Barry Rose’s art helps shape Denver’s identity

Hundreds of thousands of people flock to Barry Rose’s work every year in the city and county of Denver, and odds are some of them even stop to contemplate it.

“The hardest part is creating art that speaks to the community where it is based,” said Rose, 70, as he climbed the creaky wooden stairs of his soon-to-be-released studio just in next to East Colfax Avenue and Logan Street, where he has worked for 46 years. “That’s what makes it successful.

By this measure, Rose is one of the state’s greatest artistic successes of all time. Over the decades, his work has provided the visual backdrop for millions of people browsing Denver, such as his iconic book spine sculpture outside the main branch of the Denver Public Library. But by the nature of art, its name is not attached.

Rose has landed major public commissions at Coors Field, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Denver Children’s Museum, Denver Aquarium, Denver Zoo, hospitals, historic mansions, schools and dozens. other places, from vibrant murals to 500-pound metal sculptures and restoration work.

But as he prepared to downsize from his longtime roost on Capitol Hill, where he worked and looked after the Art in Action building at 1450 Logan Street, since 1975 he has also been considering a career in service. .

“You can make up whatever you want about my business,” he said as the bells of the nearby Immaculate Conception Cathedral Basilica rang through an open window. “It’s a way of bringing people in.

Rose’s “stuff” explodes from all corners of her studio. Every surface seems cluttered with yellowed sketches, colorful tiles, unique sculptures, ovens, tables and abandoned concepts. Dried drops of paint on the sides of hundreds of tin-plated steel cans splash color from the neatly stacked shelves. The oblong paths are practically worn into the ground.

  • Eli Imadali, Denver Post Special

    Barry Rose works in his Capitol Hill studio at Art in Action on September 27, 2021.

  • Eli Imadali, Denver Post Special

    Masks from an exhibit at Denver International Airport hang above the oven in Barry Rose’s studio on Capitol Hill at Art in Action on September 27, 2021.

  • Eli Imadali, Denver Post Special

    Various supplies and leftovers from past projects line the shelves at Barry Rose’s studio on Capitol Hill at Art in Action on September 27, 2021.

  • Eli Imadali, Denver Post Special

    A remaining tile of Barry Rose’s bas-relief mural at the main branch of the Denver Public Library sits on the shelf in his Capitol Hill studio at Art in Action on September 27, 2021.

  • Eli Imadali, Denver Post Special

    Barry Rose shows off old newspaper clippings about his art in his Capitol Hill studio at Art in Action on September 27, 2021.

  • Eli Imadali, Denver Post Special

    An old photograph of Barry Rose sculpting the City Park Dolphin Fountain hangs in his Capitol Hill studio at Art in Action, among other memorabilia from his work.

  • Eli Imadali, Denver Post Special

    A bust of Albert Einstein made by Barry Rose in high school is surrounded by dozens of photographs of his 200+ public art works, murals, and participatory community art across Denver at his Capitol Hill studio at Art in Action on September 27, 2021.

“The worst thing that ever happened here was being broken into, right after we opened,” Rose said under a wall of historic photos and prints. “They didn’t even take anything, they just ransacked the place.”

Some of the photos in Rose’s sprawling studio show him receiving awards from the mayors of Denver, or standing next to civic boosters such as Henry Lowenstein (Rose designed statuettes for the awards at the eponymous Lowenstein Theater). Originally from Denver, Rose said he was proud to have worked on important buildings and parks that he visited while growing up.

During her adult life, Rose also became one of the region’s go-to restaurateurs for buildings with terracotta accents, such as the Fontius Building at the 16th Street Mall, the Sage Building and the imposing Hirschfeld press building. He has organized or designed large-scale public works projects with dozens of other artists, spanning painting, bronze and stone, in addition to hundreds of personal works and concepts.

Some of his favorites – a mural on Steele Street, for example – have been removed over the years as Denver exploded in size and density. But Rose is not valuable for her pieces, having internalized the endless cycles of creation, restoration and replacement that advance public art.

“I was married to those first pieces, and then one day it just went away,” he said. “Sometimes they are stored or moved, but usually they are demolished. It is its nature. Sometimes they’ll give you a piece they saved.

Rose has protested at controversial sites such as the Rocky Flats nuclear power plant and has contributed to international projects criticizing these weapons and other hot political issues, including her own ceramic cartoons of Spiro Agnew and Donald Trump.

He is also proud of his personal art, which has been exhibited in many Colorado galleries over the years (and which he still sells in his studio), such as thematic ceramic paintings that tell stories of enlightenment and enlightenment. meet.

Rose is far from the starving young kid who left college to work on public commissions, he said, first at the University of Washington and then at the University of Colorado. The George Washington High School graduate has by this point been repeatedly hailed and awarded, and has lived long enough to see the city’s public art collection become a marketing tool for tourism boosters. But for most people, his name is still under the radar, and he’s not entirely upset about it.

“I have always considered it a privilege to be so lucky,” he said. “Although luck hits a moving object more easily than a static object.”

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