In ‘Darrell Anderson: Risk & Change,’ an exploration of an artistic life that has touched many

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Artist Darrell Anderson addresses the crowd at RedLine Contemporary Art Center
Jaylyn Begay, courtesy of RedLine
Artist Darrell Anderson addresses the crowd at RedLine Contemporary Art Center for the opening reception for his retrospective, June 28, 2024.

A new exhibition at RedLine Contemporary Art Center celebrates the life and work of a local artist whose impact extends far beyond gallery walls. 

The retrospective, "Darrell Anderson: Risk & Change", not only showcases Anderson’s decades of artistic creation but also highlights the power of mentorship and community in shaping an artist's legacy.

The exhibition’s curator, John-Claude (J.C.) Futrell, is a multi-faceted artist himself whose personal connection to Anderson dates back to his teenage years. 

"I met Darrell when I was 14 years old. I was an intern for the Downtown Aurora Visual Arts," Futrell recalled recently. “Darrell was one of the lead artists on the mural project that we were putting up on Colfax and Emporia, which is still there. It's a huge tile mural on the side of the building there, right in the shadow of the Martin Luther King Library."

That early encounter sparked a mentoring relationship that has endured for decades, making the process of putting together the exhibition not just a professional endeavor for Futrell, but also a deeply personal one. 

"It was fantastic. I really needed it, to be honest. This year has not been an easy one for myself and my family... and to be able to work with Darrell and RedLine has really lifted my spirits," he said.

The collaboration between the longtime friends spanned four months, during which they sifted through a vast collection of artwork spanning nearly four decades. For Anderson, this process was a revelation. 

"It goes back to places that I have forgotten that I have been. And thank goodness for J.C., who was a fabulous curator (and) brought things out of the woodwork that I had forgotten all about," Anderson reflected.

The journey that led Anderson to this moment is as colorful and diverse as his own artwork. While he didn’t make the leap to professional artist until later in his adulthood, his artistic inclinations emerged early in life, born out of a need for self-expression and escape. He describes being three years old, hiding in a closet and drawing while trying to get away “from all the insanity of my wonderful parents.”

Anderson’s professional biography includes working in Asia as a race relations instructor during the Vietnam War and breaking barriers as Frontier Airlines’ first male flight attendant. The journey from those jobs to acclaim as a full-time artist is what inspired the retrospective title, “Risk and Change,” according to Futrell.

Anderson described his decision to give art his all as “the point where I finally gave the greatest gift I could give myself, (which) was that I was in love finally with me, and I deserved to take the risk — which makes the title of the show so exciting. Take the risk in me discovering I'm the lottery ticket and going for it and getting out of the way of myself and having the courage to let it happen."

But his path was not without its challenges. He faced numerous obstacles, particularly when trying to break into the gallery scene. 

“I was kind of brand new and nobody knew who I was. And so I was bound and determined to be successful regardless of what their opinions were because it was a structure that the majority of artists go through. And for me, I said, ‘Well, that's not going to deter me. I'm going to figure out a way where I can begin to market my work and begin to put my name out there.’"

The opening reception for "Darrell Anderson: Risk & Change" at Denver's RedLine Contemporary Art Center, viewers took in works.
Jaylyn Begay, courtesy of RedLine
At the opening reception for "Darrell Anderson: Risk & Change" at Denver's RedLine Contemporary Art Center, viewers took in works from across the artist's long career, June 28, 2024.

This determination and willingness to take risks have been hallmarks of Anderson's career, which moved on from galleries to include a wide range of public art commissions for places like DIA and Denver’s Wellington Webb building. 

"He risked friendships and opportunities to be an artist,” Futrell observed. “And through that risk came a lot of change, and he was willing to accept a lot of that change. And that acceptance is something that has put him in the place where he is today, to having work all over the world and working with young people and old people and people who are also in recovery themselves and helping them by just showing them the possibilities of what could be."

The exhibition at RedLine Contemporary Art Center is more than a display of Anderson's artwork; it's a testament to the importance of mentorship and community in the arts, according to Louise Martorano, Redline’s executive and artistic director. Those relationships are central to RedLine’s mission. 

"I took this as an opportunity to share a story that I feel like has not been shared enough in our of Darrell's own practice, his mentorship and his contributions to young people. And what better person to reach out to help share that story than someone who benefited from Darrell's mentorship," Martorano said.

For Futrell, the exhibition carries a powerful message that he hopes visitors will take away: that no one is ever too young, too old or too inexperienced to follow their dreams and do what their heart is telling them to do. 

Curator Jean-Claude (J.C.) Futrell and RedLine executive director Louise Martorano at the opening reception for "Darrell Anderson: Risk & Change", June 28, 2024.
Jaylyn Begay, courtesy of RedLine
Curator Jean-Claude (J.C.) Futrell at the opening reception for "Darrell Anderson: Risk & Change" at Denver's RedLine Contemporary Art Center, June 28, 2024.

"This show is a celebration of not only a singular artist, but that artist's commitment to community and how that community has shown up for him," Futrell added. 

Anderson himself sees the exhibition as an opportunity for self-expression and recognition. 

"There's more to me than putting pen to paper, color to a canvas… I'm a variety of things... And so this is about recognizing who and what I am and expressing that to the world that's going to come and see my exhibit," he said.

"Darrell Anderson: Risk & Change" is not just a look back at a prolific career; it's also a glimpse into the present and future of Anderson’s work. The exhibition includes ten new works by Anderson, demonstrating that his artistic journey goes on. Walking through the exhibition at RedLine Contemporary Art Center, viewers aren’t just encountering artwork; they are witnessing the story of an artist who dared to take risks, embraced change, and in doing so, not only transformed his own life but also touched the lives of countless others through his art and mentorship.

"Darrell Anderson: Risk & Change" is on view at RedLine Contemporary Art Center in Denver through August 4th, offering a unique opportunity to explore the intersection of art, mentorship and community through the lens of one artist's unfolding development.