Denver Artist Jared Hankins’ Solo Exhibit at Space Gallery

From watercolor and ink to vintage oil paintings inspired by the American West, self-taught Denver artist Jared Hankins has painted a little bit of everything.

Jared Hankins
Photo courtesy of Jared Hankins.

Jared Hankins is a pioneer in the Denver art world, venturing into diverse art styles and always on the prowl for his next big challenge. With each of his series, Hankins is finding new ways to captivate his audience, continually crossing the line between realism and abstract. From his two iconic bison pieces commissioned by The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch to hang in the entrance, to his mural of peacocks flanking the stage in the ballroom of Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom and The Other Side, to his abstracts hung throughout the Four Seasons, Denver, Hankins has a big presence in the Colorado art landscape. And his presence just got bigger with the introduction of his first solo exhibition, “Precipice,” at Space Gallery. This is the last week the show is running so don’t miss your chance to see these breathtaking beauties on display. And bring the hankies because Hankins’ art has been known to elicit some pretty emotional responses: “a woman who had just lost her son … broke down, saying she felt like his soul was in that piece,” Hankins tells us in an interview.

Have you always been drawn to art?
Yes, absolutely. Growing up, I was always doodling in class and initially intended to lean into an art major. But my freshman year classes were absolutely brutal: One lasted four hours and met four times a week and the other was an Asian art history class where we were asked to memorize dates and names of people you couldn’t pronounce from the Ming Dynasty. It was an easy way to recognize that art history is probably not the direction that I should head in. Ultimately, I majored in finance at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. After college, I worked as an artist doing silk screen work in Seattle. I also started doing some ink and watercolor work of my own. When I moved back to Colorado, I started showing that art to people, and it was well received. Then, I got my first show on the fourth story of the Tattered Cover in Cherry Creek. From there, I got picked up by a small gallery in Englewood and started showing my work anywhere I could. It’s one of those things where I had a circuit of people that followed my work, and then I just taught myself to paint. In the afternoons and evenings, I discovered oils, and that was it. I just poured myself into that, and now I’ve been painting in oils for over 20 years.

Who are some of your favorite artists, or artists that inspire you?
Denver has a lot of good artists, and there’s a lot of good art in Denver in general, but some artists I particularly like are Lui Ferreyra, Don Quade, and Lu Cong. Those artists were all up and coming while I was in my twenties and thirties, and they’re so inspiring. My favorite living artist would probably be Daniel Sprick. He has this kind of edginess and moodiness throughout his work. He leaves these beautiful brushstrokes that drag across the page, reminding the viewer that you’re looking at a painting. He doesn’t edit his backgrounds when he’s doing his still lifes, and he does things that just capture the essence of painting for me.

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How have you seen the art scene change in Denver?
Early on, I got into the Arts District on Santa Fe. I was there at the very beginning of my career, and the Arts District was just coming up and bookmarked by the Fresh Art Gallery and the Carson Gallery. We’d be lucky to get 50 people there. I was there for seven or eight years and had studios down there. I watched it grow from 50 people to 3000, not to mention the crowds First Friday brings in. So, it’s been a long journey.

What is your favorite medium to work with?
Oils, mostly. I’ve tried starting in ink, and I’ve tried starting with underpaintings in charcoal, acrylic, and all these different things. But the sooner you can get into the medium that’s going to finish the painting, the better off you are, so I’ve decided to work pretty exclusively in oils. I always pick the most ridiculous challenges for my work. I’ve done a whole series of the Golden Gate, roller coasters, and all these really complicated structures with many technical aspects in repeating shapes and line work. I’m always 10 hours into them when I realize this is going to be like a hundred-hour painting. I constantly try to challenge myself in new, different directions as I work through a series. I do five to 10 pieces on a particular subject, work through its nuances, learn its aspects, and then move on to the next thing. Each series teaches you different things that you can apply in future pieces. It’s a constant building process.

Jared Hankins art
Photo courtesy of Jared Hankins.

What does your creative process look like?
When starting a new series, I begin by conducting research to avoid creating something too similar to someone else’s work or an already-explored idea. I also research the subjects, seeking to understand their meanings and pouring myself into the pieces. I always ask myself whether it’s worth creating. For me, there has to be an angle or a reason to paint it. Then it’s a matter of either photographing the work I want to do or finding the right photographs online. I’ll tweak them in Photoshop to the point that I like them. From a technical side, I typically paint on wood, so I use the grain from a vertical line standpoint. Then I just enhance it with a canvas primer called gesso. My work consists of tightening and loosening; I tighten pieces up and then scrape away, tighten, and scrape away. This creates a vertical effect that, from five to 10 feet away, they feel like realistic paintings, but if you approach them, they have a lot of drag and interest.

How does your artistic style set you apart from other artists?
I have painted realism for a long time, and the problem with realism is that there is nothing else to draw in the viewer besides the subject. The viewer can look at it and say it’s really well rendered, but that’s where it ends. So stylistically, the way I paint wasn’t an overnight thing. One day I was working on a piece and didn’t like the direction it was going, so I started painting it out, just brushing it out with vertical lines, and I looked at it and thought, God, that’s pretty cool. There’s something there. So I worked that piece through a little bit. And then I thought, this is reminiscent of early American photography of the American West. You see those original photographs with a lot of hairs in them and dings and dents and stuff that makes it a little more aged and authentic looking, which resonated with me. That streaky quality I’ve brought into my oil paintings has become how I paint rather than being an effect.

How do you want people to feel when they see your art?
One person said, ‘it truly makes me feel the way I do when I’m in the mountains,’ and that’s the ultimate goal. To resonate with somebody so they can feel like they’re in that space or feel like it’s part of them when they look at the piece. I had a woman who had just lost her son and she just broke down, saying she felt like his soul was in that piece. When you can resonate or connect with somebody, and they can see something in your work, it’s never the same.

Where can people see your work right now?
I have a show at Space Gallery, on 400 North Santa Fe Drive, until March 4. It is primarily mountain paintings based on early photography of the American West that pay homage to many of the adventures and travelers. I’ve been inspired by both people in small towns and the Jimmy Chins of the world, who are just out there doing incredible things on skis and climbing mountains. It made me think of how I would paint a series of mountains. Most of the paintings you see are very much a backdrop of the mountains or an afterthought. I really wanted to paint the mountains in their grandness and celebrate the magnitude of the mountain and the perspective of being a participant rather than an onlooker.