We had the good fortune of connecting with Carrie MaKenna and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Carrie, how do you think about risk?
Some level of risk-taking is pretty much how most anything is ever achieved. I’ve found taking risks with a clear intention has most often led to unexpected and rewarding outcomes. The first art-related risk I took was in my first year of college when I basically snuck into the art department against my family’s wishes and wound up having a fascinating and eclectic artistic career. Another big risk was to quit my corporate job to pursue a Master’s degree in Art Therapy. Yet another was to take studio and gallery space, Arts Carrie MaKenna, in a row of storefronts that I thought sure would only be for a year but wound up lasting nine years. It would be impossible to recount all the risks large and small that I’ve taken in order to get where I am today. But the most recent one was to co-found the new artist-owned D’art Gallery in 2019 that managed to survive and actually thrive during the pandemic of 2020. This doesn’t even touch on the micro-risks that occur every day in the act of art-making from the choice of materials to subject matter. It’s a huge risk to put one’s work on display for public scrutiny. Some years ago I found a quote from Georgia O’Keefe that has been helpful to me, “I have already settled it for myself, so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.”
Alright, so let’s move onto how your career has developed?
Art is literally in my DNA. My great-grandfather was a commercial sign painter with his own company in downtown Denver at the turn of the century. He was also a plein air fine artist who would take his easel and oils into the foothills to paint small canvases. He would bring them back down to 17th St., known as the wall street of the west, to sell to the bankers and lawyers. His daughter, my grandmother, was also very creative and made a lot of hook rugs using her own designs. My mother pursued a variety of arts including painting, stained glass, screen printing and mosaics while I was growing up. Both my sisters also pursued careers in graphic design and made fine art as well. The most amazing thing is that we have quite a lot of all their artwork on the walls in our home. Over the years I’ve worked in a wide variety of media and styles. In the last 15 years I have settled on highly textured canvases and a select palette of 20 liquid acrylics. Using these materials I can create abstracts, portraits and landscapes alike. I make artwork to remind people of their interconnection with each other, nature and the universe, through the experience of image, color and texture. I have several series that I’m continually working on including Bare Trees, The Universal Circle, Atmospheric Conditions, and Circles of Love.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Oh my goodness, there’s so much to explore in Denver and Colorado. We would of course take in all the artwork. I especially love the Clyfford Still Museum and we’d see what’s on at the Denver Art Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art. We’d get a snack and drink on the rooftop at the Art Hotel. We would check out the galleries in the Arts District on Santa Fe Dr., and then go to the 40 West Arts District in Lakewood. I’m a Colorado mountain girl so, we’d head up to the foothills through Morrison and stop for lunch at either the Cow Eatery or Tony Rigatoni’s. Then drive to Lair o’ the Bear park for a walk by the creek and continue on up to Evergreen. From there we’d make the loop back to I-70 toward Denver and take Lookout Mtn. Road the long winding way down to Golden and stop for dinner at the Table Mesa Inn. More time means more mountains. Depending on the time of year we’d take the drive through Winter Park to Grand Lake and over Trail Ridge Road to Estes Park. There might even be a trip to Glenwood Springs and Aspen.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are many, many people who have made a big difference in my life and career. I’d have to start with my mother who was an artist herself and always encouraged me to pursue the arts in some form. I had a college professor, Bruce Cody, who gave excellent advice about developing style and creating a cohesive body of art by working in series. I wouldn’t be anywhere without the artistic partnership I have with my husband Craig Rouse who is a graphic designer and fine artist. There are several artists who made a difference along the way including artist Pat Pendleton, and Lorene Joos who gave me my first big exhibition at the Lakewood Cutural Center. Most recently Barb Pullin introduced me to the amazing artists of the Women’s Caucus for Art Colorado, which directly led to the formation of D’art Gallery.
Craig Rouse, Kelly Austin-Rolo