On the corner of West 9th Avenue and Santa Fe Drive, just outside Spark Gallery, I drove past a huge metal crocodile spitting flames. By the time I returned — parking is terrible during the First Friday Art Walk — the fire had gone out, so I moved on to join the hundreds of people touring Santa Fe’s art galleries.
The first Friday of every month more than 20 galleries along Denver’s Santa Fe Drive, from West 5th to West 10th avenues, open their doors from 6 to 9 p.m. I like to think of it as a sort of bar-hop, but with art. People move from door to door with plastic tumblers of wine, bumping elbows with people who are all there to experience the same thing: some of Denver’s greatest art.
There’s never enough time to see everything First Friday has to offer, so here are four of my favorites:
Canto do Galo
Canto do Galo isn’t an art gallery, but it drew the biggest crowd on Santa Fe. More than 50 people stood outside the huge pane windows and watched while, inside, a circle of students played capoeira, a Brazilian blend of martial arts and dance.
During the roda on the first and third Friday of every month, students sit in a large circle on the floor, while the fight-dance is performed in the middle — two people spin, kick, feint, headbutt and handstand in an unbelievably acrobatic display. The rest of the students provide music through drums and voices in a rhythmic, chanting song. It’s worth watching, but stay on the sidewalk outside unless you want to smell your high school wrestling mats again.
The Russian Ark
There’s something about the sculptures and paintings in the Russian Ark that make the gallery comforting — the artwork seems more accessible than that found in some of the other galleries. Yelena Sidorova’s silk paintings in bright, strong colors show still-life flowers and stylized cityscapes; Rick Sargent has a number of brilliant sculptures; Yuri Shemetov’s oils are moody and, like many of the paintings in the gallery, show the influence of Impressionism (my wife was so taken with one of Yuri’s originals that it’s hanging in our apartment). You won’t see much at the Russian Ark that pushes the boundaries of art, but you will find a professional gallery filled with artists who have mastered their craft.
For the first time I saw something in the Spark Gallery that I didn’t like — a temporary display featured fake Christmas trees poking through what appeared to be sheets of painted burlap and two old aquariums partially filled with dead leaves. Oh, and an inflatable raft. Some people will tell me I don’t get it, and I probably don’t, but I put dead leaves in aquariums when I was 8 years old. The rest of the gallery, though, is and always has been impressive — Sue Simon’s flawless melding of art and science were both simple and stunning, and Jared McKenzie’s ink and watercolor silhouettes of women, as well as his guitar portraits, have always made Spark Gallery one of my favorite stops.
Paintura Tattoo Gallery
If you’re looking for something a little more alternative, check out Paintura Tattoo Gallery. Located at West 12th Avenue and Santa Fe Drive, Paintura is a little out of the way, but it’s worth the two-block walk.
The gallery has a small but impressive collection of paintings, most of them showing women in various states of undress and with various parts of their bodies pierced, but tastefully done. A lot of people leave First Friday with artwork under their arm, but at Paintura you can leave with the artwork actually on your arm, or, come to think of it, any other part of your body.
If You Go
The first Friday of every month, 6-9 p.m., on Santa Fe Drive between West 5th and West 10th Aves., Denver. www.artdistrictonsantafe.com
The Russian Ark, 931 Santa Fe Drive, (303) 534-1677
Canto do Galo, 910 Santa Fe Drive, (303) 273-2830 www.cantodogalo.org
Spark Gallery, 900 Santa Fe Drive, (720) 889-2200
Paintura Tattoo Gallery, 1201 Santa Fe Drive, (303) 629-1800
Josh Bishop has finally completed more than five years of education in writing and reporting. He is a native of Michigan.
From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.