Local Legends: Denver Artists Who Shaped the Scene

Local Legends: Denver Artists Who Shaped the Scene

Setting the Scene

Denver’s local art community is a diverse and vibrant scene full of multiple art mediums and voices! Many emerging and established artists call Denver home and it’s easy to see why with thriving enclaves such as the Santa Fe, River North, and 40 West art districts and esteemed galleries such as the Denver Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art. 

In the following blog, you will hear about just a handful of Denver’s most important and influential artists and designers that we believe are icons of Denver’s art landscape. These local legends are responsible for fostering the local art community, using their creativity for social change, and putting Denver’s name on the map as one of the world’s art capitals.

Pioneers of Denver’s Art Scene

Charles Partridge Adams

Charles Partridge Adams (1858-1942) was a prolific landscape painter and art pioneer who immortalized many of Colorado’s beautiful peaks and plains with his brush. According to the Charles Partridge Adams website Adams moved to Denver at the ripe age of 18 and began painting the local scenery in both oil and watercolor paint. Adam’s work was notable both locally and around the country because of his distinctly impressionistic take on the Colorado Rockies, utilizing striking colors and distinct lighting. His work shared the majestic mountains of Colorado with people around the globe.

Helen Henderson Chain

Helen Henderson Chain (1849-1892) was a pioneer in art history as Colorado’s first female resident artist. Chain is the first woman of European descent to summit many of Colorado’s 14ers including Mountain of the Holy Cross, which she was also the first woman of European descent to paint, says Western Art and Architecture website. Chain’s determination was apparent not only in her art and mountaineering (in a time when women were expected to wear petticoats and corsets mind you), but also in her entrepreneurship and art education. Along with her husband and friend S.B. Hardy, she founded Chain & Hardy’s Parlor Bookstore in Denver, which quickly became a hub for many of Colorado’s artists in the latter half of the 19th century. There Chain taught art classes to many historical Denver artists of the period, including a young Charles Partridge Adams.

Contemporary Voices in Denver Art

David Ocelotl Garcia

David Ocelotl Garcia (1977-Present) is an influential Denver artist whose website describes his work as “abstract imaginism.” Garcia is a multidisciplinary artist whose varying works can be seen at local spaces such as La Raza Park, Museo De Las Américas, and Meow Wolf. Bright colors, flowing geometric patterns, and indigenous representation are all hallmarks of Garcia’s work in both his public art and his work in contemporary galleries. Garcia is currently collaborating with the city of Denver in his upcoming project called “The People’s Bridge of the Sun and the People’s Bridge of the Moon.” 

Jordan Casteel

Jordan Casteel (1989-Present) is a local painter making a huge splash across the country right now. Casteel is an emerging artist who has had exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, MoCA Los Angeles, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Her work captures moments of modern society, not unlike a photographer, such as the stillness of strangers in public, often distorting these images with unique colors. Artistic diversity has proven important to Casteel as she has been published in Black American Portraits and The Female Gaze in Art and Photography.

Cultural Impact and Community Engagement

Jane Dedecker

Named one of USA Today’s Women of 2022, Jane Dedecker (1961-Present) currently resides in Colorado’s sculpture capital of Loveland, however her public sculptures live in 38 U.S. states according to the artist‘s website. Dedecker has made a name for herself through public art installations that commemorate women in American history. She has sculpted the likes of Sojourner Truth, Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks, and Emily Dickinson. Dedecker has even sculpted “The Nineteenth Amendment” itself, which granted women the right to vote.

Virgil Ortiz

The cultural heritage art of Virgil Ortiz (1969-Present) celebrates his indigenous roots with a futuristic twist. Ortiz’s show ReVOlt 1680/2180 at the Colorado History Museum reimagines native history as an anti-colonial sci-fi epic set in 1680 and 2180. You might just have to check it out along with its sister show at the Autry Museum in LA to see what we mean. One of the many great multidisciplinary artists on this list, Ortiz is unencumbered by mediums; his works can range from ceramics and scarves to barware.

