Before I knew anything about the arts community, or the Indy, or really much of anything period, I used to gaze up from Manitou Avenue on the tall, plant-adorned windows of Floyd Tunson's studio.
All I knew at the time was that it was where an artist named Floyd worked. And that it was probably very beautiful, from what I could tell when I would snatch glances of it between working shifts at the Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant, and hanging out with my then-boyfriend, who lived above the restaurant.
So it felt like a personal accomplishment when I was able to go inside and look from those windows out below. Not that I spent much time doing that, because Tunson's home is more beautiful than anything I imagined.
Tunson himself is very welcoming and warm. He gave me a nice tour of the place, and twice offered refreshments, which I gave into upon leaving. I gingerly took a small cluster of grapes from a bowl on the table, to which he added a paper towel.
But then, of course, there was the interview itself, wherein we spoke about his life, artwork, and new show at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, opening later this week. Our full story is here, but there was much more that couldn't make it in.
On his Endangered series (shown):
“Basically what draws me to those is the vulnerability of the young black males in this society. All the things that they’re going to encounter and have encountered as being young black males in this society, and most of it is not good. So I’m giving a voice to the voiceless. ... I’m bringing the underdog to the forelight, if possible. Or, I’m their advocate for things getting better, or I present their case, if possible, visually, aesthetically. I keep it out on the table. I keep the conversation going, possibly.”
On growing up in Denver:
“When I grew up, we almost knew everybody who was African-American in Denver. You knew their families, there was always some kind of connection.
“My first real big experience was in Washington, D.C. I was overwhelmed by all the African-Americans that I saw at once, all the time, in an urban situation. We never witnessed that in Denver. Denver was a big cow town, basically, for everyone.” (laughs)
On Tintin and racism:
"My daughter, coming from Switzerland, coming from Europe, we had volumes of Tintin, all the Tintins. As a matter of fact, when I was growing up, we had a couple of Tintins, too, but we didn’t have that whole set. … It’s not a big thing in America, even the film that Spielberg did [The Adventures of Tintin] didn’t go over that big because people aren’t really entrenched with Tintin. That’s a real European thing.
"But that controversial Tintin in the Congo is so derogatory, and I extracted images from that because I wanted them to convey that at the same time Matisse and all them are doing this very sophisticated artwork, you still have this kind of racism going on that is so unsettling at the same time.”
On the Colorado Springs arts community:
"I think it's improved tremendously. And I think it needs to improve a lot more."
In a recent interview with The Big Something, Tunson is quoted as saying that the Springs is a "hotbed of nothingness," though interviewer Noel Black clarifies there are institutions, like the FAC, that Tunson feels are doing their part to support the arts. When asked about the comment, Tunson says, "We have a big populace that [isn't] supporting the arts in any way."
He adds, "I'm not pissing on the art community. I'm not pissing on the community. I'm just saying, 'What are you doing about it?'"
And while he says there isn't something to "compel him to leave the studio" he isn't holed up in there, really. He often bikes and hikes in the area, and heads west to ski. But this is also coming from a man who loves to work.
"You got to get back in there and pay your dues. That's what this is all about. You gotta work. ... you gotta take criticism well, too. That's part of growing up."
Blake Milteer, FAC museum director, recalls Tunson's ferocious work ethic, saying that at one point, after the two had culled through his studio for days looking for pieces for the show, Tunson requested they stop so he could get back to his art. “That’s what he’s all about," Milteer says, echoing Tunson's own words. "Gotta get back to work. Gotta get back to making the art.”
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