Matthew Hunter is keeping his artful promises, and this time the results approach the sacred – and may come close to a little of the profane as well. Hunter promised himself recently that he would hold a cooperative art show in the Lion’s Lair, Denver’s venerated punk rock dive, every other month into perpetuity, or for as long as he (and the community) could stand it – whichever comes first. In late October, Hunter curated a show at the Lair entitled “Night of the Living Barn,” wherein he encouraged a few artist friends of his to submit their interpretations of barn drawings. Participation was impressive, and there were over 20 pieces hung on the walls of the legendary dive bar, where they remained for more than a month. Hunter also arranged a rock show on opening night that featured two Denver roots rock bands, SlakJaw and The Denver City Salt Licks, and served corn on the cob appetizers. Drink specials, or – gasp – open bar? Nope – this was still the Lion’s Lair, not some Cherry Creek Gallery! The art proved it, too – the place was lined with pieces from many skills, some naive, some more accomplished – but all had an air of simplicity and grace.
This time around, for the second show, Hunter decided to curate a show on an appropriate theme for the Holidays: “Jesus Christ Superstar” (the original flyers called the show “Jesus F%&#in’ Christ Superstar,” which was just a tad more fitting for the bar’s nature and history). This time he got a few more contributors, many of them strangers, which is a great sign for future shows. Artists with pieces in this show included Pete Fly, Heba Junkin, Matthew Hunter, Chuck Cuthill, Annie May & Andy, and Brandy Darling (from 43rd Street Zoo Presents, and who also helped with this show). On opening night, backed by the tunes of local bands Dario Rosa and Bluebelle, the show sported over 20 medium to large sized pieces, as well as over 350 paper crosses – torn from bible pages – hung on the walls, and attracted a full house of supporters and fans.
Of course, a theme like that also promises controversy, and Hunter, and the Lair, did receive a fair share of complaints as to the show’s subject matter and timing. Specifically, there were complaints about crosses he had made from standard wood splints that he passed out to people attending the opening party. The price for owning one? Each person or group had to be willing to decorate the crosses as they wished, and leave them to hang in the bar. A few, not surprisingly, chose to decorate and hang their crosses upside down, which caused a few concerns, though the history of that particular position is largely misunderstood (those familiar with apocryphal church lore remembers, no doubt, that when St. Peter was crucified, he had his executioners hang him upside-down, believing he was unworthy to be hung in the same direction as Christ).
The show is anchored by an installation piece Hunter created himself of the life-sized crucifixion of a plaster-cast, androgynous figure, backed by hundreds of bible pages splayed as if exploding and spattered with red liquid. All the body parts are stitched somewhat crudely with red ribbon, which gives them the look of post-op stitching, soaked with blood. Off of each arm hang lengths of twine, giving the scene a decidedly Western and glam feel, somewhere between rigging holding together prairie fences and frill hanging from the sleeves of a leather coat Ozzie Osbourne might’ve worn in the early days of Black Sabbath.
“Each body part was cast from a different person, a different friend of mine,” explained Hunter as he introduced the piece to me. “I really wanted to make the figure, maybe of Jesus, androgynous. Not scary, just kinda ambiguous.”
Hunter’s main piece – all of the pieces in this small show, in fact – actually hover more towards sacred than profane, sacrilegious or even controversial, really, and none should be seen as offensive in the slightest. They are all deeply personal, political or sardonic interpretations of one of history’s most popular figures, and none of them are shallow enough to be merely provocative.
“I really wanted to make the figure, maybe of Jesus, androgynous. Not scary, just kinda ambiguous.”
– Matthew Hunter
The show will remain on display through most of February, after which Hunter and Lion’s Lair will begin preparations for the next show in March. That one, tentatively scheduled to open on the first Friday of the month, will be based on the novel “Watership Down.” Hunter is still taking submissions.
“All they need to do is be able to hang, and be here on time. The artists can sell any of it, and keep every cent.” said Hunter. “It takes us about a week to prepare and hang all the art, so maybe by the last weekend in February would be good. And you also have to be comfortable knowing some punk rocker might end up tearin’ it off the wall, possibly, too.”
Head out to Lion’s Lair soon to catch the “Jesus F$#@in’ Christ Superstar” show to get a taste of this long term project, though, before it all comes down. The way the shows are growing, even after only two, feels strong. You’ll want to be among those who can say you “ . . . saw ‘em when they were tiny!” Don’t you?
Watch this slideshow to get a deeper taste of the talent: