Dairy Arts Center launches first-ever all-queer exhibit 'Prismatic' just in time for Pride
May 25—Nearly 45 years ago, the first rendition of the Pride flag was created by artist and gay rights activist Gilbert Baker. The flag, which was hand-dyed the colors of the rainbow and stitched together, was made to represent the spectrum of sexuality and gender that exists within humans.
Baker's use of the color spectrum in the flag has remained an iconic symbol for the LGBTQIA+ community ever since. In conjunction with Pride month, which is widely celebrated internationally in the month of June in remembrance of the 1969 Stonewall riots, the Dairy Arts Center is paying homage to the queer community with "Prismatic," an exhibition curated by visual director Drew Austin.
The exhibition is Austin's take on color (or lack thereof) theory, as well as the Dairy Arts Center's first-ever all-queer exhibition on display for Pride month. The result is a visually moving exhibition broken into two parts: a black-and-white monochrome gallery and a vibrant, "Prismatic" display made up of dozens of works.
We caught up with Austin to learn what "Prismatic" is all about (in his own words, since this journalist failed physics in high school and knows nothing about refraction).
Austin said what grounded the exhibition was when he viewed works by CU School of Medicine professor in LGBTQ Studies, Carey Candrian, who is dedicated to advancing health equity for older LGBTQ communities. Candrian's project, "Eye to Eye: Eye to Eye: Portraits of Pride, Strength, Beauty," feature black-and-white portraits of older women in the LGBTQ community who "grew up when coming out meant risking their health, their jobs, their housing, their families, their friends," Candrian penned in her exhibition description. "To stay safe, many stayed silent for years. Stereotypes and stigma filled the vacuum 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 an inside scoop on some of the exhibition's pieces.
Q: Tell me a bit more about "Prismatic." Is this an exhibit that you have had before in conjunction with Pride month, or is this a new concept? What was the inspiration behind this exhibit?
Austin: This is actually the first all-queer exhibition that has ever been hosted at The Dairy (to my knowledge) and we are so thrilled to be able to showcase such a diverse group of artists and individuals. The idea came from my own personal art practice, and my interest in light and shadow...
The show is divided into two sections, a black-and-white section and a color spectrum, with works consisting mostly of monochromatic works. I'm using light as a metaphor, thinking about 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 conglomeration of all the colors and contains infinite potential, much like our personhood.
Our gallery space has seven gallery walls, so the connection with the rainbow, Pride month, light, all fit together perfectly for this super-fun exhibition.
Q: Are all of the artists featured in this gallery from Colorado?
Austin: Most of them are, yes. My goal was to feature artists across Colorado exclusively, but I had a few contacts from my own network that I really wanted to bring out to Boulder, so there are a few guests featured, such as Jesse Egner, currently working in New York, Padyn Humble, currently working in Berlin, and Robert Martin, a recent CU Boulder MFA graduate, currently working in Wisconsin.
Otherwise, all of the artists are based here in Colorado and extend both north and south from Boulder to places such as Fort Collins, Steamboat Springs, Lochbuie, Littleton and Brighton.
Q: Tell me what the most rewarding part of curating this exhibit has been.
Austin: I both invited specific artists to participate in this exhibition, as well as hosted a public open call for submissions. I just love the surprises and all the new artists I learn about 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 host them, showcase their work and give them a professional art experience in front of the large number of patrons who pass through the Dairy each day.
For me, the Dairy allowing me the space to explore and feature our queer community is one of the most rewarding things as a curator. Being able to hang the work of many queer artists on the walls to celebrate our humanity and richness is such a pleasure and honor. The opening reception was full of so many new faces, which is how the community grows. I'm glad I get to be a steward of building that new community.
Q: What are you hoping that people will walk away with after visiting "Prismatic"?
Austin: I'm really hoping that people connect with the work, any piece of work, and want to learn more about the person behind the work. 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 within the work, only the formal qualities, like color, when selecting pieces, so the range of subject matters, content and mediums is quite striking. Queer artists have such rich, dense, layered practices that often don't skew stereotypically "queer," and this is really what I wanted to showcase with this exhibition.
Artist and composer Nathan Hall's work, "Contract" is featured in the black-and-white portion of the exhibit, while digital artist Levi Fischer's pieces "Soho Apartment" and "Alchemy Ritual" are in the colorful portion.
Q: Tell me a bit about your journey as an artist, your journey as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. How have these two journeys intersected?
Hall: I'm trained as a classical composer, but I've worked in art museums and galleries, as well. A lot of my musical training prepared me for a life as an academic, or through institutions, but in reality, my life has been more multi-disciplinary than that.
As a queer composer and artist, I took my first step in 2011 in bringing in my own sexuality into the "classical" world with a piano and bondage piece called "Tame Your Man." I realized there's a whole world to explore in connections between our identities as queer people, our interests, our relationships and how they relate to "classical" music.
Fischer: I was born and raised in New York City — Manhattan — and I went to Pratt Institute for my undergrad. There, I minored in art history and majored in animation. That's where I started this decades-long love affair with art mixed with technology and how you can start using technology to assist in the creation of artwork.
We had just started using Adobe programs when I had entered college, and we started using After Effects to do animation, and digital artwork with Photoshop and Illustrator. A lot of people were up in arms about using these programs because they felt like it was cheating almost. Now I use the assistance of AI to create the artwork that I produce. I don't let the AI do all of the work, because as an artist I still like to have control, but it's very cool because what the AI can do now is build on an original idea and give you an expansion of that idea.
Q: Can you give readers a bit of background on your pieces in the exhibit?
Hall: This piece is part of a bigger work of mine called "You're Not the Boss of Me," where I wanted to conquer my hang-ups about classical music, in a way. I connected my music training to my experiences of kink and BDSM. I'm very interested in how the negotiations of kink practice are a lot like the rules of classical music — what's allowed, what's not allowed, creating a safe space to push boundaries and ask questions.
With "Contract," this is a real music score (playing in the headphones of me playing the harpsichord) but printed on leather, like a formal agreement. It's the rules between the harpsichord and me of what I will and won't do. I'm also including two paddles with reverse-etched music on them (my own music), so hypothetically if you were to give someone a consensual spanking with them, you'd end up with my music printed 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 were living and creating, and the gritty, artistic and queer neighborhood that SoHo evolved into. It seems like wherever artists move, there's also kind of a queer element to that area. So I tied that into the piece a bit with the color usage.
For my other piece "Alchemy Ritual," I created that with a transformational, with the trans experience, almost the occult nature of it. You're injecting hormones and getting surgery (that is, if you medically transition of course) but it's like you're taking control over your own destiny. And I like that about the trans experience from a personal standpoint.
To see Hall and Fischer's work on display, visit "Prismatic" at the Dairy Arts Center, which is on display through July 6. Find more information at thedairy.org/prismatic.
Also on display 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 her pieces bring to life colorful characters torn from the pages of a comic book, while others are wondrous ecological renderings of brightly effervescent mushrooms and flowers.
"In Lakota we say, 'Mitákuye Oyás'iŋ' meaning 'all my relations,' 'we are all related.' This phrase is often said in prayer and ceremony and is an acknowledgement that everything is related, from people to plants and animals. It has a deeper meaning as well, that everything in our universe is interconnected. I chose this as the show title because in all the work I do I focus on connection, deeper meaning and impact," Kristina Maldonado Bad Hand said in a quote on the Dairy Arts Center website.
When she isn't drawing, Maldonado Bad Hand works at the Denver Art Museum as the 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 Indigenous Comic and Art Festival.
To learn more about All My Relations, visit thedairy.org/all-my-relations.