institute for my undergrad. There, I did a minor in art history and a major in animation. This is where I started this decades-long love affair with art mixed with technology and how you can start using technology to aid in the creation of artwork.
We had just started using Adobe programs when I started college, and we started using After Effects to do animation and digital illustration with Photoshop and Illustrator. Many people were angry about using these programs because they felt like it was almost cheating. Now I use AI assistance to create the artwork I produce. I don’t let the AI do all the work because as an artist I always like to be in control but that’s very cool because what the AI can do now is lean on an original idea and give you an extension of that idea.
Q: Can you give readers some background on your pieces in the exhibition?
Hall: This piece is part of one of my biggest works called “You’re Not the Boss of Me”, where I wanted to sort of overcome my blockages about classical music. I connected my musical training to my kink and BDSM experiences. I’m very interested in how the negotiations of kink practice are very much like the rules of classical music – what’s allowed, what’s not allowed, creating a safe space to push boundaries and pose questions.
Along with “Contract”, it’s an actual musical score (playing through headphones of me playing the harpsichord) but printed on leather, like a formal chord. These are the rules between the harpsichord and me of what I will and will not do. I’m also including two paddles with music etched backwards on them (my own music) so hypothetically if you were to consensually spank someone with them you would end up with my music imprinted briefly on your body .
Fischer: For “SoHo House,” I was inspired by my time in New York, where people like Keith Haring and Andy Warhol lived and created, and the gritty, artsy, queer neighborhood in which SoHo evolved. It seems like wherever the artists go, there’s also some kind of weird element to that area. So I tied that a bit to the piece with the use of color.
For my other piece “Alchemy Ritual” I created this with a transformation, with the trans experience, almost the occult nature of it. You inject yourself with hormones and have surgery (meaning if you transition medically of course), but it’s like you’re taking control of your own destiny. And I love that about the trans experience from a personal perspective.
To see Hall and Fischer’s work on display, visit “Prismatic” at the Dairy Arts Center, which is on display until July 6. Find more information at thedairy.org/prismatic.
Also on view at the Dairy this month is “All My Relations,” an exhibit featuring the work of Indigenous artist Kristina Maldonado Bad Hand, who is a Sicangu Lakota and Cherokee illustrator and graphic designer from Taos, New Mexico. Some of his pieces bring to life colorful characters ripped from the pages of a comic book, while others are wonderful eco-renderings of effervescent mushrooms and flowers.
“In Lakota we say ‘Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ’ meaning ‘all my relations’, ‘we are all connected’. This phrase is often said in prayer and ceremony and is an acknowledgment that everything is connected, from people to plants and animals. It also has a deeper meaning, that everything in our universe is interconnected. I chose that as the title of the show because in all the work that I do, I focus on connection, meaning depth and impact,” Kristina Maldonado said Bad Hand in a quote on the Dairy Arts Center website.
When not drawing, Maldonado Bad Hand works at the Denver Art Museum as a Creative and Public Engagement Fellow, working with the Native Artist-in-Residence program. She is also the co-founder and director of Aya Con, Denver’s Native Comics and Arts Festival.
To learn more about All My Relations, visit thedairy.org/all-my-relations.