Experiment in residence

Six days into her winter residence at the Breckenridge Arts District, photographer and painter Anya Rosen headed north on Route 9 toward Kremmling to check out the road kill situation—or lack thereof, since the 2015-2017 construction of wildlife crossings over and under the highway. On the hunt for instances of animal-human intersection, she learned of the project from Tom Vitalone of 2V’s Landscaping in Breckenridge, one of several local companies and organizations she interviewed as a way to learn about the area.

Rosen’s fascination with human-wildlife relations is part of a larger study of birth and death as a process, featured in her recent work, “Land for Sale by Owner: The Romance of the Exurbs.” In it, she documents the rapid conversion of agricultural land to low density housing in Virginia, where she works on a farm as co-manager of vegetable production.

“One day you drive down the road and you see excavation. The next day, you see houses,” she said. “This overturning causes the wildlife to behave in ways we are not used to. There’s a lot of roadkill.” Her compilation depicts everything from “building, excavation, and destruction of the landscape as it was” to “the repercussions and consequences of that,” she said, including the roadkill and ever-present vultures.

Rosen lived and worked at the J. R. Hodges Tin Shop, a renovated historic structure in the Breckenridge Arts District, for two months this winter as part of Breckenridge Creative Arts’ artists-in-residence program, offered in partnership with the Saddle Rock Society. The program, which was re-envisioned this year, now asks participants to develop new, place-based work that responds to themes important to the local community, such as local history, recreation, and environment. Each artist partners with one or more businesses or organizations, and produces a culminating project inspired by that relationship. Other community tie-ins include open studio hours during which the public can visit the artists at work, artist collaboration on existing Arts District activities, and the opportunity for artists to attend free weekly classes at the Arts District and beyond.

Program manager Becca Spiro cast a wide net to solicit this year’s group of regional, national, and international applicants, reaching out to graduate school and artist residency portals. Out of 75 applicants, 7 were selected by a panel that included BCA staff, Robin Theobald of the Saddle Rock Society, and Brian Raitman of Raitman Art Galleries. Interviewees were asked to speak about how their work relates to local narratives, and how it addresses components of a new framework for aesthetics by Americans for the Arts such as “resourcefulness,” “risk-taking,” “communal meaning,” and “cultural integrity.”

“The prompts resulted in some interesting conversations,” said Spiro. “We really got a sense of which artists could talk about their work and connect it to those larger themes, and which artists were really interested in diving in and getting to know our community.”

The residency turned out to be a great fit for Rosen, who describes her work as being “very much about the literal geographic place that I am in.” Once in town, she attended local meetings, took a composting class, met with High Country Conservation Center, and interviewed locals from Vitalone to photographer Gary Soles. From there, she followed up on leads that interested her to construct an understanding of the people, history, and ideologies of the high country to inform her culminating project.

“It was a fun challenge for me to try to connect her with as many people as I could who might be relevant,” said Spiro. “I think the research-based nature of Anya’s work is compelling,” she added, emphasizing the fact that the residency is more about process than product. “We really want artists to feel like they can use this as an experimental time.”

Contemporary impressionist painter Dena Peterson will do a residency in the Tin Shop from April 23 to May 20. In her 20-year career, Peterson has earned numerous awards for her work, which depicts subject matters from natural landscapes to cities, still lifes to portraits. Most recently, she has been recognized for her work as a painter/animator on the film “Loving Vincent,” a narrated, feature-length tale of Vincent Van Gogh told through animated paintings. Summit Film Society screened the film in Breckenridge in January.

Peterson said it was her daughter’s idea to apply for the job, which invited 125 hand-picked and tested artists from around the world to BreakThru Films in Gdansk, Poland, where they worked day in and day out on the project. “It’s kind of like old-school animation,” she said of the process, which involved carefully painting a first frame—whether an actual Van Gogh painting or a scene based on his work—taking a photo of it, and then scraping off and repainting the parts where movement would occur.

“For every 1 second of animation, 12 paintings were needed,” said Peterson, who spent 8-10 hours per day in her cubicle, producing approximately 12 paintings daily during her 6-month stay in Poland. In total, more than 65,000 oil paintings were created for the film, the first feature-length animation of its kind. “We only used computer software to play back the animation so we could check it,” she said. “It was all hand-done.”

The Poland experience was eye-opening and confidence-building for Peterson, who describes herself as an introvert. Now, she keeps in touch with artist friends from around the world via Facebook. She is looking forward to focusing on her own work during her Breckenridge residency, but also to sharing with the community. “You know, as artists, we are sometimes in our own heads,” she said. “This is an opportunity for me to reach out. It’s a stretch for me—and something that I welcome.”

Peterson is hoping to partner with one or more mental health agencies as a part of her local project, connecting with Van Gogh’s mental health struggles, which ultimately caused him to take his own life. “When I read that the suicide rate is high in some mountain communities, I was surprised and shocked,” said Peterson, who has herself suffered mild depression throughout her life.

In Poland, she connected with the film’s creator and co-director, Dorota Kobiela—another introvert who said she identifies with Van Gogh’s struggle with depression—around “Wheatfield with Crows,” which is animated so the crows fly away when the film’s main character, Armand, walks into the field. It’s Kobiela’s favorite scene, and one that Peterson had the honor of painting. “This could have been the field where he took his life,” Peterson said. “I saw the crows flying away as maybe he finally found his peace.”

“This is not to condone suicide,” she added. “To me the sad part is he didn’t think he had any other option. I believe he did; I think we all do.” Thus one of her goals with the residency is to “bring light to those issues, and how to talk about them without there being such a stigma.”

In addition to the artists in residence at the Tin Shop, artists whose work will be exhibited at one of BCA’s signature festivals or galleries will reside for short periods of time at the Robert Whyte House, also located on the Breckenridge Arts District campus. Upcoming exhibition artists in residence include Megan Gafford, whose show, “Hormesis,” runs at Gallery@OMH from April 5 to May 20; and Stephanie Imbeau, whose outdoor public artwork, “Place/d,” runs May 31 to June 3 as part of the WAVE festival.

Secret Love Collective—a Denver-based group of “artists and creative folk who live DIY lives, genders, sexes, and bodies, and possess many cultural, sexual, gendered, and artistic identities”—will turn the Robert Whyte House into a temporary exhibition space for their “Tell Your Secrets: Secrets Faire” March 10-11, in which audiences tell their secrets and stories through embroidery, karaoke, dress-up, self-portraiture, and more. Kicking off the second annual Breck Pride Week, the collective will also put on the exhibition, “Anniversary,” at Gallery@BRK March 7-28.

“The artists who are coming to Breckenridge as a part of our residence program will create original work in a range of disciplines that is intimately tied to our community,” said Robb Woulfe, president and CEO of Breckenridge Creative Arts. “This not only invites cross-pollination of ideas from around the world, but also catalyzes site-based work that reflects our unique mountain identity. We welcome this year’s resident artists with open arms, and look forward to seeing the kinds of new interpretations their collaborations inspire.”

Anya Rosen // anyarosen.com
Dena Peterson // denapaints.com
Secret Love Collective // secretlovecollective.com
BCA artists-in-residence program // breckcreate.org/artists-in-residence
Gallery@OMH // 136 S. Main St. Gallery@BRK // 121 S. Ridge St

Photos provided by Dena Peterson, Anya Rosen, and Secret Love Collective