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Conversations with Carrie MaKenna

Today we’d like to introduce you to Carrie MaKenna.

Hi Carrie, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I’m a professional artist, owner of Arts Carrie MaKenna Studio and Gallery, and co-founder of D’art Gallery in Denver, Colorado. I make artwork to remind people of their interconnection with each other, nature and the universe while creating a respite from the challenges and stresses of life. It’s especially rewarding when people tell me they experienced or learned something from viewing my artwork.

I was born and live in Denver-metro, Colorado. I’m a fourth-generation mountain girl and spent my childhood outdoors. The forests, mountains, streams and lakes provide me sustenance, peace and inspiration. I have loved watching the skies above the high desert plains of Denver my whole life.

Art is literally in my DNA. My great-grandfather was a sign painter in the 1900s-1930s. He also went into the mountains west of Denver to paint oil landscapes en plein air. His daughter, my grandmother, as well as my mother were very artistic. I grew up watching my mother drawing, painting, and doing mosaics, silkscreen and stained glass. Both my sisters also had careers in graphic design while also making fine art. Denver and the west have always fostered a pioneering spirit. My family instilled an adventurous spirit in me. My mother always said, “Rise and shine. And keep life interesting.”

I was fortunate to grow up in an arts-oriented household during the 1970s. I took ceramics, painting, and jewelry-making in public school. Against my family’s wishes, I snuck into the Art Department at Colorado State University and took graphic design because you could ‘make a living at it.’ I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA) in graphic design, with minors in painting and ceramics. Through the mid-80s to mid-90s, I pursued a career in graphic design and quickly moved into management while continuing to create artwork and exhibit in group and solo shows.

During the 1990s, I studied and taught a variety of world spiritual practices that nourish my art-making to this day. I co-founded a weekly meditation and personal enrichment group in which I regularly included art-making exercises. I left the corporate world in the mid-1990s for a Master’s Degree in Art Therapy from the Naropa University in Boulder, CO. It combined my three greatest interests: psychology, spirituality and art.

I always had my studio at home until 2008 when my husband, Craig Rouse, and I moved to a block of artist studio/gallery spaces where we stayed for nine years. I was a founding member of Inspire! Arts Week Lakewood, an annual week-long, city-wide celebration of the arts, which won the Governor’s Award for Downtown Excellence in 2016.

In 2017, I was invited to mount a solo exhibition at the Lakewood Cultural Center. I conceived and created my Enter The Universal Circle exhibit. I had already begun incorporating the Circle in my artwork, and this was my chance to fully explore it. I activated the entire space including the center of the room, the walls, ceiling and floor. At the same time, I also organized a home studio tour for Artists living and working in the City. My husband and I moved into studio/gallery space the 40 West Arts District in Denver in 2017. And in 2019, I co-founded D’art Gallery, a new Artist-owned contemporary gallery in the Arts District on Santa Fe Dr.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Being a contemporary fine artist is a challenging but also extraordinary way of life.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
Although I have a BFA most of my artistic growth has occurred in my 30+ years of practice while exploring techniques, materials, processes, and style. I’ve always leaned toward acrylic paint because it dries quickly. I wanted to get more paint on the canvas at once than I could with paint in tubes. I mentioned this and my husband casually said, “Why don’t you use liquid paint?” It was a huge breakthrough.

I developed a specialized palette of twenty colors of liquid acrylics and experimented with a lot of ways to create texture. I use a thick acrylic paste on the canvas then add additional elements like dried paint and found objects before I add layers of paint.

When I’m working I enter a meditative mindset. I lose all sense of time and space, so I’ve learned to set an alarm every couple of hours. I may have an idea or direction to begin with, but I quiet my thoughts and have a conversation with the artwork. I let each piece have a say in what it becomes. If I’m struggling, I know I’m thinking too much.

The interactive experiential exhibit I put on at the Lakewood Cultural Center titled Enter The Universal Circle was one of the most impactful experiences of my career. I created a journey of exploration through time, seasons, elements, moon phases and our solar system. This exhibit and artwork represented a quantum leap forward for me as an art-maker, curator, exhibition designer, and presenter.

It is a culmination of 30 years of interest, study, practice and teaching about the Circle as a unique Universal Pattern and Spiritual Resource. The Circle is found at the center of many spiritual traditions including the Native American Indian Medicine Wheel, Celtic Stone Circles, Buddhist Tangkas and Hindu Mandalas among others. We experience the Circle through the cycles of a minute, an hour, a day, month, year, decade, a lifetime. These are marked by the rotation and orbit of the Earth around the Sun and the Moon around the Earth.

In addition to the Universal Circle, I continue to explore several series, including “Bare Trees” focusing on how the unique silhouettes of trees frame the sky and landscape, and “Atmospheric Conditions” dealing with the constantly changing sky over land and water.

My “Circles of Love” series represent all kinds of relationships: parents, siblings, friends, partners, lovers. This series started with seeing two 30 foot tall saguaro cactus standing side-by-side in Arizona. They were more than one hundred years old. I could only imagine the life they had lived there next to each other. They had experienced so much time, change, and growth together. It made me think of the many long-time relationships I’ve had and how unique and important each one is.

What do you like and dislike about the city?
I love LA. Several of my mother’s family lived in California and my sister lived in LA. When my husband and I visit, we enjoy the diversity of people, places and experiences. We especially like to take in the arts at the Hammer and Getty museums. As well as the sites like the Watts Towers and the Silver Lake area architecture. And it was so much fun to happen upon the hidden Westwood Cemetery and find all the celebrities. There’s always something new to discover in Los Angeles. Of course, we always visit in the winter months because the summer in LA is too hot for us. Can’t wait to visit again.

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

Craig Rouse, Carrie MaKenna

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