The Intersection of Art and Public Spaces

Bimmer Torres

When it comes to murals, bigger doesn’t always mean better, but in the case of “Mitotli” which stands 85’ x 60’ in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood, it’s nearly impossible to deny the spectacle’s impact. Painted by muralist Bimmer Torres, the mural which translates to “A Dance” in English is just one of many murals you might find of Torres’ around Denver. According to his website, the Denver street artist began his grassroots art career as a graffiti vandal at the age of 15. It was only after he was caught that he realized he could get paid for creating his stunning visuals.

Casey Kawaguchi

When you think of Denver the first thing that pops into your mind likely isn’t samurais, muralist Casey Kawaguchi (-Present) is working to change that. As an Asian-American street artist, much of Kawaguchi’s work features women with painted white skin and flowing fans and sweeping samurai swords. To catch a deeper glimpse into Kawaguchi’s work, check out Mastery and Mastery Part II, two short-form documentaries about the influential Denver artist by local director David Kaufman.

Beyond the Canvas: Multidisciplinary Artists

Clark Richert

Clark Richert (1941-2021) was a conceptual artist who co-founded the Drop City art collective in Trinidad, Colorado in 1965. The geometric style that defined Drop City’s many domes was a hallmark of Richert’s work. In fact, the geodesic dome on RMCAD’s campus today is a public sculpture that honors Drop City and Richert’s contributions to the Denver art community. He was also the first painting faculty member hired at RMCAD. One of Richert’s most famous works was one of his last, Quadrivium, which is a public art installation in Denver that utilizes light and motion to “bring unity and hope to Denver.”  

Bruce Gueswel

Even if you are not a part of the Denver art community, there is still a good chance you have seen the work of Bruce Gueswel (1962-Present). Gueswel is the multimedia artist responsible for the Mayan figures made of corrugated metal, plywood, and exposed nuts and bolts that you may recognize from your local Chipotle. According to his website, Gueswel’s work has been featured in more than 2,000 restaurants, dating back to the original Chipotle in Denver. However, he is anything but a one-trick pony, his many sculptures have won him art grants from the Colorado Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Emerging Talents Reshaping Denver’s Art Scene

Shadae Hunt

Emerging artist Shadae Hunt is early in her creative career but she has earned her place on this list through her “Art District on Santa Fe Emerging Artist Residency.” She has exhibited work at multiple art galleries in Denver, including Union Hall and The Seesaw Gallery. Hunt has hit the ground running presenting paintings at Denver art festivals and events, including First Friday in the Santa Fe Art District. The unique abstract style of Hunt’s work truly makes her an artist to watch.

Chelsea Kaiah James

Another emerging artist with strong ties to indigenous art is Chelsea Kaiah James (1995-Present). Kaiah is an artist in residence at Redline Art Center, who is interested in the roles of native rights, digital art, sustainability, and social media. Her contemporary art explores these themes through traditional beadwork that often adorns masked figures. Kaiah uses these items of cultural heritage art to tell a broader story about the human experience.

Honorable Mentions

Anne Evans

Anne Evans (1871-1941) wasn’t much of an artist in the Denver art scene, however, she earns an honorable mention on this as one of the city’s greatest patrons of the arts assisting in the foundation of the Denver Art Museum and other significant cultural institutions.

Philip J. Steele

Philip J. Steele (1916-1993) was not only the founder of RMCAD, but he was also a nationally acclaimed painter who shared his craft all around the nation. His mission was to build a community of creatives in Denver by teaching techniques that dated as far back as the Renaissance.

The Future of Art in Denver

Our local art scene is full of influential Denver artists who contribute to a rich and diverse tapestry. From Denver’s historical art pioneers to emerging artists to watch, it is the perfect city for anyone looking to immerse themselves in art culture. The Denver art community is full of thousands of talented people that we couldn’t fit on this list, but we hope we have inspired you to chase your creative spark. Head over to your local art festivals, museums, and galleries no matter where you are located and start exploring the local art initiatives in your community!

Looking to add Your Name to the List?

Even if you aren’t in Denver, you can level up your art and design skills at RMCAD. Whether you are interested in murals, installation art, or art education, RMCAD is here to offer the art and design education you desire. Check out our different programs on-campus and online and get creative!


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