We had the good fortune of connecting with Elena Gunderson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elena, let’s start by talking about what inspires you?
Inspiration is everywhere and nowhere. You don’t even have to be looking for it. It can lie dormant, in echos of our memories, or it comes to us in prophetic waves. There is no key to unlocking inspiration, but there is no door to begin with. Maintaining an open mind and not overthinking is essential to the creative process.
When asked where my inspiration comes from, I find it difficult to condense my reference pool into a matter of words. I often create my paintings to process experiences in my life. Occasionally I will see visions of an idea as flashes of burning imagery, and know exactly where I am headed. Other times I may have no idea what I am painting as I begin to lay down the groundwork of a new piece.
I find in increasingly important to try new materials, and work in ways that I haven’t before to keep up my own interest within my production.
Use of color is one of the most important, and signature aspects of my work. I often utilize saturated color and vivid contrast to push the narrative of my work into something dreamlike or “psychedelic”. Nostalgia and memories of big skies, rolling fields, and decaying structures litter the background of my pieces. The presence of women is undeniable, as they are the subject of most of my paintings. Old Hollywood, vintage photos, and classic portraiture play heavily into the references I use.
Lately, I have been very interested in collaging together different materials, with a penchant towards the kitsch. Lace, sequins, fake pearls, any other tacky material I can get my hands on have been making their debut in my more recent work. What can I say? I love a glue gun.
I think far too often artists are focused on making “good” work and not allowing themselves to enjoy the meditative, and joyful process of creation. It is easy to fall into the pitfalls of our mind and natural to try and cater toward what we assume others expect of us. When we are true to ourselves and listen to our intuition we create our best work.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
To be an artist is to walk with one foot in this world and the other on another planet. I think you have to have some delusion or dreams of grandeur to pursue a career in the arts, but we spend half of our lives dreaming anyways so why not push some of that into our waking hours? For me there has never been a distinction between art and the rest of my life. Art chooses you and you are simply helpless within it’s grasp and embrace. Even if I had chosen to pursue another career, I feel that painting would always be seducing me with it’s siren song and promises of fulfillment.
It is not always an easy path to walk. In fact, it is more than often, quite the difficult journey, and not one for the weak of heart. It has taken me many years to discipline myself enough to work full-time as an artist, and even now I feel that I have a long way to go and much more to learn before I reach where I would like to be as a business. Productivity is everything. I put in 25-40 hours of studio time a week, which can easily turn into 70-80 hours during crunch time before a show or major project. Working as an artist has never been famous for it’s consistent pay or reliability. I have worked in the service industry for years, and while I have been off schedule this past year pursuing my art career, I will still gladly swoop in to pick up a bartending shift to help cushion my pockets when they are feeling a little light. Everyday I’m hustlin’.
It is all worth it to pursue what I love most. Art is my love language, and it brings me so much joy to see people respond to my work.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
On the rare occurrence that I break from the confines of my studio to enjoy the outside world, I do try to make the most of my day.
I am a hardcore pedestrian so I mainly walk or bike from place to place. If I could take a week off starting today, and just stay in Denver, here are a few of the things I would do:
I would most likely start by grabbing a corndog at Sputnik while I planned out the rest of my week. From there, I would probably do some thrifting at the illustrious goodwill, and perhaps some of the vintage stores further north on Broadway ( if I’m feeling fancy). After taking the dogs for a nice jaunt around Alamo Placita Park, I would head up to the Far East Market on Federal and Alameda to enjoy some mouthwatering Vietnamese food at Saigon Bowl. I would then hit the New Saigon Market for some produce and condiments. If I’m feeling extra ambitious I might hit Vesper Lounge for a quick night cap. Some other places that I would make sure to make time for would be DOMO, Somebody People, P.S. Lounge, Swifts on Santa Fe, and I would definitely stop by Sushi Den for two pieces of the seared fatty toro because it is sex on a plate.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I feel so humbled by the amazing people in my life who remind me to keep pursuing what I love, and who encourage me to embrace myself fully. It would be near impossible to single out one or two individuals, so here are a few people who have won me over.
I would be amiss if I didn’t mention my dear friend, and fellow artist, Peter Yumi. I met Peter several years ago through a mutual friend and we immediately knew that it would be the start of a beautiful relationship. Peter has taught me to embrace the weird and not take things seriously. His dexterity with new mediums and his approach to his work is fearless and ferocious. His use of humor provides commentary to subject matter that people may shy away from, and his creativity and world building is truly mind blowing. If you need a masterclass in having fun, Peter is your guy.
I don’t know where I would be without some of the amazing gallery owners who I have gotten the chance to work with. Scott and Myah Bailey of Sally Centigrade gallery have been long time supporters of my work, and have truly become family for me within the Denver art scene. Valerie ofValkyrie Gallery is a truly wonderful human being who always keeps her ears open for me when it comes to art gigs, shows, and mural work. I love Raymundo Munoz of Alto Gallery. I often refer to him as my “Art Husband”, as I simply adore him. His presence in the art scene is undeniable. When he is not curating amazing art at Alto Gallery, he is at local shows, camera in hand, documenting the scene. He brings a spotlight to so many people in our community, and his work is truly commendable.
Lastly I would like to mention the late Patrick Mangold White. Patrick was the owner of several restaurants in Denver including Kaos Pizzeria, Uno Mas, and Mas Kaos. I began working for him when I was 16 and worked for him for eleven years. I knew him for a total of fifteen. He has a profound affect on my life, and I would not be the person I am today without his support, kindness, and laughter. He was a wonderful person who changed so many people’s lives, and I feel incredibly honored to have had the time I did with him. He believed in me, before I believed in myself. We need more people in the world like him.